The film is notable for its screenplay, especially the repartee between Grant and Hepburn, for having been filmed on location in Paris, for Henry Mancini's score and theme song, and for the animated titles by Maurice Binder. Charade has received generally positive reviews from critics, and was additionally noted to contain influences of genres such as whodunit, screwball and spy thriller. It has also been referred to as "the best Hitchcock movie that Hitchcock never made".
While on a skiing holiday in Megève, Regina "Reggie" Lampert (Audrey Hepburn) tells her friend Sylvie Gaudel (Dominique Minot) that she has decided to divorce her husband Charles. She then meets a charming American stranger, Peter Joshua (Cary Grant). On her return to Paris, she finds her apartment is completely empty and police inspector Edouard Grandpierre (Jacques Marin) notifies her that Charles has been murdered while leaving Paris. Reggie is given her husband's travel bag, containing a letter addressed to her, a ticket to Venezuela, passports in multiple names and other items. At the funeral, three odd characters show up to view the body.
Reggie is summoned to meet CIA administrator Hamilton Bartholomew (Walter Matthau) at the U.S. Embassy. She learns that the three men are Tex Panthollow (James Coburn), Herman Scobie (George Kennedy), and Leopold W. Gideon (Ned Glass), the three survivors of a World War II OSS operation. Together with Charles and a fifth man, Carson Dyle, they were to deliver $250,000 in gold to the French Resistance, but they stole it instead. Dyle was fatally wounded in a German ambush, and Charles double-crossed the others and took all the gold. The three men want the missing money, and the U.S. government wants it back. Bartholomew insists that Reggie has it, even if she does not know where it is.
Peter tracks Reggie down and helps her move into a hotel. The three criminals separately threaten Reggie, each convinced that she knows where the money is. Scobie then shocks Reggie by claiming that Peter is in league with the trio, after which Peter confesses to her that he is really Carson Dyle's brother, Alexander, and is convinced that the others murdered Carson.
As the hunt for the money continues, first Scobie is found murdered, then Gideon is killed in an elevator. Meanwhile, Reggie falls in love with Dyle, but gets yet another shock when she learns from Bartholomew that Carson Dyle had no brother. Confronted with this, Alexander now admits he is actually Adam Canfield, a professional thief. Although frustrated by his dishonesty, Reggie still finds herself trusting him.
Reggie and Adam go to the location of Charles's last appointment and find an outdoor market. They also spot Tex there and Adam follows him. Seeing booths selling stamps to collectors, both realize separately that Charles must have purchased rare stamps and stuck them on an envelope in plain sight in his travel bag, but when they get to Reggie's hotel room the stamps are gone because Reggie had given them to Sylvie's boy, Jean-Louis (Thomas Chelimsky), for his collection. Reggie now also realizes the stamps' significance, so she, Sylvie, and Jean-Louis find the stamp trader, Mr. Felix (Paul Bonifas) who, recognizing the value of the stamps, returns them to Reggie.
Back at the hotel, Reggie finds Tex murdered as well. While dying, he wrote the name "Dyle". Assuming that Alexander is the murderer after all, a frightened Reggie telephones Bartholomew, who arranges to meet her. When she leaves the hotel, Adam spots her and gives chase through the streets of Paris and the subway. At the rendezvous, Reggie is caught out in the open between the two men. Adam tells her that Bartholomew is really Carson Dyle, who was only wounded by the Germans. (To fool Reggie, he had made the appointment with her for lunchtime, when the real Bartholomew's office would be unoccupied.) After another chase through an empty theater, Adam kills Dyle to save Reggie.
Next day Reggie and Adam go to the embassy to turn over the stamps, but Adam refuses to accompany her further. Going in, Reggie is shocked to find that Adam is really Brian Cruikshank, the government official responsible for recovering stolen property. Now his true identity is revealed, he promises to marry her.
The movie ends with a split-screen grid showing flashback shots of Brian's four identities, while Reggie says she hopes that they have lots of boys, so they can name them all after him.Audrey Hepburn as Regina "Reggie" Lampert
Thomas Chelimsky as Jean-Louis Gaudel
Dominique Minot as Sylvie Gaudel
Cary Grant as Brian Cruikshank (alias Peter Joshua, alias Alexander "Alex" Dyle, alias Adam Canfield)
Jacques Marin as Insp. Edouard Grandpierre
Ned Glass as Leopold W. Gideon
James Coburn as Tex Panthollow
George Kennedy as Herman Scobie
Walter Matthau as Carson Dyle (alias Hamilton Bartholomew)
Paul Bonifas as Mr. Felix, the stamp dealer
When screenwriters Peter Stone and Marc Behm submitted their script The Unsuspecting Wife around Hollywood, they were unable to sell it. Stone then turned it into a novel, retitled Charade, which found a publisher and was also serialized in Redbook magazine, as many novels were at the time. In Redbook it caught the attention of the same Hollywood companies that had passed on it earlier. The film rights were quickly sold to producer/director Stanley Donen. Stone then wrote the final shooting script, tailored to stars Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, with Behm receiving story co-credit.
Hepburn shot the film in the fall of 1962, immediately after Paris When It Sizzles, which she shot that summer in a number of the same locations in Paris, but production difficulties with that film caused it to be released four months after Charade.
When the film was released at Christmas, 1963, Audrey Hepburn's line, "at any moment we could be assassinated," was dubbed over to become "at any moment we could be eliminated" due to the recent assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The dubbed word stood out quite clearly and all official video releases of the film have since restored the original dialogue, though some public domain videos taken from original release prints still carry the redubbed line.
