MovieChat Forums > MirageĀ (1965) Discussion > SPOILERS: Walter Matthau

SPOILERS: Walter Matthau


So maybe I missed it, and yes, I haven't seen the movie in a few years, but I remember trying to figure out what happened to Walter Matthau.

Doesn't Gregory Peck, after a fight of some sort, enter Matthau's detective officer, looking for him, but the office is empty. Isn't that the last you see of Matthau? Is it implied that he's dead? Is he bad? I'm just really curious all of a sudden.

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The private eye played by Matthau was killed. Stillwell (Peck) finds him in his office on his back on his desk with a telephone cord wrapped around his neck, sending Stillwell into a violent rage.

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"Mirage" was just about Walter Matthau's last gig as a supporting actor. "The Fortune Cookie" the next year won him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, but Matthau contended (rightly) that that role was a lead opposite Jack Lemmon.

Gregory Peck had extra money put into the budget to hire Walter Matthau to play private detective Ted Casselle, a former refrigerator repairman whose first case -- yikes! -- is helping Peck figure out who he is.

Matthau accepted the role, but told Peck and director Edward Dmtryk that killing him off so relatively early in the film would be a box office mistake. "Mirage" didn't do too well -- great film that it is -- and we can only wonder.

Certainly, Matthau is the one pleasant and amiable character in "Mirage." It is possibly a measure of the movie's effectiveness as a rather nightmarish suspense film that Matthau indeed gets killed. Once Matthau goes, Peck is truly, terrifyingly on his own. Very scary.

P.S. I saw "Mirage" with a close relative, who, for a moment, thought that Matthau's funny character was just sleeping on his desk when Peck found him! Then he saw the phone cord...and was really mad that Matthau had been killed.

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As mad as Stillwell?

I think Casselle gets killed relatively late in the film, and sad though it is for such a likable character to get bumped off, it's a great touch in this film.


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SPOILERS also for "Charade":



It is rather late in the film...but early for Ted Casselle.

Funny thing: In "Charade" (1963), Matthau kills George Kennedy. In "Mirage" (1965), it is possible that George Kennedy killed Walter Matthau. Turnabout's fair play. (Though maybe that mean old man did it.)

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Another SPOILER:

My impression from my very first viewing of "Mirage" to the present was that the oldtimer was the culprit.

My family always used to get a laugh from my father's response to the old man's demise every time we'd see the film: "That guy led a charmed life!"

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Indeed. I can't remember exactly the line, but I also like how the old guy sticks a gun in Peck's ribs, and asserts his lethal menace by growling:

"How do you think I got to BE this old?"

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Side-bar: I've often seen Matthau's private detective...who, on his very first case actually figures out a lot of the mystery and helps Peck and then gets killed for it...is a successor to the private detective Arbogast (Martin Balsam) in Hitchcock's "Psycho" (1960.) Though Arbogast's murder was much more of a bloody jump-shock killing.

I'll bet Gregory Peck considered Martin Balsam (who worked with him in '62's "Cape Fear") for Ted Casselle, and then said "Nope, he can't do it. He's already played a sympathetic private eye who gets killed.")

And I'll bet that Hitchcock considered Walter Matthau (who appeared on many "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" TV shows) for Arbogast, saying "Nope, a little too funny and too tall to be taken by an old lady.)

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Interesting connection.

Another of the oltimer's lines in "Mirage" has something to do with there being no Social Security in this line of work.

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He was a good character. Very scary in that he was old, but so damn mean that you had to figure that he'd been a full-on MONSTER in his younger years, a relentless killer.

Gregory Peck understands this as well and elects to lead the guy to a well-deserved death under a bus...

P.S. I just remembered: when "Mirage" was released in 1965, after a first run engagement in the spring of 1965, it went out during the summer on a double-bill: with "Psycho," which had been given a "first-run re-release" in March.

Evidently somebody else saw a connection between the two movies.

I know. I saw the trailers for both at theater (as a kid) that summer. The "Psycho" one with Hitchcock strolling around the Bates Motel scared the hell out of me.

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Would like to see the "Mirage" trailer--don't know where to find it.

Hitch put his brand of humor into the "Psycho" trailer.

