Charade is a 1963 American romantic comedy mystery film directed by Stanley Donen, written by Peter Stone and Marc Behm, and starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. The cast also features Walter Matthau, James Coburn, George Kennedy, Dominique Minot, Ned Glass, and Jacques Marin. It spans three genres: suspense thriller, romance and comedy.
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. It combines the genres of whodunit, screwball comedy and spy thriller, and has been described as “the best Hitchcock movie that Hitchcock never made”.
While on a skiing holiday, simultaneous interpreter Regina “Reggie” Lampert tells her friend Sylvie that she has decided to divorce her husband Charles. She also meets a charming American stranger, Peter Joshua. On her return to Paris, she finds her apartment stripped bare. A police inspector notifies her that Charles sold off their belongings, then was murdered while trying to leave Paris. The money is missing. Reggie is given her husband’s travel bag, containing a letter addressed to her, a ticket to Venezuela, passports in multiple names and nationalities, and other items. At Charles’ sparsely attended wake, three men show up to view the body—and to ensure that he is dead.
Reggie is summoned to meet CIA administrator Hamilton Bartholomew at the U.S. Embassy. She learns that the three men at the wake are Herman Scobie, Leopold W. Gideon, and Tex Panthollow. During World War II, they, Charles, and Carson Dyle went on an OSS operation to deliver $250,000 in gold to the French Resistance, but instead, they stole it for themselves. Carson was fatally wounded in a German ambush, and Charles double-crossed the others and took all the gold. The three survivors are after the missing money, as is the U.S. government. Hamilton insists that Reggie has it, even if she does not know where it is—and that she is likely in great danger.
Peter locates Reggie and helps her move into a hotel. The three criminals separately threaten her, each convinced that she knows where the money is. Herman then shocks Reggie by claiming that Peter is in league with them, after which Peter confesses to her that he is really Carson Dyle’s brother Alexander, intent on bringing the other men to justice because he believes they murdered Carson.
As the hunt for the money continues, first Herman is found murdered, then Leopold. Then Hamilton informs Reggie that Carson Dyle had no brother. When she confronts him, Peter admits he is actually Adam Canfield, a professional thief. Although frustrated by his dishonesty, Reggie still finds herself trusting him.
Reggie and Adam (alias Peter) go to the location of Charles’s last appointment and find an outdoor market. When they spot Tex there, Adam follows him. At the sight of stamp-selling booths, Adam and Tex each realize that Charles must have bought several extremely rare and valuable stamps and affixed them to an envelope that was in plain sight in his travel bag. Both men race back to Reggie’s hotel room, only to realize that Reggie has given the stamps to Sylvie’s son Jean-Louis for his collection. Meanwhile, Reggie is also at the outdoor market where she also realizes the envelope’s significance. She learns that Jean-Louis sold the stamps to a trader, who gave the boy 10 francs’ worth of stamps in return. The trader admits that the valuable stamps are worth $250,000 in total and happily returns them to her.
Back at the hotel, Reggie finds Tex’s body with the name “Dyle” scrawled next to it. Convinced that Adam is the murderer after all, a frightened Reggie telephones Hamilton, who tells her to meet him at the Colonnade at the Palais-Royal. Adam spots her leaving the hotel and gives chase. At the Colonnade, Reggie is caught out in the open between the two men. Adam tells her that Hamilton is really Carson Dyle; he survived the German ambush and became obsessed with exacting revenge on his ex-comrades and reclaiming the treasure. After another chase that ends in an empty theater, Reggie hides unsuccessfully in the prompt box. Carson is about to shoot her when Adam activates a trapdoor and Carson falls through it to his death.
The next day, Reggie and Adam go to the embassy to turn over the stamps, but Adam refuses to go in. Inside, Reggie discovers that Adam is really Brian Cruikshank, the government official responsible for recovering stolen property. Now that his true identity is revealed, he proposes marriage.
The film ends with a split-screen grid showing flashback shots of Brian’s four identities (Peter, Adam, Alexander, Brian), while Reggie says she hopes that they have lots of boys, so they can name them all after him.
Cary Grant as Brian Cruikshank (alias Peter Joshua) (alias Alexander Dyle) (alias Adam Canfield)
Audrey Hepburn as Regina “Reggie” Lampert
Walter Matthau as Carson Dyle (alias Hamilton Bartholomew)
James Coburn as Tex Panthollow
George Kennedy as Herman Scobie
Dominique Minot as Sylvie Gaudel
Ned Glass as Leopold W. Gideon
Jacques Marin as Inspector Edouard Grandpierre
Paul Bonifas as Mr. Felix, the stamp dealer
Thomas Chelimsky as Jean-Louis Gaudel
Academy Award nominated