Stanley Donen's classy crime caper has charm, wit -- and Cary Grant.

Published July 5, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

Directed by Stanley Donen
Starring Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn
Criterion; widescreen, 1.85:1
Extras: Audio commentary with director and screenwriter, director filmography, original theatrical trailer, more

When Frank Sinatra presented an honorary Oscar to Cary Grant in 1970, Sinatra said, with star-to-star sympathy, that he earned it "for being Cary Grant." Actually, he earned it for acting Cary Grant -- the urban cavalier with a quick tongue and cunning moves. Grant never played Grant better than in Stanley Donen's 1963 thriller "Charade." This Hitchcockian pastiche boasts as many surprises, laughs and romantic frissons as Hitchcock's own, better-known "North by Northwest" -- also starring Grant. In "Charade," Grant is an elegant American in Paris who teams up with Audrey Hepburn to find her murdered husband's loot before it's snatched by the dead man's Army buddies (James Coburn, George Kennedy, Ned Glass).

Screenwriter Peter Stone's clever blend of love story, crime caper and black comedy allows Donen to showcase not only Grant's effortless suavity and wicked timing but also his unexpected emotional conviction and goofy faces. Hepburn swoons eloquently, Coburn brings a wonderful twang and lope to the part of a treacherous Texan and Walter Matthau, as a down-to-earth yet enigmatic intelligence agent, is a master of the hangdog look.

But it's Grant's movie -- the action hinges on whether he'll inspire Hepburn's trust. As she picks her way through a rubble of farcical disillusionments, Hepburn learns how to stop worrying and love Cary Grant.

The snazzy widescreen Criterion edition includes commentary by Donen and Stone and overviews of their careers. "Oh, it's a Universal Picture, it must be 'Charade,'" says Donen at the outset, with the puckishness that has endeared him to watchers of awards shows everywhere. "I am Stanley Donen, I directed it, and I hope you forgive me." Stone immediately counters to the audience with, "You don't have to forgive me, I'm pleased as punch." Their collegial banter continues as Stone admits that he wanted Donen to direct his script partly because he thought Donen could get Hepburn and Grant, and Donen blithely confesses to a misleading trick or two, such as picturing a man's hand instead of a child's on a gun that turns out to be a little boy's water pistol.

By Michael Sragow

Michael Sragow's column about moviemakers appears every Thursday in Salon. For more columns by Sragow, visit his archive.

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