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Oddly enough, my only memory of the "Mirage" trailer was from seeing it as a kid, both in the movie theater and then a few years later when "Mirage" was shown on NBC-TV.

As I recall, the trailer had a certain jagged, freeze-frame aspect to it, as modernistic as the film.

btw, Universal later made a "quasi-remake" of "Mirage" for TV called "Jigsaw" with Bradford Dillman and Harry Guardino playing the Peck and Matthau roles. The idea was to remake the story in color, and with a "psychedelic" approach. However, as I recall, the movies are actually quite different in storyline, characters and scenes. Just a few scenes and lines were borrowed. "Mirage" was better.

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Considerably better!

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"well-deserved death under a bus"

I don't think it was a bus.

Anyway, I commented yesterday about the similarity in mood between Mirage and Psycho before even seeing this thread, so obviously lots of people feel the same way.

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In FALLEN ANGEL, the novel MIRAGE was based on, Casselle is not inexperienced but is an OSS veteran. And he doesn't get killed.

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Except that Arbogast wasn't taken by an old lady. The old lady had been dead for a long time. Perkins was hardly an 'old lady'.

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Mirage was a noirish flick from the James Bond era. That it was black and white probably hurt it less than the (usual) bad ads of Universal, Gregory Peck on the downslide (thanks to signing with Uni). I like it. Not a favorite but very nicely done, featuring a terrific cast.

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WIth all due respect to Walter Matthau, very few B&W films were financially successful during this period, eg, A Thousand Clowns, which was released the same year and was nominated for Best Picture did poorly. (Who's Afraid of VIrginia Woolf was an exception.) I saw the film on a double bill at a locatl theater having nothing else to do on a Saturday night, but with no great expectations, although I and most of the audinece loved the film. The NBC showing 2 years later probably got many times the theatrical audience.

It's funny that Matthau won the Supporting Oscar the following year for Fortune Cookie, in what was clearly a lead role. It would have been more appropriate for him to win for Mirage, a classic supporting role, but he wasn't nominated.

It's also amazing that it took the powers that be in Hollywood so long to realize Matthau's potential in a comic role, given that he was so consistently funny in dramas for years.

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Matthau is also excellent in BIGGER THAN LIFE with James Mason - a drama for sure.

I am not sure when he 'went over' to comedy.

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"What is it with you people?!"

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WIth all due respect to Walter Matthau, very few B&W films were financially successful during this period, eg, A Thousand Clowns, which was released the same year and was nominated for Best Picture did poorly. (Who's Afraid of VIrginia Woolf was an exception.)

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Good point. With color TV on the rise in homes and color TV programming, I think the Oscar Academy dropped the "Black and White Cinematography" category in 1967(though b/w could still be nominated WITH color)...and studios started frowning on b/w projects -- harder to sell to TV networks.

"Mirage" is one of the last of them, from Universal, at least.

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I saw the film on a double bill at a locatl theater having nothing else to do on a Saturday night, but with no great expectations, although I and most of the audinece loved the film. The NBC showing 2 years later probably got many times the theatrical audience.

I saw it on first release...perhaps a little too young for the nightmarish quality of the film, but very much liking Matthau. THEN I saw it on TV two years later. You're surely right, that "NBC Saturday Night at the Movies" took lots of great little movies with middling box office("Lonely are the Brave" with Kirk Douglas and the usual Universal Support of Matthau and Kennedy) becoming "famous" from their TV broadcasts.

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It's funny that Matthau won the Supporting Oscar the following year for Fortune Cookie, in what was clearly a lead role. It would have been more appropriate for him to win for Mirage, a classic supporting role, but he wasn't nominated.

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"That's show biz." "Fortune Cookie" came with "Oscar cred" -- Billy Wilder writing/directing, the Mirsches producing...and Matthau grudgingly went along with the Suppporting nod and got the win...and full stardom the very next year("A Guide for the Married Man" in '67), and superstardom the year after that ("The Odd Couple," which -- I contend, he stole from the higher-paid Lemmon thus reversing their star positions in the seventies.)

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It's also amazing that it took the powers that be in Hollywood so long to realize Matthau's potential in a comic role, given that he was so consistently funny in dramas for years.

