There's a world outside Odyssey. Occasionally I'll review other all-ages entertainment to see how it stacks up to Adventures in Odyssey.
The recent blockbuster Cowboys & Aliens showed how to do genre bending in the most predictable, generic way possible; the 1963 classic Charade demonstrates genre bending at its very best. I assure you I haven’t fallen for the myth of the golden age (i.e. something is better because it is older). I’m not one of those people who say, “They don’t make movies like they used to.”
That Charade is forty-eight years old does not automatically make it a classic, but that it is still watched and enjoyed nearly half a century after it was first released is a testament to how great it is. We get the mistaken impression that all old movies were great because the ones we still watch today are great. According to IMDB, there were 2,191 movies released. The majority of those were mediocre and forgettable. Probably only a fraction of them are even available on DVD. The ones that were worth watching again and again and the ones that have survived. When looking for all-ages movies for the whole family to enjoy, the classics are a great resource to turn to.
After an animated title sequence (and here I will indulge in a little nostalgia) of the type they don’t make anymore, a gloved hand emerges from behind an umbrella. It is gripping a pistol and extends toward the camera as it steadily aims. Then water squirts from the tip and sprays Audrey Hepburn’s character, Reggie. A little boy is playing with a water gun. Right off the bat it is apparent there are more layers to Charade than your average spy film.
Current New York Times film critic A. O. Scott said in a video review, “The movie’s either a thriller masquerading as a comedy or a comedy disguised as a thriller.” While Charade is at times a comedy, Bosley Crowther, the New York Times film critic in 1963, declared that it “has so many grisly touches in it and runs to violence so many times the people bringing their youngsters…may blanch in horror.” The violence will barely elicit a reaction from audiences today, but there is no mistaking Charade for a spy spoof. While it is a comedy, it is also a spy film.
Genres are about formulas and conventions. Genre bending is about subverting those formulas. Where your expecting spy-fi, the director injects some romantic comedy. Since most movies of a genre follow the same basic patterns, mixing two genres can make both feel fresh. Striking a balance between the two genres can be tricky. It’s like a carefully choreographed dance. Appropriately, the director, Stanley Donen, was a director of musicals such as Singin’ in the Rain; Charade was his attempt to transition into other genres.
It’s an understatement to say Charade is filled with plot twists. Beginning with them water gun psych out, it is a movie about deception. Cary Grant’s character changes his name at least four times. Each time Reggie uncovers one of his lies, he comes up with a new back story. The screenwriter, Peter Stone, advises to “write as through you’re showing it to people for the second time and being scrupulously fair with parceling out the information and clues.” In my spoiler policy, I state that knowing the twist (or, in this case, twists) should not lessen my enjoyment of a movie. Charade was crafted to stand up to multiple viewings.
According to an essay by Bruce Eder for Criterion, what sets Charade apart from other sixties spy films is that its main character is a woman. This is something Hollywood still struggles with. Salt, released just last year, was considered groundbreaking for Angelina Jolie playing a role originally scripted for a man. I like the James Bond franchise, but I must admit both the books and movies are often sexist. I’ve considered writing a spy spoof of my own in which all male spies are sued for sexual harassment because of their James Bond-like behavior. They are all subsequently fired leaving an all-female intelligence community.
While Cary Grant co-stars, Charade is Audrey Hepburn’s movie. In his video review, A. O. Scott observes that Hepburn’s character relies on her intuition. “Audrey Hepburn follows her instincts and lets the facts fall where they may.” Her character has a masculine nickname: Reggie. In the TV series Pushing Daisies, Anna Friel’s character had the masculine nickname Chuck. Giving female characters nicknames like this is an easy way to express that the character is supposed to be quirky and off-beat. Reggie also shows attributes of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a term coined by film critic Nathan Rabin to describe the archetype of the quirky, youthful, girlish female character who exists to teach men how to embrace life.
At the time of filming, Cary Grant was fifty-nine, and Audrey Hepburn was thirty-four. Cary Grant was afraid the romantic subplot would make him look like a “dirty old man” because of his and Hepburn’s age difference. Because of this, the writer and director made Hepburn the aggressor in the relationship. Unlike James Bond who uses his machismo to woo the ladies, it is Hepburn who employs here sensuality to attract Grant. She is stunning and gives a wonderfully comic performance.