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Arguably the Best Cast in a Thriller Ever


"North by Northwest" had three great stars: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason,but I think that "Charade" went Hitchcock several better.

First of all, "Charade" got Audrey Hepburn, an actress Hitchcock always wanted to work with, but couldn't (they were to make a movie called "No Bail for the Judge" in 1960, but Hepburn pulled out.)

Second, "Charade" paired Hepburn for the only time with Cary Grant, creating one of the great screen couples of all time. What was perfect was that Grant was finally looking a bit old, a bit puffy, but Hepburn -- always good with older male co-stars -- could keep the May-December romance sexy and witty without being too physical. Also, Grant and Hepburn had two of the great movie voices.

Walter Matthau was a top character actor when "Charade" was made, and within a few years, was a top star himself. Funny: Matthau looks a lot older in "Charade" than in his star movies later. You get better hairstyles, clothes and make-up when you're a star.

James Coburn, too, would soon become a star. His walk was almost as distinctive as Cary Grant's, and he is a scary scream as the drawling "Tex," here, berating Grant thusly: "Yew fell fer her like an egg off a tall CHEECKEN! You nincompoop!"

George Kennedy would win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1968 for "Cool Hand Luke" and is here a suitable threatening yet funny heavy. Great fight scene with the still-fit (and not entirely stunt-doubled) Grant.

Grant and Hepburn, plus Matthau, Coburn, and Kennedy. They don't cast them like that anymore.

P.S. For a short while, Grant backed out of Charade, so Hepburn did too. The movie was almost made with the very young Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood.

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Initially, the reason Grant backed out of Charade was because of the age difference between he and Audrey. Luckily, Cary decided to do the film after all. He also wanted Audrey to be his leading lady in his next film, Father Goose. I believe Hepburn was making My Fair Lady at the time and she couldn't do it. This is a great film with, I agree, a terrific cast. Charade wouldn't have been the same with Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood cast, as talented as they were.

"Dry your eyes baby, it's out of character."

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I agree with you, ecarle

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Thanks. I might add that another reason Grant was out of "Charade" (for awhile) is that he agreed to do a Howard Hawks' film called "Man's Favorite Sport?" instead. Grant had done many films with Hawks in the Golden Era (Bringing Up Baby, Only Angels Have Wings, His Girl Friday) and felt Hawks was a good bet.

But Grant read the Hawks script and changed his mind,called Stanley Donen and said "I'll do 'Charade' now, instead." So Hepburn came back. Beatty and Wood -- who were talented but not yet "seasoned" enough for these roles (Beatty at least) -- were out.

Full circle: "Man's Favorite Sport?" was made with Rock Hudson, who, knowing the script was written for Grant, did a fairly subtle Cary Grant impression in that lightweight comedy.

Bottom line: Cary Grant picked the right movie.

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Grant was also supposed to do Roman Holiday and Sabrina with Hepburn in the 50's. He turned down Roman Holiday because he felt he was too old, and he turned down Sabrina due to scheduling reasons. Gregory Peck was great in Roman Holiday (though Grant might have been even better), but Cary Grant was a much better choice than Humphrey Bogart for Sabrina. Bogart looked like he could have been Hepburn's great grandfather.

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In a discussion on TCM, the host (or perhaps the critic) says Grant insisted that Hepburn be the pursuer in the movie rather than himself. He felt he was too old to be seen chasing her. I think his instince was exactly right and the movie is much funnier-and more romantic-with Hepburn being after him and him resisting if only slightly.

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SPOILERS

Well, at the time it was made, it was rather like this:

Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, together for the first time! (Something even Hitchcock couldn't pull off).

With, arguably, the best character actor of the early sixties in support (Matthau, coming off of a fine dramatic performance in "Lonely Are the Brave," and possessed of so much natural timing and charisma despite his hangdog face that he would defy the odds and become a full-fledged movie star three years later)

And: the exciting Western star of "The Magnificent Seven" -- James Coburn -- amusingly taking his Western persona into a counterpoint role in a PARIS-based thriller.

Note: both Matthau and Coburn have classic character names in this movie: Hamilton Bartholomew and Tex Penthollow.

Plus: George Kennedy. TV was filled with pugs, thugs and mugs, but Kennedy was something special. He had a sense of humor and buffoonery to go with his menace. Note how "Herman Scobie" (another great character name) seems dangerous and funny all at the same time. That's razor's edge acting, and Kennedy nailed it. Note his great line reading of the words "One more time" on the rooftop before fighting Grant: "One...MORE...time!" Masterly.

Grant and Hepburn were the main attraction to "Charade" in 1963 when it came out, but by 1968 when it got its first NBC-TV American nationwide showing, it was a movie with four stars in it: Grant, Hepburn, Matthau, and Coburn. Kennedy would soon follow.

