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Film / Charade

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A 1963 Comedy Thriller film directed by Stanley Donen, starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn and featuring Walter Matthau, James Coburn and George Kennedy.

Regina "Reggie" Lampert (Hepburn), an American expatriate in Paris who's preparing to get a divorce, returns from a skiing trip to discover that her husband has been murdered after selling off their belongings and attempting to leave the country. When the police question her she discovers that he had kept multiple passports, each with different aliases, and that he'd been in possession of $250,000,note  which is now unaccounted for. During the funeral, three suspicious men—none of whom she's ever seen before—come to visit the body.

Reggie is then called to the U.S. embassy, where a CIA administrator named Bartholomew (Matthau) informs her that, during World War II, her husband was one of a group of soldiers chosen to transport some gold across enemy lines. However, instead of delivering the gold to La Résistance as planned, the soldiers hid it somewhere, with plans to come back after the war and retrieve it for themselves. Her husband, however, got greedy and came back early, taking all the gold for himself. Now the other three soldiers will do anything to get it back.

While all this is happening, Reggie also has a chance meeting with a man who calls himself Peter Joshua (Grant), whom she enters into a romance with. However, Peter is not who he appears to be, and their meeting wasn't random at all...

Remade in 2002 by Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) as The Truth About Charlie, with Mark Wahlberg and Thandiwe Newton. No connection to the 1984 animated short Charade.

This film provides examples of:

  • After-Action Patch-Up: Regina treats Peter's back after his fight with Scobie.
  • Agonizing Stomach Wound: The associates of Carson Dyle left him to die after he suffered one of these. However, he survives and goes after them.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Scobie lost his right hand in the same ambush that killed Carson Dyle. The machine gunner blew it clean off.
  • Artistic Title: Courtesy of Maurice Binder and Henry Mancini.
  • Balcony Escape: Cary Grant's character follows Scobie out the window and across a few balconies.
  • Big Eater: Reggie orders food and/or is eating food in most of her scenes and is commented on it by others.
  • Big, Thin, Short Trio: Scobie (big), Tex (thin), and Gideon (short).
  • The Cameo: Audrey Hepburn's then-husband Mel Ferrer appears as the man smoking a cigarette at the nightclub.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The letter from Charles Lampert. When the policeman hands it over to Reggie, he describes it: "one letter, stamped but unsealed, addressed to you." Much later, we hear that the stamps on it are worth $250,000.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Little Jean-Louis, who is the one who shoots Reggie and Grant's character with a (water) pistol in the first scene, then is promised stamps by Reggie and later asks about a gun, which is pulled out and shown off in front of him. The stamps he does get from Reggie set off the movie's climax.
  • Cold Open: The very first scene of the movie features a man's body (later identified as Reggie's murdered husband) getting thrown off of a train.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Just when Cary Grant's character and Tex have understood that the stamps are worth $250,000 and they have noticed that Reggie removed them from the envelope, Jean-Louis is exchanging them at the stamp market.
  • Creator Cameo: The young man in the elevator talking about a poker game is two cameos at once: played by screenwriter Peter Stone with the dubbed voice of Stanley Donen.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Cary Grant, of course. Endlessly. For example, when Regina points out he's used the "divorce" line about his "Peter Joshua" identity, he quips, "I'm just as difficult to live with."
  • Dies Wide Open: Scobie and Tex.
  • Double Reverse Quadruple Agent: Cary Grant's character constantly seems to change sides, turning from The Mole to a mole for the other side to Double Agent and eventually to Double Reverse Quadruple Agent.
  • Driving a Desk: Scenes of Reggie and Cary Grant's character riding cars and a boat have rear-projection effects. When they ride the boat through tunnels, their dialogue has an echo effect added for realism.
  • Dude Magnet: Reggie claims to be this when teasing Cary Grant in the "shower" sequence.
  • Dwindling Party: Scobie, Gideon and Tex are killed off one by one. Scobie is drowned in a bathtub, Gideon has his throat slit in an elevator, and Tex has a plastic bag placed over his head, where he suffocates.
  • Dying Clue: Tex writes "Dyle" on the carpet before he suffocates.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: Famous monuments of Paris are shown: Notre-Dame and the Arc de Triomphe.
  • Elevator Action Sequence: It happens offscreen, but Dyle takes control of Gideon's elevator, then enters and slashes Gideon's throat.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Tex and then Peter have one upon realizing the missing money has been converted to the stamps.
  • Evil Is Petty: Scobie, whose impatience to seize the money lead him to get in a fight with Cary Grant's character. He calls up Regina and blabs about Cary Grant's identity in order to spite him and set him back despite the fact that they technically share goals.
  • Exact Words: Grant's character tries to explain to Reggie at one point that his real profession is dealing with people "who have more money than they need". While she immediately assumes he's a thief, that is basically exactly what government tax collectors and Treasury agents do.
  • Facepalm: When Regina asks if Cary Grant's character is married the second time, and he says yes...she does this, as if knowing darn well the punch line's coming.
  • Fanservice: Reggie's intense propositioning of Cary Grant's character. Seriously, how many men dream of Audrey Hepburn throwing herself at them like that?—which Audrey herself lampshades:note 
    Reggie: (Leaning back against the door) This is a ludicrous situation—I can think of a dozen men who are just LONGING to use my shower....
    Cary Grant: So ask one of them.
    Reggie: (Eyes twinkling) I dare you...!
  • Fingertip Drug Analysis: Played for laughs. Reggie and Peter are going through her late husband's luggage to see if they can find something valuable enough for him to have been murdered for. They find a tin of what appears to be tooth powder, but she suspects might be heroin; at her urging, he does the test... and concludes that either it's peppermint-flavoured heroin or it really is tooth powder.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: The audience first learns that Bartholomew is not who he claims to be right before the climax, when Reggie calls the American Embassy. Moments later, his true identity is revealed.
  • Flowery Elizabethan English: As Reggie and Peter finish sharing their first conversation, Reggie asks, "...wasn't it Shakespeare who said, 'When strangers do meet, they should ere long see one another again'?" Peter replies that he can tell that's not a real Shakespeare quote because, "It's terrible."
