The Heroine’s Journey in “Charade”

Often described as “the best Hitchcock movie Hitchcock never made,” Charade stars Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in a sparkling thriller with overtones of screwball romantic comedy — or is it the other way around?

Directed by Stanley Donen, Charade’s blend of genres allows it to have its cake and eat it too. The thrilleresque double-crosses and reversals pull the rug out from under the initially naive Hepburn, making her deeply skeptical and suspicious of everyone and everything; yet the element of romantic comedy calls for her to learn to trust and love Grant despite the web of uncertainty that surrounds them both.

On the surface Charade seems cynical and morally ambiguous, as we meet a heroine who talks of divorcing her husband and a hero who seems to be divorced, though nothing is certain where he’s concerned. Ultimately, though, the film reveals its reassuringly principled intentions.

Grant and Hepburn have considerable charisma and chemistry, and Walter Matthau, James Coburn, and George Kennedy enliven the proceedings in strong supporting roles. Terrific action sequences include a sprawling fight scene that ends on a hotel roof and a riveting climactic showdown. The film’s real climax, though, is the romantic final scene.