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I lose track where I posted this elsewhere, but I have read that in the mid-sixties, some director told Matthau: "You'll soon be known as the best character actor in Hollywood," and Matthau replied, "No, I'm going to be a STAR. You watch." And he made it, role by role. Key: he turned down lots of roles, he asked for big money to play supporting parts. When "The Fortune Cookie" part came calling(Sinatra and Jackie Gleason were under consideration)...he was ready.

Matthau was no pretty-boy, but he was handsome enough, he had a very notable voice, and he was, crucially TALL. He played heavies because as a tall guy he was believable beating folks up, but his likeability and comic timing won out eventually. The movie "type" that preceded him, star-wise, was probably somewhere between WC Fields and Wallace Beery, neither of whom were handsome, but both of whom had comic charisma to spare.

Matthau stayed a star through the entire seventies(one poll ranked him below only Newman, McQueen, and Redford as a "female favorite") , with the requisite hits(Kotch, The Sunshine Boys, The Bad News Bears, House Calls) to "cover" the misses(and the critics seemed to like him in EVERYTHING. He got great reviews just for "showing up".)

During the seventies, Matthau took a break to return to thrillers for two great ones(Don Siegel's Charley Varrick and "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three") and one good one(The Laughing Policeman.) Interesting "The Taking of Pelham" was adapted from a novel for the screen by Peter Stone...who wrote "Charade" and "Mirage"!

PS. Walter Matthau was famous for having a very "mobile face" that could communicate exactly what he wanted it to. My favorite "Matthau look" in the film is a cutaway to him while he is having his "Dr. Pepper" in the bar with Peck and Peck says something that sounds crazy. Matthau's expression is JUST RIGHT.

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PS. Walter Matthau was famous for having a very "mobile face" that could communicate exactly what he wanted it to. My favorite "Matthau look" in the film is a cutaway to him while he is having his "Dr. Pepper" in the bar with Peck and Peck says something that sounds crazy. Matthau's expression is JUST RIGHT.

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If it's the scene I'm thinking of (one of my favorites in the film), the dialogue went something like this:

Matthau: (just making idle conversation)So what does a cost accountant do, anyway?

Peck: (wearily) I don't know. (pause for epiphany) I DON'T KNOW what a cost accountant does! (here's where we get the great reaction shot from Matthau) Well, don't you think there's something strange about that?

Matthau: That you've been working for 2 years in an office that dfoesn't exist at a job you know nothing about? No, I'd say that's par for the course on this case.

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Funny expression, funny lines. I have "Mirage" on DVR:

Stillwell: I don't know what a cost accountant DOES. I haven't the faintest idea.
[Casselle glances at Stillwell with a nod and a smile, then looks away with a tilt of the head and raised eyebrows, as if to say "what else is new?"]
Stillwell: You don't look very surprised.
Casselle: Why? Cause for the past two years you've been doing something you don't know anything about in an office that doesn't exist? What's there to be surprised about?

This, of course, raises the question, if he doesn't have any idea at all what a cost accountant does, how would he even metaphorically describe himself as one to Calvin?

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This, of course, raises the question, if he doesn't have any idea at all what a cost accountant does, how would he even metaphorically describe himself as one to Calvin?

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In the scene with Calvin, Stillwell is talking figuratively when he says he's the cost accountant of the organization, saying it's his job to figure out how to kill the most people in the most economical way. (You can probably get the exact line from the DVR.) Just because he's heard of the job title doesn't necessarily mean he would know anything specific about the job.

The fact that he says this only minutes before the trauma that produces his amnesia causes the phrase "cost accountant" to stick in his mind.

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Casselle glances at Stillwell with a nod and a smile, then looks away with a tilt of the head and raised eyebrows, as if to say "what else is new?"]

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This shot of Walter Matthau is very key to his "star charisma." He was evidently known in Hollywood as an actor who could move his face muscles around with great speed and dexterity to create EXACTLY the impression necessary to sell the meaning of a shot... without words.

Harder to do than you'd think. Jack Nicholson has this ability, too.

I can just picture a theater audience laughing suddenly and hard at this shot of Matthau reacting to Peck's "You don't look very surprised."

And take a look...Matthau is ALWAYS giving Peck (or the situations they encounter, like George Kennedy suddenly materializing in the skyscraper basement to kill Matthau) great looks with sudden shifts of his face muscles, eyebrows, and expression.

