Charade Stanley Donen

An unusual blend of thrills and comedy make this 1963 effort by director Stanley Donen (Singin' In the Rain) one of his more unusual projects. The same can be said for stars Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn; this is the only film they ever made together, and while it takes full advantage of their evident charms, the off-balance film leaves them a little out in the lurch. Nevertheless, Charade is charming and suspenseful when all its factors come together, which is often enough. Hepburn plays Regina Lampert, who discovers after her husband dies a mysterious death that he was harbouring secrets about a trio of villainous strangers (including a young James Coburn). The only man she can trust is a mysterious stranger (Grant), whose identity and role in the mystery unfold in layers throughout the film. Stanley Donen makes the most of his Parisian locations, as Grant and Hepburn stroll through city streets while making plans and laying witticisms before each other like rose petals. A combination of sophisticated '60s panache and the rising interest in spy/thrillers made Charade an appropriately timely effort; in retrospect, it feels only slightly anachronistic. Aside from the usual crisp and brilliant transfer from Criterion, and some text-based histories of Donen and screenwriter Peter Stone, we get the pair on a commentary track originally recorded in 1999, when Donen was 75 years old. They gossip quite liberally about "behind the scene" intrigues, but Donen, hilariously, refuses to address any plot considerations during the commentary, in case anyone listening doesn't know how the film ends. (Stone protests to no avail.) Charade may not stand with the best work by any of its three talented principles, but no one is phoning it in either; a perfect addition especially for the Hepburn-obsessed amongst us. (Criterion/Morningstar)