CHARADE - The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
While the bloated excess of Cleopatra (1963) bankrupted 20th Century Fox and helped bring an end to the Classic Hollywood era, that same year saw the release of a delightful comic thriller that demonstrated the magic studios can deliver when they get it right.
Charade creates great suspense from the start as the opening scene features a body thrown from a train. We cut to a French chalet where we meet Regina Lampert (Audrey Hepburn), an unhappy woman who talks about getting a divorce from husband Charles. She briefly crosses paths with Peter Joshua, played by Cary Grant, and considering his top billing, we know we're going to see him again.
Regina returns to Paris and finds an empty house. She learns from the police Charles has been murdered, and later CIA administrator Barthlomew (Walter Matthau) informs her Charles was part of a group that stole $250k from the U.S. government during the war and he is dead because he double-crossed his former cohorts, comprised of James Coburn and George Kennedy, who now want their cut and come after her for it. Peter comes to her aid but has ulterior motives. Regina really finds herself in a jam. She doesn't know who to trust and doesn't know where the treasure. Once dead bodies start turning up, the stakes get even higher.
Producer/director Stanley Donen guides the film with a sure and steady hand, balancing the comedy, drama, action, and romance together. That latter does test the limits of believability as Grant looks the entire 25-year age gap between he and Hepburn, but his character acknowledges it and the engaging dialogue between the two characters keeps them interesting to watch. The story by Marc Behm and Peter Stone is very smart and keeps the viewer in the dark almost as much as Regina. There is no false note in the plot as all the story's twists and turns are believable. Amazingly, this film fell into public domain because Universal forgot to notice the copyright in the credits as was required by law at the time.
The Criterion Collection's Blu-ray of the film may make you want to buy a copy, although the a/v specs don't make the best use of the high-def format. While the work to the restore the film likely makes this release better than the rest, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4, displayed at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio encoded transfer, is uneven. Some scenes have a distracting amount of grain. The bold colors of the opening title sequence but it sets a high bar that isn't always attainable throughout the rest of the film. The brightness is too high in some sequences and blacks are inconsistent. The mono audio channel delivers a decent experience but the ADR sounds flat when cut with production audio and there's not enough oomph during the action scenes.
As far as extras go, there's a commentary track recorded in 1999 by Donen and Stone and the film's trailer. It's a pleasant track as these two old pro discuss the film, but it deserves a little more attention bestowed on it. The essay by film historian Bruce Eder isn't enough.
Charade is an enjoyable film that is well worth seeing. However, it may be better as a rental until the price drops or the release gets an upgrade.