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.)
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.
"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.
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!
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"
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.
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.
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.