I have been watching Mirage this week as well. Its on the Encore channel.

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If it's the scene I'm thinking of (one of my favorites in the film), the dialogue went something like this:

Matthau: (just making idle conversation)So what does a cost accountant do, anyway?

Peck: (wearily) I don't know. (pause for epiphany) I DON'T KNOW what a cost accountant does! (here's where we get the great reaction shot from Matthau) Well, don't you think there's something strange about that?

Matthau: That you've been working for 2 years in an office that dfoesn't exist at a job you know nothing about? No, I'd say that's par for the course on this case.

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That's the scene and that's the great shot of Matthau.

I've DVRed "Mirage" and I have been watching parts of it several times over just for the fun of it and the memories of it.

The Peck-Matthau relationship in the film is funny and a little bit poignant. Matthau turns out to be a GOOD detective, not only in his research skills, but in how he keeps asking Peck questions in general and keeps turning the answers into solid hunches about what's going on("Your nightmare started at the exact moment that Charles Calvin's ended.") . And every time Matthau gets too close to the truth -- Peck snaps at him, insults him, belittles him.

There's a plot reason for that -- as Matthau says to Peck, "You don't WANT to find out the truth" or "You WANT to be all alone on this." Peck's anger is just like his "amnesia" -- a way of trying to avoid the memory of his role in Calvin's skyscraper fall (an ode, I might add to Norman Lloyd's fall from the Statue of Liberty in Hitchcock's "Saboteur".)

And in their last meeting together, Peck insults Matthau mightily and fires him -- and then takes it all back and wants to work with him some more. And Matthau agrees to keep helping, and leaves Peck's apartment.

And leaves the movie forever. Except for a cameo as a corpse. Man, do we miss Matthau for the rest of the movie, and in our memories after it is over. He was just trying to help.

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Right--the audience is as angry as Stillwell when he discovers the murdered Casselle.

I've wondered for a long time how Bo (presumably) did it. Hold a gun on Casselle from behind, grab the phone, wrap the cord around his neck and choke him while wrestling him across the desk? Or could Bo somehow have been helped by Willard, who leaves Bo behind while Willard and Lester go to Stillwell's apartment?

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To tell you the truth, I've always felt(I mean, like, for decades) that the death of Casselle was poorly handled in this picture.

Bad enough the decision to kill Matthau's likeable private eye off, and so I guess the writer Peter Stone and the director Edward Dymtryk decided that it should be "off-screen" -- we don't see him die.

Fair enough. So Peck finds the corpse on the desk with the phone round the neck.

I tell you: my audience LAUGHED at first. Some thought Matthau, established as a comedy character, was sleeping on the desk(I supppose the phone cord round the neck was meant to make sure we DIDN'T think that...but some laughed...and then got real upset when it was clear that Casselle was dead.)

Here's the weird thing: Dymtryk never gives us a "clear close-up" on the dead Matthau's face. I have studied this scene on DVR recently, and I'm pretty sure that IS actually Matthau on the desk(the rear angle on his forehead and nose suggest this is so), but it could be a body double. In any event, why not SHOW Matthau's face?

I'm guessing because: Matthau was too nice, and they didn't want to linger on him dead. Or maybe in 1965, such a close-up was "too brutal."

Further confusion: who DID kill Matthau? Your assessments are as good as any. Some of us out here wanted it to have been George Kennedy "conclusively", because in "Charade" (also by Peter Stone), Matthau kills Kennedy. Fair exchange.

But it may well have been Old Bo. Unless Old Bo was just a "lookout" while Kennedy and/or Weston did the deed. And maybe they strangled Casselle with the phone cord, but maybe they just shot him and twisted the cord round him for "effect."

That's WAY too many questions about one scene.

But, we go with the flow in "Mirage."

Still, practically everything about that scene strikes me as mishandled, unclear, and possibly, "chicken."

No matter. Everything up to it(especially with Matthau) and everything after it, are just fine.

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Well...I don't know.

Does the audience need to see Casselle (or Turtle) being killed? Isn't it more effective when Stillwell discovers the bodies?

I am surprised some people would not realize immediately that Casselle is dead. He hasn't been doing slapstick up to that point. And the way it's presented, with the ominous score and the phone cord around his neck, would seem to elicit a shock rather than a laugh.

