A train races down the tracks in a desolate country scene. Before the opening credits roll, one of its passengers tumbles out in his pajamas. Dead.
The widow – although she doesn’t it know it yet – also appears to be about to meet a violent end at a ski resort. As Reggie Lampert (played by Audrey Hepburn) sips a cup of coffee, a gun is aimed directly at her. Fortunately, it’s a water gun, and the shooter is her young nephew, Jean-Louis (Thomas Chelimsky).
His next water-soaked victim is Peter Joshua (Cary Grant). This Stanley Donen film, “Charade” (1963), is being re-released this year on DVD. It also can be seen online, and is well worth the view.
Most of the action in this romantic comedy/suspense thriller takes place in The City of Lights. Several years ago, this movie inspired my husband, Dave, our daughters, and me, (all of us “Charade” aficionados) to check into the Hotel St. Jacques, stroll along the Seine River, dine on a riverboat, tour a market off the Champs-Elysees and take in other sites featured in the movie.
When Hepburn returns to Paris, she discovers her husband, Charles, had emptied out their place. She frantically runs from room to room, and is startled when Inspector Edouard Grandpierre (Jacques Marin) emerges. He asks her to come with him.
It contained an agenda listing his last appointment – Thursday at The Gardens, 4,000 francs, a letter to her – stamped and unsealed, keys to their apartment, a comb, a fountain pen, a toothbrush and tooth powder.
Not much to go on. When she returns to the apartment, the door creaks, and she hears steps across the floor. It’s Peter Joshua (Grant), and he suggests she go to a hotel where she’ll have a safe place to stay.
Hotel St. Jacques actually is a great place to stay. Some of the film’s interior shots were filmed here. But this turns out to be a bad choice for Hepburn. She no sooner opens the door to her room than she is confronted by George Kennedy (as Herman Scobie) – one of three men she wishes to avoid.
Hepburn runs toward a winding antique staircase and screams for Grant. Grant rushes inside. You hear a scuffle and then silence. Hepburn tentatively opens the door and finds Grant on the floor. Kennedy is nowhere in sight. He escaped out the window. Grant follows.
When you step outside the hotel at night, you can almost visualize Grant leaping from one balcony to another in pursuit of Kennedy.
A fourth man, Hamilton Bartholemew (Walter Matthau), tells her that he’s with the CIA, and the money her husband stole really belongs to the U.S.government. Matthau tells her the government wants the money back. He warns Hepburn: “Now that he’s (Charles) dead, you’re their only lead.”
Grant and Hepburn also find time for romance over dinner aboard a riverboat along the Seine River. We took a similar cruise. In the dark, the Eiffel Tower looked golden and the view of the Notre Dame Cathedral from the river also is impressive.
Despite this idyllic setting, the body count and tension mount in the film.
The movie is a classic game of who do you trust. Donen keeps us guessing, even after Hepburn discovers where her husband hid the money.
If you can’t make it to Paris, check out this movie. Viewer discretion is advised. Shortly after you watch it, you’ll want to see the real thing.
** Post a comment below if you’d like to share what film from past decades is most memorable to you?
* Photos of Audrey Hepburn, Jacques Marin, Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, George Kennedy, and Walter Matthau and Audrey Hepburn in the movie, “Charade” (1963)
* “Charade” – movie trailer – about 3 minutes
* “Charade” – movie summary, cast on IMDb (Internet Movie Database)