  • Follow That Car: Exploited by Reggie. She is followed by Cary Grant's character. When she gets out of the hotel, she asks a taxi to go anywhere, but she does not get in and she hides in the shadow. When Cary Grant's character arrives, he sees the taxi leaving, so he hails another taxi and asks him to follow that car.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Or is it fourth identity marriage?
  • Freudian Trio: of the villainous variety:
    • Id: Scobie, the impatient and violent one.
    • Ego: Tex, the one who's in-between.
    • Superego: Gideon, the only one who suggests a dead man be returned to his bed.
  • Gay Paree: The charm and romance of the city is shown in ironic counterpoint to the cat-and-mouse plot.
  • Glasses Curiosity: Reggie thinks Peter's glasses are fake and tries them on, only to quickly discover they're quite real.
  • Gotta Kill Them All: Combined with Roaring Rampage of Revenge. Carson Dyle killing off the members of his squad who'd left him to be captured by Germans after he'd been shot.
  • Graceful Loser: When the stamp collector realizes that Jean-Louis has given him the most valuable stamps in the world, he realizes there's been a mistake, sends him off with several sheets of stamps, and holds the real ones until Reggie arrives, when he graciously explains the mistake and hands them over, not wanting to be a thief and happy to have held them for even a short while.
  • Happily Ever After: In the end, Brian Cruikshank implicitly proposes to Reggie (he talks about a marriage license). Reggie does not realize immediately, and then goes wild with joy.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: The $250,000 turned out to be a set of antique stamps on a letter that had been among Charles Lampert's possessions.
  • Hook Hand: Scobie, who is not shy about using it to intimidate and attack the heroes. He even has a spare one in his suitcase.
  • I Have Many Names: Cary Grant's character gives his name as Peter Joshua, Alexander Dyle, Adam Canfield, and Brian Cruikshank.
  • Insistent Terminology: Played with. Whenever Reggie makes reference to "spies", Bartholomew corrects her with "agents". But at the same time, whenever Bartholomew says "spies", Reggie corrects him with "agents". Bartholomew's inconsistency hints at him not having anything to do with CIA.
  • Irony: Bartholomew is in charge of security at the American Embassy, and he leaves his office unlocked when he goes out to lunch, giving Carson Dyle the opportunity to impersonate him.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One:
    Reggie: ..Of all the mean, rotten, contemptible, crooked-
    Brian Cruikshank: "Crooked"?
  • Jerkass: Herman Scobie's profession.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Upon listening closely, Gideon attempts to shout Dyle's name as he's getting his throat slashed.
  • Last Disrespects/Lonely Funeral: Virtually the only people to attend the late Charles Lampert's funeral besides his widow are his three former partners in crime, who are mainly attending to see if he's Faking the Deadnote  and are more disgusted than sorry for his death.
  • May–December Romance: Cary Grant was 59 when he made the film, 25 years older than Audrey Hepburn. He only took the role after the writer gave all the romantically aggressive lines to Hepburn's character, so he wouldn't look like a predator. Frequently lampshaded in the movie.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • After the Cold Open and the Artistic Title, the movie begins with Reggie having lunch at a ski resort, unaware of someone pointing a pistol at her. The wielder shoots at her...with water. An irritated Reggie lifts her head up, and sees the Bratty Half-Pint Jean-Louis holding a squirt gun.
    • Every time Reggie gets close to Cary Grant's character or shares a pleasant scene with him, she gets word of his false identity, often accompanied by a low-key Scare Chord.
  • Motive Rant: In the Palais-Royal, after trying in vain to convince Reggie that Cary Grant's character is a con man, Carson Dyle threatens to shoot Reggie down and he tells her who he really is and his motive.
  • Mr. Exposition: This is the role Bartholomew carries for most of the film, at least until the reveal shows him to be the Big Bad.
  • Multiple Identity IDs: The police informs Reggie that her late husband had many passports from different countries, which reveals how little she really knew him.
  • Personal Effects Reveal: After Charles Lampert's death, the police search his personal effects and hand them over to Reggie. The multiple passports he had reveals that he was a shady person, and confirm Reggie's earlier suspicions he was hiding dark, ugly things from her.
  • Pet the Dog: Tex showing off his Gun Twirling skills to entertain Jean-Louis.
  • Plot Device: The stamps.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: The plot is set in motion by the death of Charles Lampert, Reggie's husband.
  • Posthumous Character: Carson Dyle. Subverted. And Reggie's husband. Yup, he's really dead.
  • Punch-Clock Hero: Bartholomew is always in the middle of doing something else when Reggie calls on him, first eating his lunch, then going to bed, and then exercising. It shows that he's just going about his normal life while Reggie is imperiled. [[spoiler:But that's what the movie wants you to think. In reality, Bartholomew is the villain.
  • Purely Aesthetic Glasses: Subverted when Regina accuses Peter of not needing the reading glasses he puts on. She pulls them from his face and dons them herself — then gets a shocked expression and quickly hands them back, saying quietly, "You need them." The degree of correction in those lenses must've been something fierce.
  • Quick Nip: When Bartholomew is introduced, he is rubbing dry-cleaning solution into his tie as he talks to Reggie. When he finishes, he gives the rag a quick sniff, stuffs it in his pocket, and keeps talking as though nothing had happened.