"Charade" is NOT a Hitchcockian thriller. Hitchcock didn't do mysteries or whodunnits. "Charade" has mystery elements -- the fortune and the killer are both hidden in "plain sight," and believe me, in '63, people were fooled by both.

Walter Matthau showed his versatility: he's such a deadpan boob of a secret agent in the early scenes that you take him for comic relief ("And here's a photo of Little Ham, Jr.") But Matthau had played plenty of murderous villains on TV, and he believably morphed into the brutal killer of four men at film's end.

About those four murders: "Charade" had a reputation as a gory thriller. Not quite "Psycho," but not for kids. Hepburn's husband's dead face is bloody, Ned Glass gets his throat slashed, Coburn suffocates to death in a plastic bag, Kennedy is found drowned in a bathtub, and even Cary Grant's back is bloodily slashed open by Kennedy's hook hand. Matthau's fall was a grisly backbreaker of a death for a villain.

Indeed, "Charade" came out only a few weeks after the JFK assassination, and some critics were shocked and disgusted that Grant and Hepburn had made such a violent thriller.

"Charade" is a mix of "North by Northwest," "To Catch A Thief" "The Trouble With Harry" and "Psycho," but its deadpan humor and gangster-like thugs took it to areas Hitchcock didn't want to go. It makes for a fun difference.

With a GREAT cast. Even if they NOT all were stars at the time, they all had star charisma. It was as if Grant and Hepburn deserved nothing less than the best in suppport.

Coburn with his famous voice and elegant loping walk; Matthau with his burp-rhythm timing and deadpan Bronx accent ("Please remembuh what happened to yuh husband, Miz Lampuht...") Kennedy with his sonorous goonish voice; even Sneezy Ned Glass as a Jewish haberdasher of a killer. Great, entertaining guys, all.

(Not to mention the funny French police inspector -- "ANOTHER one in his pajamas? -- and Hepburn's loyal French female friend.)

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Hitchcock didn't do mysteries or whodunnits.


The main conflict in Suspicion is the "suspicion" that Cary Grant was a killer. It's essentially a mystery. Is he or is he not a murderer? I'm not a fan of the film, but it is a mystery.

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"Marathon Man" has a major cast, and is one of my favorite movies, but there's something a bit more classic, I think, about Grant and Hepburn together romantically backed by a group of "star men."

"Marathon Man" is rather a "boy's club," with girl Marthe Keller invited along for the ride, and killed off.

It is a funny thing about movie violence.

"Charade" was considered an extremely violent thriller in 1963, but by the time "Marathon Man" was made in the "R"-rated seventies, violence had taken a grim quantum leap to torture and far more lingering and murderous bloody killings.

It was as if the American film had to keep getting nastier and nastier, until the "blood blister" broke around 1981 ("Raiders of the Lost Ark") and things got fun again. Gory violence moved more exclusively to shockers for teenagers--oh, come to think of it, it didn't. "Silence of the Lambs," "Seven" "Reservoir Dogs," "Saving Private Ryan," : movie violence is here to stay.

I rather prefer Cary Grant's cool in "Charade" to Dustin Hoffman's neurotic whining as an "innocent man" in "Marathon Man" btw, even if Hoffman had PLENTY to whine about in "MM."

"Charade" has one of the wittiest scripts ever written. I like the "throwaway" when Hepburn is in an elevator with two CIA men, one of whom says he bluffed another at cards: "If I can bluff him, what are the Russians doing to him?"

The man that says that is "Charade" screenwriter Peter Stone, with his voice dubbed by "Charade" director Stanley Donen!

Indeed, "Charade" is a personal favorite. Grant, Hepburn, and Matthau are three of my favorite stars (I love the end, when Grant's smooth voice plays against Matthau's Bronx squawk in the climax), and "Charade" is my personal favorite film of 1963, just this side of the 1963 childhood favorite "Mad, Mad, World" (no movie intellectual, I), which, of course, doesn't seem quite adult enough now. "Charade" still does.

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I have to agree that Grant and Hepburn are my favorite actors of all time for many reasons. "Charade" is on my all time favorite movie list at number 3. I love, love, love this movie, too, ecarle!

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I suppose I should refine my statement to: "Hitchcock said he never did mysteries."

Hitchocck's contention being that in a whodunnit or "puzzle movie" there is no emotion, you just wait to find out who the killer is.

He preferred to give us information up front --- we KNOW who the killers are in "Strangers on a Train" and "Frenzy" , and watch others blamed for their crimes, for instance -- and suspense follows.

But the truth is, Hitchcock did like to keep us mystified, at least for awhile, in some of his films:

Is husband Cary Grant a killer?
Did Thorwald murder his wife, or not?
Who is George Kaplan?
Why does Judy look like Madeleine?
How come we never see Mrs. Bates' face?
Why does Marnie steal and hate men?
How could Paul Newman defect to the Commies?