Cary Grant (who turned 59 during filming) was sensitive about the 25-year age difference between Audrey Hepburn (33 at the time of filming) and himself, and this made him uncomfortable with the romantic interplay between them. To satisfy his concerns, the filmmakers agreed to add several lines of dialogue in which Grant's character comments on his age and Regina — Hepburn's character — is portrayed as the pursuer.
The screenwriter, Peter Stone, and the director, Stanley Donen, have an unusual joint cameo role in the film. When Reggie goes to the U.S. Embassy to meet with Bartholomew, two men get on the elevator as she gets off. The man who says, "I bluffed the old man out of the last pot — with a pair of deuces" is Stone, but the voice is Donen's. Stone's voice is later used for the U.S. Marine who is guarding the Embassy at the end of the film.
Charade has received generally positive reviews from critics, receiving a 92% approval rating based on 35 reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, with an average of 8.1 out of 10.
In a review published January 6, 1964 in The New York Times by Bosley Crowther, the film was criticized for its "grisly touches" and "gruesome violence," despite receiving praise for its screenplay with regards to its "sudden twists, shocking gags, eccentric arrangements and occasionally bright and brittle lines" as well as Donen's direction, said to be halfway between a 1930s screwball comedy and North by Northwest by Alfred Hitchcock, which also starred Cary Grant.
In a Time Out review, the film was rated positively, with the assertion that it is a "mammoth audience teaser [...] Grant imparts his ineffable charm, Kennedy (with metal hand) provides comic brutality, while Hepburn is elegantly fraught." While reviewing the blu-ray DVD version of the film, Chris Cabin of Slant Magazine gave the film a positive three-and-a-half out of five rating, calling it a "high-end, kitschy whodunit", and writing that it is "riotous and chaotic take on the spy thriller, essentially, but it structurally resembles Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None" as well as describing it as "some sort of miraculous entertainment." MAD Magazine's parody "Charades", starring "Cary Grand" and "Audrey Heartburn," and directed by "Stanley Done-In", appeared in its issue 88 (July 1964).
American Film Institute recognition2000 AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs Nominated
2001 AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominated
2002 AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominated
2005 AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominated
Kokhono Megh (1968). Bengali-language adaptation. Starring Uttam Kumar and Anjana Bhowmik.
Somebody Killed Her Husband (1978). Starring Farrah Fawcett and Jeff Bridges. Loose remake. Released in Japan as Charade '79.
The Truth About Charlie (2002). Starring Mark Wahlberg and Thandie Newton. Directed by Jonathan Demme. Peter Stone so disliked the remake that he refused his story credit on it, and is instead credited as Peter Joshua, one of Grant's character's aliases in Charade.
Chura Liyaa Hai Tumne (2003). Hindi-language adaptation. Starring Esha Deol and Zayed Khan. Directed by Sangeeth Sivan.
The film includes a notice reading "MCMLXIII BY UNIVERSAL PICTURES COMPANY, INC. and STANLEY DONEN FILMS, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED", but omitting the word "Copyright", "Copr.", or the symbol "©". At the time (before 1978), U.S. law required works to include the word, abbreviation, or symbol in order to be copyrighted.
Because Universal put no proper copyright notice on Charade, the film entered public domain in the USA immediately upon its release. Copies of this movie, made from film prints of varying quality, have been available on VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray based on its status in the public domain. However, while the film itself is public domain, the original music remains under copyright if outside of the context of the film.
Universal released an official VHS cassette of the film beginning in the mid-1980s, transferred from their film elements and presented in the unmasked 4:3 ratio despite being modified for "full screen". In 1999, Universal licensed the film to The Criterion Collection for a first time DVD release in the original widescreen format as spine #57. Competing with dozens of unofficial releases, the more expensive Criterion disc featured the only authorized professional transfer of the film on DVD, but was not enhanced for 16:9 displays like many of the other letterboxed sourced DVD releases of the time. Universal eventually issued their own release as a bonus feature included with the DVD of The Truth About Charlie (2002). This version is a different source than the earlier Criterion disc and is in also in the original 1.85:1 ratio but anamorphicly enhanced for 16:9. Criterion subsequently reissued their DVD in 2004 with the same number 57 spine, but this time features the same 16:9 transfer seen in The Truth About Charlie DVD release.
In 2010, Criterion released a Blu-ray edition of the film utilizing a new 2k widescreen restoration of the interpositive in collaboration with Universal Pictures. For the studio's 100th anniversary in 2012, Universal issued its own standalone DVD with a digital copy with a Blu-ray following in 2013 for the film's 50th anniversary. These Universal releases use the same 2k restored transfer as the Criterion Blu-ray.
The film is also available for free download at the Internet Archive.
Henry Mancini composed the music and Johnny Mercer wrote the lyrics. Mancini commented: "Our next film together was 'Charade' in 1963. Stanley Donen directed Peter Stone's screenplay. There is a scene in the movie where Audrey returns from a happy winter holiday to her Paris flat to find it stripped of everything of value. Bare floors and the walls are all that remain. Her loutish husband had absconded with all of her worldly goods. She enters the dimly-lit apartment with her suitcase and surveys the scene. Her feelings are of sadness, loneliness and vulnerability. To me, it translated into a sad little Parisian waltz. With that image of Audrey in my mind, I went to the piano and within less than an hour 'Charade' was written. I played it for Audrey and Stanley. Both felt it was just right for the movie. Johnny Mercer added his poetry, and the song was nominated for an Oscar that year". Although Mercer collaborated with Mancini on "Moon River", "The Days of Wine and Roses" and "The Sweetheart Tree", Mercer said that "Charade" was his favorite Mancini melody. The songs, all written by Mancini, include:"Bistro"
"The Happy Carousel"
"The Drip-Dry Waltz"
"Punch And Judy"
In 2012, Intrada Records released the complete score as heard in the film (the previous soundtrack album was a re-recording).