That being said, and although I'm a long-time fan, "Mirage" is no "North By Northwest."

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Does the audience need to see Casselle (or Turtle) being killed? Isn't it more effective when Stillwell discovers the bodies?

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Oh, I agree with that. One doesn't always need the murder scene, the tone of a movie changes markedly when you SHOW the killings(compare the killings of the victims in "Psycho" to the discovery of the body of the farmer with pecked out eyes in "The Birds.")

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I am surprised some people would not realize immediately that Casselle is dead. He hasn't been doing slapstick up to that point. And the way it's presented, with the ominous score and the phone cord around his neck, would seem to elicit a shock rather than a laugh.

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I saw him as dead, but some did not. It took seconds. Hence the laughs. Maybe they didn't see the cord.

Given that I certainly think that Casselle was clearly dead when Peck first saw him, I think my problems are more with:

--The unwillingness of the director to give us a clear shot of Matthau as the victim(if that IS a body double on the desk, perhaps it was determined that Matthau could leave the picture for other work and was not necessary for this scene, which required some filming time to show Peck destroying the office, and so a body double was used.)

--Lack of clarity as to who killed Casselle and how he was killed.

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That being said, and although I'm a long-time fan, "Mirage" is no "North By Northwest."

Well, that's true. Its funny, Hitchcock was famous for "leaps of logic" but he was also famous for trying to make his narratives work on a scene by scene basis, and, above all, on being CLEAR in what he showed and told the audience. This "Dead Casselle Scene" is unclear.

And having recently watched "Mirage," I did notice that the film sometimes broke down in logic, as if Peter Stone just couldn't quite solve his script problems.

Example: after Gregory Peck knocks Jack Weston unconscious in his own apartment, he simply drags Weston's body across the hall to a utility room and puts it in there. This man just tried to kidnap him. Why would Peck confidently drag the man only "across the hall" and just leave him there? What if Lester wakes up in minutes? Lester could come back and try to kidnap him again -- with back-up. Does Peck just go to bed and forget about the killer he dropped across the hall?

Similarly, after Peck knocks GEORGE KENNEDY unconscious later(in the skyscraper basement with Matthau to help)...he just leaves him there. Why not bring in the police?

These are throwaway scenes, but they demonstrate why "Mirage" isn't up to the Best of Hitchcock.

Though I certainly like it better than "Topaz."

I would note that a pleasure of "Mirage" is all that recogonizable American character talent in suppport of Peck: Matthau, Kennedy, Jack Weston, Kevin McCarthy, Leif Erickson.

Around this time, Hitchcock was working with...Hansjorg Felmy and Wolfgang Kieling(in Torn Curtain for 1966 release.)

A pleasure of "Mirage" is its faith in our enjoyment of "familiar faces." Hitchcock was moving on to his "foreign films with unknown players" period.



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In so many respects "Mirage" and "Arabesque" are similar. They don't measure up to the best of Hitchcock, but I'll watch either of them at any time, and I'll take either one over the more ballyhooed "Charade."

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Matthau accepted the role, but told Peck and director Edward Dmtryk that killing him off so relatively early in the film would be a box office mistake. "Mirage" didn't do too well -- great film that it is -- and we can only wonder.


Just watched Mirage, for the first time, and I think Matthau was right. I know this board is filled with fans of the movie and I don't want to step on anyone's toes, but I don't think this is a great film at all. The movie was too muddled for me, too grimly relentless and relentlessly grim. It needed more scenes like the one with Weston in Peck's apartment and Matthau as the neophyte detective. It could have used more of them to keep me involved.

And Matthau was great as a counter-point character to a main star. He proved it in Kirk Douglas's best movie (Lonely are the Brave) and as a foil to Robert Shaw in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. My initial reaction is Mirage held onto the amnesia angle way too long, and the big reveal (what Peck wasn't remembering) was a little to righteous.

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The Matthau character is found dead, sprawled across his desk with a phone cord wrapped tightly around his neck.

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Charade, which as mentioned features WM and GK in reversed roles as murderer and victim (although of course GK is also a murderer in Charade), is a deliberate spoof of a Hitchcock film, I think.

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