These are almost "mysteries that we don't know are mysteries"

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Bump

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All thrillers are essentially mysteries. I dont think you can have one with out the other.

I am a fan of both Charade and Marathon Man. The casting was perfect for both in very different ways. I have been watching a lot of Scheider films lately and have found an amazing appreciation for his acting especially in suspense thrillers so at the moment I am partial to that and find Marathon Man a more thrilling cast.

But I loved the and writing of Charade and can not imagine a better cast to pull it off. The elements of comedy in the film can be tricky because IMO they lighten the suspense making me care less about the characters guilt. But I think in the 60's it probably made the film even more terrifying because of the way people thought about criminals and murder. In that era films started to portray murders not as obvious wanted thieves and killers but rather lurking right on the surface of everyday life, a family member, a neighbor, an attractive acquaintance.

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another good post from ecarle... i bump into you around these boards every few months.

agreed on the casting - this is quite the ensemble. and a lot of fun to watch everyone. has the feel of a hitchcock in a lot of ways - especially in the combination of humor and darkness/violence, along with the great use of sets.

i can't imagine beatty and wood, although i guess one would have to see it and erase this film from memory to truly judge.

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In the intro to one of his TV episodes, Hitchcock is holding a book and says: "This is a murder mystery. I read them to take my mind off my work." Sounds like a one liner to the uninitiated, but a lot of truth in that line. Most murder mysteries are about finding out whodunit and are totally lacking in suspense. The suspense in Hitcocock films usually kicks in AFTER the whodunit is revealed, as in Rear Window and Vertigo. Psycho is a famous exception, a film that works both as a mystery and suspense story.

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It's not really a thriller, but Lawrence of Arabia has one of the best casts ever. Peter O'Toole, Jose Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, Arthur Kennedy, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Claude Rains, Jack Hawkins, and Alec Guinness.

"Charming company you keep."

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Yes indeed.

Epics though, often relied on those massive all-star casts.

I think that "Charade" is impressive because the key roles have major stars(Grant, Hepburn) or about-to-be stars(Matthau, Coburn), all working in fairly close proximity to each other, not spread out in cameos, etc.

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....Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Orson Welles, Marlene Dietrich, Akim Tamiroff, Mercedes McCambridge, Joseph Cotten, Ray Collins, Joseph Calleia, and, of course, Zsa Zsa.

....Now there's a cast.

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These are interesting new posts in that, for sure, there's some thrillers out there with "overall" great casts; not just the ranking stars -- everybody(Zsa Zsa).

Now "Touch of Evil" sure feels on par with "Charade" somewhat, because the standard I am using(totally arbitrary) is: a cast that has stars who had, or would carry a movie "above the title." "Charade" has four definitely(Grant, Hepburn, Matthau, and Coburn), and perhaps a fifth in George Kennedy, who, after his Oscar, spent a few years over the title as, say, a villain in a John Wayne movie.

Apply that standard to "Touch of Evil": By my count, the above the title stars are FIVE: Heston, Leigh, Welles(as an actor as well as director), Dietrich, Cotten. Dietrich had "superstar mystique"(even in the years after she lost the superstardom), Heston was a major star for many years.

Leigh was a "second tier" star who landed in three classics(Touch of Evil, Psycho, Manchurian Candidate) but didn't quite have the stand alone aura of a Dietrich.

Joseph Cotten's star career faded fast, and he became a rather grizzled looking character guy. (He only does a cameo in TOE.) Welles, was, well...Welles. A superstar director, a character star.

I'm thinking, yeah, maybe "Touch of Evil" DOES have more significant stars than "Charade" except:

Cary Grant trumps Charlton Heston (as a matter of style and star charisma)
Audrey Hepburn trumps Leigh and Dietrich (as a matter of "ranking sustained superstardom") Now, I say that much preferring Leigh to Hepburn OR Dietrich-- but understanding her "lower rank."

And personally(this is the fun part) I just like Walter Matthau and James Coburn in their prime. Two cool guys of differing types. Together or apart, they trump Joseph Cotten AND Charlton Heston in my book.

Thus, it all boils down to:

There are arguably OTHER best casts in a thriller ever.

But I still like the five in Charade...maybe best to ME.

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....Thus, it all boils down to

....Maybe the question should also include weighing the remaining five* against five supporting / bit players ( not yet mentioned ) in "Charade".

...*Akim Tamiroff, Mercedes McCambridge, Ray Collins, Joseph Calleia, and, of course, Zsa Zsa....Not to mention Gus Schilling, Billy House, Harry Shannon, Joi Lansing and Dennis Weaver ( I'm still not convinced that was Keenan Wynn playing Marcia Linnekar's lawyer ).

