My Diamonds and Gold Blogathon Entry: "Charade," or Cary Nation

This post is part of the Diamonds and Gold Blogathon, co-hosted by Wide Screen World and Caftan Woman. Please visit them and check out the other entries as well!  

Telegram from Time magazine: "How old Cary Grant?" 
Grant's response: "Old Cary Grant fine. How you?" 

In movies like "Bringing Up Baby" and "Monkey Business," Cary Grant wears glasses for comic effect.

In the 1963 film "Charade," he wears them to see -- and to send us one of several messages that he is older, if no less Cary Grantish.

"How do you shave in there?"
Grant was in his late 50s when he made "Charade," not that it matters to us. But it mattered to him. He was a little squeamish about playing a romantic lead opposite Audrey Hepburn, a woman who was his junior by a couple of decades. (Never mind that in real life he was chasing after the 25-year-old Dyan Cannon.)

So Grant worked with screenwriter Peter Stone and director Stanley Donen (in the last of their four pictures together) to gently and cleverly emphasize the fact that he wasn't a spring chicken anymore.

The result? Not only does "Charade" satisfy as a suspense film and as a romantic film, it also has the unusual combination of offbeat warmth and genuine heat between the leading characters. It's easily Grant's most self-referential film, made at the perfect time -- just as his legendary film career was winding down, by his choice. The character of Peter Joshua (the first names of Donen's two oldest sons) is distilled Cary Grant -- the essence of a dozen or more of his films and of the onscreen persona of the man who helped make them classics.

The movie opens with a shock -- a body being thrown off a high-speed train whizzing across the French countryside, the face of the victim suddenly filling the frame, frozen in death.

The stiff is Charles Lambert, a bit of a ne'er-do-well who was on the verge of being divorced by wife Regina (Hepburn). His death saves her the trouble, and the non-stricken widow has already found a new male friend and possible conquest -- Joshua, who she has just met on a skiing trip while Charles was getting offed by a stranger on a train.

Charles's funeral is one of several great set pieces in the movie. The only mourners, if you can call them that, are Regina, her best friend and the detective investigating the case, who sits in the back and clips his fingernails. But it also attracts some rather threatening characters -- Scobie (George Kennedy), Tex (James Coburn) and Gideon (Ned Glass):

Regina has no idea who the men are, or what connection Charles had with them. She gets the story from state department honcho Bartholomew (Walter Matthau) -- Charles, Tex, Scobie and Gideon were buddies during World War II who hijacked a gold shipment. Then the men went back to America and Charles stayed behind with the loot. Now it's 20 years later and the men want it -- but they don't know where Charles hid it.

Regina's only protector is Joshua, who reappears in her life after their encounter on the skiing trip. He seems to be the right man in the right place at the right time.

But is he? Regina can't tell -- she comes to learn that he has several identities, but she also can't fight her attraction to him, which comes as no surprise to anyone in the world, because the guy is Cary Grant.

Grant brings all the tools in his arsenal to "Charade" -- the tan, the white dress shirts that set off the tan, the monochromatic suits and ties (so as not to fight with Hepburn's Givenchy wardrobe and color palate), and the bemusement (and concealed pride) that someone as young and attractive as Regina is chasing him. He is tough when the situation calls for it, but not above being goofy just for the hell of it:

As essential as Grant is to the success of "Charade," it's frightening to consider that he almost didn't make the movie. Donen tells the story that, initially, Grant had committed to make a movie with Howard Hawks and had to turn Donen down -- then Grant read the script for the Hawks movie, "Man's Favorite Sport?" and jumped back into "Charade."

Grant appeared in just two more movies -- as a grizzled beachcomber in 1964's "Father Goose" and as a grandfatherly matchmaker who connects Jim Hutton with Samantha Eggar in 1966's "Walk, Don't Run." (The movie was a remake of "The More the Merrier," and Grant played the role Charles Coburn won an Oscar for in the original.) After that, Grant became a "normal" citizen, free to wear his glasses all the time -- and he did.

While we're on the subject of aging gracefully, here is "Charade" director Stanley Donen at age 72, accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 Academy Awards by breaking into song and a little soft shoe. This is one of my very favorite Oscar moments:



  1. There was a time when I knew by heart all of Peter Joshua's aliases. Could it be that it's been a long time since I last saw "Charade"? Shame on me. I adored reading your article on Cary's great late career performance.

    PS: If the Oscars could guarantee moments like that with Mr. Donen I would have kept tuning in.

  2. Ooh - great choice for the blogathon - and a great choice in general. Although I never think of Cary as old - he was simply ageless. Thanks for a great post about a movie I never tire of.

  3. A nice look at an old favorite. Cary Grant was perfect in the role. I love your note on his "bemusement" and "concealed pride" of being pursued by Audrey.

  4. This film is a lot of fun, and Grant and Hepburn make a great combination. Really enjoyed your piece, David. I quite liked Hawks' 'Man's Favorite Sport', but this is definitely a much better film!

  5. I had the pleasure of seeing this on the big screen a few years ago. Fun little movie.

  6. This is such a lovly film. Romance, comedy and mistery in the right proportion. I understand that Grant was worried to look like a nasty man chasing Audrey, but I loved how they managed to show the opposite. And, as Grant, I wish they had made more movies together!
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

  7. I love this movie! It's one of my top-10 of the entire 1960's.

    Maybe I show my own age, but I happen to think Cary was FAR better looking here than he was in the 1930's. He aged magnificently!

  8. Wonderful analysis of Charade. It's funny how often Audrey Hepburn's leading men had years on her; I suppose it plays into her characteristics. There's a really lovely story about their first meeting - apparently, Hepburn spilt a bottle of red wine over Grant’s immaculate cream suit. Grant, ever the gentleman enjoyed the rest of the meal without his jacket. For me, that sums him up!