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Hidden agenda and intrigue highlight Charade


Directed by Stanley Donen.

Written by Peter Stone.

Starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant.

LSCFriday Classics.

10-250, 7:30 p.m.

By Mandisa T. Washington

How do you hide a quarter of a million dollars in a carry-on bag? That's the question on everyone's mind in Charade, the Friday night LSC Classic movie. It takes place in Paris, several years after World War II, when people are just starting to forget about the war. But there are some things that people can't forget - especially the theft of $250,000 meant for the war effort in Europe.

One of the thieves eluded his partners and took the money to France, where he got married and lived happily ever after. Or at least until one of his old friends turns up and throws him off a train. Unfortunately, he may have taken the secret of where the money was hidden to his grave. Now, everyone with a claim to the money (real or imagined) is chasing the man's widow, if we assume he passed the secret on to her. However, she only just found out that her husband was anything but a rather dull, rich collector of antiques.

And so begins the intricate cat-and-mouse game to find the loot. Every character in Charade has his own agenda, which is never what it appears to be. Even the loot is disguised in this movie, hiding in plain sight of everyone. The American secret agents must retrieve the stolen money quietly, because the money was sent without Congressional approval. Each of the German thieves wants the money for himself, so they're hiding from the police and each other. Even the French inspector trying to solve the husband's murder gets involved, because he wants to make lieutenant this year.

Hepburn's performance as the intelligent yet naive widow is excellent. Her humor and wit under pressure help to move the story along, and her gasps and shrieks make the role more realistic. She makes the audience feel an emotional attachment to the characters, so that you really care about whether she makes it through or not, rather than sitting back and passively watching the events unfold on the screen. She even manages to outshine her leading man, the ever-popular Cary Grant, who tries to do his job objectively, but feels himself drawn to this brave young woman in distress.

People say that villains make the movie, and this claim holds true in Charade. The two stars face tough opposition in the forms of Walter Matthau and James Coburn. Coburn's hostility and aggression come through vividly as he remarks that the best way to get information involves hot metal spikes, bright lights, and brass knuckles. Mr. Matthau goes for the "wine and dine" approach, although it ends up as warm soda pop and old chicken-liverwurst finger sandwiches. Make no mistake though, he wants to get his hands on the money as badly as the rest.

There is quite a bit of apparent side-switching during the movie, as Hepburn changes her mind about who to trust with her life. But humor and suspense mix well in Charade, and enough romance is thrown in to balance out the spy vs. spy action. When all is said and done, Charade is a delightful action-adventure thriller, with enough plot twists and puzzles to satisfy even the most cynical viewer.