....BTW, who the hell played Rudy Linneker? No one seems to know.

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I certainly don't know.

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This movie is on my top ten list.





"great minds think differently"

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Warren Beatty would have ruined the movie.

James Coburn, George Kennedy and Ned Glass are a great trio of villains.

www.examiner.com/x-3877-dc-film-industry-examiner

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Matthau and Kennedy also stopped off on the way to stardom to support Gregory Peck in Mirage. Although Mirage was not a big hit, for Matthau this was a big attention grabbing role for which he got a solo title card in the opening credits for the first time. The film also basically cemented the comic hang dog style he would later hone as a leading man.

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For a thriller cast, it doesn't get any better than Seven Days in May:

Burt Lancaster
Kirk Douglas
Fredric March
Ava Gardner
Martin Balsam
Edmond O'Brien
George Macready

Or how about Cape Fear?

Gregory Peck
Robert Mitchum
Polly Bergen
Martin Balsam
Telly Savalas

"...if that was off, I'd be whoopin' your ass up and down this street." ~ an irate Tarantino

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Well, I said arguably...


I'm ready to fold on "Seven Days in May," given its Four Marquee stars(Lancaster, Douglas, March, Gardner) and top notch support. Only slight quibble, its not quite a "thriller." I don't recall anyone getting killed, which I think marks a true thriller. It was a bit closer to a political suspense drama.

Cape Fear is a little less competitive

Peck and Mitchum are Marquee Stars, thus matched by Grant and Hepburn.

But the support in "Cape Fear" would not RISE to stardom as Matthau, Coburn and(arguably) Kennedy would in Charade.

One more thing: the one-time-only pairing of Grant and Hepburn at the peak of their stardom almost trumps the four leads in "Seven Days" IMHO.

But still: "Seven Days" is probably the winner here.

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ecarle,

Glad to see you agree. But just to clarify something:

Only slight quibble, its not quite a "thriller." I don't recall anyone getting killed, which I think marks a true thriller. It was a bit closer to a political suspense drama.

Seven Days in May is definitely a thriller...a political thriller, but a thriller nontheless. Trying to make a distinction between "thriller" and "political suspense drama" is pretty much splitting hairs, IMO.

And while I don't think that a "killing" is a prerequisite to fall under the "thriller" parameters, Balsam does die in a mysterious plane crash.

Another candidate:

Three Days of the Condor:

Robert Redford
Faye Dunaway
Cliff Robertson
Max Von Sydow
John Houseman (who also has an uncredited role in Seven Days in May)

...if that was off, I'd be whoopin' your ass up and down this street. ~ an irate Tarantino

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Seven Days in May is definitely a thriller...a political thriller, but a thriller nontheless. Trying to make a distinction between "thriller" and "political suspense drama" is pretty much splitting hairs, IMO.

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Ya got me. It was splitting hairs.

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And while I don't think that a "killing" is a prerequisite to fall under the "thriller" parameters, (SPOILER)

You know, for years, I thought that WAS an accident? I was a dope for awhile.

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Another candidate:

Three Days of the Condor:

Robert Redford
Faye Dunaway
Cliff Robertson
Max Von Sydow
John Houseman (who also has an uncredited role in Seven Days in May)

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Well, I said arguably.

But let's take a closer look:

Cary Grant: always a major star.
Audrey Hepburn: for most of the time, a major star
Walter Matthau: eventually a major star who could carry a movie over the marquee
James Coburn: eventually a major star who could carry a movie over the marquee

I don't quite think that Robertson, Von Sydow and Houseman were major stars could carry a movie over the marquee. Redford: yes. Dunaway: sort of(but not like Audrey.)

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bump

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it had a great cast.

I could watch Audrey Hepburn all day..
Cary Grant is the guy I grew up wanting to be.

ecarle, I have seen your posts on other threads...
for now... I think you are one of the best posters on the board.

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it had a great cast.

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Yes, it did. Arguably the best cast in a thriller. Except for Seven Days in May. And maybe Marathon Man. And possibly Three Days of the Condor.

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I could watch Audrey Hepburn all day..

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Me, too. All that sex appeal in that teeny tiny little body. Great voice, great face, and when she told any man "I love you" -- you BELIEVED IT.

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Cary Grant is the guy I grew up wanting to be.

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Didn't we all? We may not look like him, but we tried to BEHAVE like him. Cool, low-key, self possessed. And try to get the ladies to come to US.

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ecarle, I have seen your posts on other threads...
for now... I think you are one of the best posters on the board

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Thank you very much for the kind words. I will take your phrase "for now" as a caution to not let down on the work.

I shall endeavor to do my very best!

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I love the line from Cary Grant...
that I also would like to be Cary Grant.

and I will never understand Jack Warner deciding to dub Audrey Hepburn's voice in My Fair Lady.

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