Classic Movie Spotlight: “Charade”

Classic Movie SpotlightAny movie starring the suave Cary Grant and the gorgeous Audrey Hepburn automatically catches my attention. Yet for some inexplicable reason I had not taken time to watch “Charade”. Well now I have and I can say without hesitation that it’s a real treat. Stanley Donen produced and directed this 1963 film that plays in almost every genre. It can be considered a Hitchcockian thriller, a slick romance, or a side-splitting comedy. But more importantly all of these elements fit together nicely in what turns out to be a well conceived and sharply directed picture driven by some wonderful performances. And would you expect anything else when you have this kind of talent involved?

The movie begins with a murder. We see a quick scene of a man being thrown from a train that’s speeding through the French countryside. This turns out to be Charles Lampert and his death is what triggers the mystery component of the film. Hepburn plays his wife Regina who is winding down her skiing trip in the French Alps. It’s here that she first meets an alluring stranger who goes by the name of Peter Joshua (Grant). After returning to Paris and finding everything in her apartment gone, Regina is notified by the police that her husband had been murdered while trying to leave the city. At his funeral three mysterious and shady looking men “pay their respects”. In actuality, the three were past partners with Charles in an elaborate scheme to steal $250,000 worth of gold. They are determined to get the money and think that Regina knows where it is.

It’s this mystery that serves as the main course of the film. Who is it that murdered Charles? Who is it that would do anything to get their hands on the $250,000? Who can Regina trust? Can anyone trust Regina? These are all viable questions and the movie never tips its hand too early. Instead you find yourself suspicious of every character at some point in the film. Peter pops back up but it may not be by accident. Grant nicely creates an aura of suspicion mixed in with his character’s self-assured charm. I loved it every time he showed up. The three men from the funeral, wonderfully played by James Coburn, George Kennedy, and Ned Glass, throw aside the ‘honor among thieves code’ and are as untrustworthy as they come. Regina has to navigate through this cast of questionable characters but does so with the help of the CIA administrator named Hamilton Bartholomew played by Walter Matthau.

Cary Grant & Audrey Hepburn

There are several other things that help make “Charade” a really good film. I’ve mentioned how well the mystery element of the story works. But the movie also has its share of hilarious scenes particularly those featuring Grant and Hepburn’s playful banter. I also felt there was a believable romantic chemistry between the two that I bought into despite the noticeable age differences. And then there’s the great look of the film thanks to the fantastic cinematography of the brilliant Charles Lane as well as carefully chosen locations scattered throughout beautiful Paris. And I just have to talk about the cast again. Hepburn is lovely and you just can’t take your eyes off of her. Grant’s performance is a reminder that he was not only a very polished actor but he could also be very funny. This was one of his final roles, and even though he’s older and grayer, he still masterfully handles each and every scene. And while I’ve never been the biggest Matthau fan, he’s perfect here as is Coburn.

I have no idea why I waited so long to catch up with “Charade”. It’s a highly satisfying mishmash of several movie genres that I love and it’s anchored by two performances from two of Hollywood’s all-time greats. Fantastic direction, beautiful cinematography, and a perfect supporting cast give this movie a familiar yet distinct style that I truly loved and responded to. Now there are a few plot holes that you could nitpick about and there may be a couple of things that are a little too silly to buy into. But I found it to be an entertaining time and it’s a film that shouldn’t fly under any movie fan’s radar. If you haven’t seen it, don’t take as long as I did. It’s definitely worth your time.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

REVIEW: “The Maltese Falcon” (1941)

Classic Movie SpotlightMALTESEA good argument could be made that The Maltese Falcon is Humphrey Bogart’s best film. It’s a movie that seems to get better each time I watch it and has earned it’s recognition as a film noir classic. It’s also a film featuring two notable firsts. This was Sydney Greenstreet’s first feature film and it was John Huston’s directorial debut. Huston also wrote the story which is based on Dashiell Hammett’s novel of the same name. It’s said that Huston extensively planned everything in the script, even to the most minute detail. It certainly shows. The movie is smart, well written, and very well made.

Bogart plays Sam Spade, a San Francisco private investigator. He and his partner Miles Archer, played by Jerome Cowan, meet with an attractive new client, Ruth Wonderly (Mary Astor), who hires them to help find her missing sister.  Archer volunteers to follow her as she meets with Floyd Thursby, an acquaintance of her sister. Later that night Spade receives a call that Archer has been murdered. Spade weaves through a barrage of lies and an assortment of shady characters to find that it all revolves around a priceless statuette of a bird covered in jewels.

Bogart wasn’t Huston’s first choice to play Sam Spade but after George Raft turned down the part Bogie was brought in. This was the beginning of a great friendship between Bogart and Huston that spawned many other wonderful films such as “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, “The African Queen”, and “Key Largo”. Bogart’s performance is simply brilliant and it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Mary Astor gives a strong performance and sets the table for some of Bogart’s best lines in the film. Add Peter Lorre and Greenstreet and you have an incredible cast. Also keep an eye out for a cool cameo from Walter Huston, John Huston’s father.

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The film’s is also helped by some fine cinematography. The movie features some crafty camera work and low-level lighting which adds to the picture’s mood and tone. Cinematographer Arthur Edeson plays around with the angles and camera locations which give the movie a cool, slick look.  It’s such a technically sound and stylish movie and Huston’s accomplishment is really profound considering this was his first picture.

The Maltese Falcon epitomizes what high level filmmaking and cinema storytelling is all about. Bogart’s performance became the model for other film noir detective roles and the supporting cast is nothing short of brilliant. The movie was nominated for three Academy Awards but it’s contribution to filmmaking  can’t be measured by that alone. This is a motion picture classic and it should be considered mandatory viewing for any fan of film. If you haven’t seen The Maltese Falcon, it’s time to.

VERDICT – 5 STARS

5 STARSs

5STAR K&M