Both Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant are actors that I admire. They both play their respective suit of characters with ease and charisma. They can both deliver witty dialogue like it was ingrained in them. So putting them together would be a no brainer. That is what Stanley Donen thought when he cast Charade, a comedy thriller. But I feel differently.
Charade is about a recent widow who is being stalked by various former friends of her deceased husband. She receives help from a beautiful stranger and he protects her from a series of attacks. The widow falls in love with the stranger, but the stranger could be working for the bad guys. At least that is what the CIA representative suggests. Who is on the good side and who is on the bad? Why does this plot summary more interesting to me than the actual film?
I think my major problem with the film is the lack of chemistry between Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. They are supposed to be falling in love over the course of the film but it is hard to see why. Cary Grant looks tired and exasperated by what each scene entails. Audrey Hepburn is too busy changing costumes every scene to really put any energy into reciting her lines with any feeling at all. Once I saw during the beginning credits that her wardrobe is given a special credit, I knew I was in trouble. I care little for fashion. I care more for actual performances. Audrey’s character I admit is probably the hardest to pull off. She has to look vulnerable to the bad guys while also delivering slightly rapey comments to Mr. Grant. I think it was too complex a character for Ms. Hepburn to pull off. A Rosalind Russell or a Katherine Hepburn would have pulled off this character flawlessly. But Audrey is neither one of these girls. She deflate any bite or wit in her lines by delivering them in that fake British accent of hers. So if you mix one part tired with one part flat delivery, you get one very boring movie. The only bright spot in this film is Walter Matthau. Mr. Matthau plays the CIA representative and he delivers his lines with the usual gruffness that I find so endearing. At the beginning of the movie, he is interviewing Ms. Hepburn and he breaks to offer her a sandwich. This little bit of exchange is the most comic thing in the movie. He does all of the heavy lifting, Ms. Hepburn just has to sit back and react to his wittiness.
I can respect this film as being one of the first comic thrillers on the scene. I can also respect the amount of time and energy that was put in to concoct all of the insane twists. But it just didn’t add up to enough respect for me to like this film. When I see this type of film, the main relationship is how I can get through all of the wacky setup. A more modern example of how well this type of genre can be done is OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies. This film is probably even more wacky than Charade, but the main relationship between Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo is so rife with tension and charisma that I forgive all of the crazy plot machinations. Charade wasn’t believable because Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn weren’t believable together. No matter how good the script is, how interesting the set choices are and how nicely it is shot, it all falls flat due to lack of charisma.