Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How to Hide $250,000 in Plain Sight or Why Charade is one of the Best Classic Thrillers

So last night Bond came over and I shared some of my favorite action/mystery/thrillers with him. First was Mission Impossible and he enjoyed that...and was impressed when I told him that it was also directed by Brian De Palma...oh don't worry friends, I'm not gonna go off on that tangent again. But I did get Bond liking De Palma by having him watch Blow Out a few weeks ago, so knowing that he know has seen and respects two of his films makes me very pleased. The real star of the evening, and the film we enjoyed watching the most, was Stanley Donen's 60s thriller/comedy Charade. I can hear minor fans of the film already, saying "Wait! I thought Hitchcock directed Charade?!"...and that is a commonly held misconception...though not baseless. The film, while being substantially more 60s saturated than Hitch ever was in his films, is still a tour-de-force of dark comedy and big twists. Cary Grant changes identities so many times in the film that by the end, if you haven't figured out that its a running gag, you're at least going cross-eyed. Oh, and the film has a great MacGuffin in the center of the story...the hidden $250,000 that everyone seems to be after but no one can find. But wait, I'm getting ahead of those of you who haven't seen the movie.

The story begins, as all great thrillers do, with a body...this one being Charles Lampert (and ever so classically mudered...he is thrown from a train). Charles was the husband of Regina Lampert (Audrey Hepburn), who before hearing of his death was planning to divorce him while on holiday at a ski chalet. However, upon returning home, Reggie (Regina) discovers that her apartment has been completely cleaned out and that her would-be ex husband has been killed. According to the police, Charles sold the entire contents at auction for a sum of $250,000 and yet no money is to be found. All that remains of his possessions is a Lufthansa bag, a can of tooth powder, a letter addressed to Reggie, a comb, a key to their old apartment, and an empty wallet. This is confusing enough to Reggie, but she is soon besieged by three of Charles's old war buddies (George Kennedy, James Coburn, and Ned Glass) who claim that the money that has gone missing belongs to them (they apparently stole it fair and square during the war), a CIA agent named Bartholemew (Walter Matthau), and a suave stranger named Peter Joshua (Cary Grant), who has a few secrets of his own. As Reggie and Peter try to find the money before the three crooks do, bodies begin to pile up around them...suggesting that the murderer is after the money as well.

This film is so deliciously simple in its set-up and yet so complex in its payoff that it becomes increasingly rewarding to watch the film to its conclusion. You never know what will happen next (though years of watching films with similar plots may tip you off about a few things) and no one I've ever watched this film with has ever figured out where the money is hiding before the film wants them too, even though its in plain view the entire time (Bond did have some interesting suggestions though). The film also features a great score by Henry Mancini (the man responsible for The Pink Panther Theme) and it rides the rails between thrills, romance, and comedy rather well. Sometimes people are put off by Charade's sense of humor, it has moments of clear slapstick and witty comic dialogue that seem alien to a picture of this type.  However, it was the intent of the filmmakers to make a movie that was thrilling and exciting, but also spoofed these kinds of thrillers that populated the cinemas at that time.  Bond loved it, and chuckled at nearly all the jokes, and he was also rather surprised at the final twists and turns.  I'd say it was one of my most successful showings with I need to decide what I want to watch next with him.  Its a strange toss up between Grindhouse, Scream, and Thoroughly Modern Millie.  Black and white I know, but all are good in their own ways.  Anyway, if you guys who are reading this haven't yet seen Charade, I simply cannot recommend it enough.  Get it, now!

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