  • Reluctant Gift: Near the end, Adam begs off meeting Mr. Cruikshank with Reggie to return the money, saying he can't stand to see that much money go. He does this because he's actually Mr. Cruikshank, and wants to be in the office waiting for her.
  • Rescue Romance: Reggie was attracted to Grant's character for most of the movie, but him protecting her from vicious criminals and finally outright saving her life lead her to happily accept a Fourth-Date Marriage proposal, when she's only been widowed from her unhappy marriage for a few days.
  • The Reveal: Mr. Bartholomew turns out to be Carson Dyle, and has been killing off his former comrades one by one. Also, Cary Grant's character turns out to actually work at the American embassy as a member of the Treasury Dept. The real Mr. Bartholomew, who simply had his name stolen and otherwise wasn't involved, is the head of security at the embassy.
  • Reverse Relationship Reveal: Reggie thinks her friend Peter is a murderer, and runs away from him to seek the protection of Mr. Bartholomew at the American Embassy. Mr. Bartholomew is actually the murderer, and it is Peter who ends up having to protect her from him.
  • Running Gag:
    • Grant's character constantly changing names.
    • And when he produces a new name, Reggie asks, "Is there a Mrs. __?" and he replies, "Yes, but we're divorced." By the third time, she's saying it along with him.
    • Reggie or Bartholomew saying "spies" and the other correcting "agents."
    • Every suit Cary Grant's character wears gets damaged in some way.
  • Running Gag Stumbles: At the end of the movie, Reggie asks Grant's character again if there's a Mrs. (his latest name), and he says "Yes," but leaves out the "but we're divorced" part. Turns out there is a Mrs. Cruikshank, but she's his mother!
  • Secret Identity: Threefold. Her husband, the real Dyle and Cary Grant's character manage to hide their true identity from Reggie. It's not until the last few minutes that Reggie (and the audience) know every character's true identity.
  • Secret Test of Character: When Cary Grant's character says he's really a thief named Adam Canfield, he repeatedly asks Reggie if she's willing to take the money instead of returning it to the government, but she refuses to be dishonest. Lucky for her, because "Canfield" is actually U.S. Treasury agent Brian Cruikshank, and if Reggie had tried to steal the money he probably would have betrayed her to the authorities.
  • Shout-Out:
    • As she talks with Cary Grant's character, Reggie mentions An American in Paris (she mentions the way Gene Kelly dances by the Seine) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (she asks Cary Grant if he would save the woman he loves like the hunchback).
    • Earlier, Grant mentions "the street where you live", which is one to a movie Hepburn actually starred in — My Fair Lady.
  • Show Within a Show: Reggie and Grant's character watch Guignol puppet show on the Champs-Élysées.
  • Slashed Throat: Gideon's fate.
  • The Snack Is More Interesting: Bartholomew chows down on his lunch while letting Reggie know that her life is in danger. Reggie herself is a Big Eater throughout the film.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant are gloriously sassy with each other throughout the movie.
  • Split Screen: In the last scene, displaying Grant's character's four identities.
  • Trap Door: Plays a major role in the climax. Carson Dyle is stalking the stage of a theater, trying to kill Reggie. Cary Grant's character is hiding under the stage, and when Dyle finally stands in just the right spot, Grant pulls the appropriate lever and Dyle falls to his death.
  • Wham Line:
    • "Yes, it was a dumb move, Herman. What is the matter with you?"
    • "You killed all three of them for nothing." Ultimately subverted, as Grant's character didn't kill any of them and Tex just incorrectly assumed he did.
    • "Reggie, wait! That man is Carson Dyle!"
  • Wham Shot:
    • Throughout the movie, Reggie's been getting help from CIA agent Hamilton Bartholomew from the American embassy. Late in the film, she tries to call him at the embassy only to be told by the operator that Mr. Bartholomew is at a reception. She asks the operator to give him a message at the reception. We then see at the reception the phone getting picked up by a middle-aged man we've never seen before. And upon hearing Reggie's message, it's clear that this Hamilton Bartholomew has no clue what's going on. "Well, who does she think I am, the CIA?" Turns out that the man Reggie knows as "Hamilton Bartholomew" is actually Carson Dyle.
    • At the end, Reggie is told at the embassy that the man to see about the recovery of stolen property is Brian Cruikshank. She goes to his office only to see Cary Grant's character, whom she's already known by three different aliases, seated at Cruikshank's desk, revealing that this is his real identity.
  • Woken Up at an Ungodly Hour: There is a Running Gag of people being killed in their pajamas throughout. One of the victims receives a call for him to meet someone, which sparks the protest, "It's three-thoirty in the morning!" He gets up anyway, but is lured to his death.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Carson Dyle was abandoned by his comrades after being horribly wounded, and spent months as a prisoner of war with nothing to help the pain. It's no wonder he's so bitter toward them, and decides to Pay Evil unto Evil by going on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge. He's almost a Sympathetic Murderer, but he crosses the Moral Event Horizon when he states that he's willing to kill the innocent Reggie to get the money.