Charade is an excellent and often overlooked Audrey film. It was also the one film pairing Audrey with Cary Grant, after nearly 10 years of just missing each other. Cary had often been offered the leading man role in a few of Audrey’s earlier films, and had actually signed on to do Sabrina before later withdrawing, fearing that the disparity in age would be too much to be believed (or thought decent). Never mind that Humphrey Bogart, who took over the role, was even older, and a bitter, heavy drinker to boot. Cary had always been sensitive about his age in regards to Audrey, especially since she could play ten years younger than her real age. Finally he agreed to do Charade with her, but only if the script was rewritten to allow her character to chase him.
These alterations do absolutely nothing to change the brilliance of the film, thankfully. In fact, it’s downright refreshing to see a man try to resist Audrey, then at the peak of her career and her more mature beauty. Audrey plays Regina “Reggie” Lampert, a woman who comes back from a Swiss holiday to discover herself a new widow — a widow who had wanted to divorce her husband, and who stood to inherit a quarter of a million dollars . . . if the money can be found. And she’s not the only one after the cash, either. Through many twists and turns we come to find that her now deceased husband Charles had been close with four other men during his service in World War II, and that this group of men had stolen the 250 grand and stashed it until the end of the war. The only problem was that Charles came back early, and ever since then, these men have been after him with a vengeance. Reggie is barely a half step ahead of them at any given time, aided by Cary Grant’s character, who goes through so many name changes you just might need a flow chart to keep track of them all. Every time Reggie thinks she can trust Peter (just to pick a name), a new twist pops up and she’s back at square one with him. To complicate matters, she seems to be falling for him. But is she falling for the man who killed her husband? And who is willing to kill her for the missing fortune?
All in all, Charade is a brilliant thriller in the vein of Hitchcock’s greater movies, but with more humor. Cary Grant loved to improvise and loosened Audrey up a bit, too, really showing her vastly underrated comedic side. Grant himself said that she should be allowed to do more comedies, since she had the gift. A running joke throughout the movie involves Reggie spilling her food on Peter’s suits, or otherwise ruining his clothes. This stemmed from reality: Audrey and Cary’s first meeting, to be exact. Director Stanley Donnen thought it would be more relaxing for them to meet in a small restaurant, and when they all settled down at their table, Audrey said “I’m so nervous!” Cary said there was no reason to be, and told her to put her hands palms-down on the table and take a deep breath to help her relax. She did, but ended up knocking a full bottle of red wine onto Cary’s cream-coloured suit. Mortified beyond belief, Audrey watched as Cary coolly removed his jacket and carried on as if nothing had happened. The next day he sent her a tin of caviar and a note telling her to forget all about it. It was this laid-back attitude of his on and off the set that helped to set Audrey at ease and really have fun with her part. She and Cary worked well together, which is obvious from the very beginning of the film, and though they often wished to work together again, it tragically never happened. Still, if there had to be only one A. Hepburn/Grant film, I’m glad it was Charade.
“He had more wisdom than I to help me with [vulnerability]. He said something very important to me one day when I was probably twitching and nervous. We were sitting next to each other waiting for the next shot. And he laid his hand on my two hands and said, ‘You’ve got to learn to like yourself a little more.’ I’ve often thought about that.” – Audrey