If you’re not familiar with Stanley Donen’s film, Charade, know that it stars Hollywood icons Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant in some of their best roles. The film itself reads like a rom-com married to a spy-thriller, and the results are quite rewarding. Spoilers don’t ruin this film quite as much as they do a film like Arrival. Just so, read at your own risk.
The film follows the newly widowed Regina Lampert who learns that her late husband helped steal $250,000. Her husband’s old conspirators have come to collect their share of the loot, and with Regina as their only lead on the money, she finds herself in great danger. Adding to the tension is a charming potential suitor (played by Cary Grant) sympathetic to Regina who offers to protect her. But what is his investment in this game of cat-and-mouse? As the threats draw in closer, Regina is desperate for someone to trust, but this enigmatic character has secrets of his own. Discerning his true intentions amid this complex web of secrets and mistruths will mean the difference between life and death.
Regina spends the whole film drawing upon her wits to climb out of her mousetrap. Through her experiences, she refines her prowess and is able to evade the men who would do her harm, like when she tricks Grant’s character into chasing the wrong taxi.
But the film knows that the intellect can not carry through every dilemma. The climax catches Regina between the crossfires of Grant’s character and a government agent. Though she has trusted this agent up until now, Grant’s character tells her that this man is behind the attempts on her life. In this moment, Regina has to choose who to believe, and there is no rational decision. The film admits as much when Regina desperately cries out “Why should I believe you?!” and Grant’s character merely offers, “Darling, I can’t think of a single reason.”
It’s a loaded exchange. Grant’s character, and everyone else in the film, has tried to win over Regina by inventing the most believable fiction for her. Admitting to Regina now that he has no fancy cover stories presents a refreshing stroke of honesty. And so without any tangible proof, Regina listens to her heart. Believers might call that “faith.”
Saying that Regina chooses to believe Grant’s character because she loves him has a root of truth, but it still doesn’t quite encompass the nature of her decision. Even through the various “charades” Peter/Adam/Alex puts on, he and Regina still find genuine companionship. In doing so, they reveal deeper parts of themselves to one another. She learns for herself that this man is good.
The movie does grant Regina her chance to inspect her potential suitor after the money is recovered. When he reveals himself to be Brian Cruikshank, an undercover government official, Regina compels him to prove himself until she is satisfied, satisfied enough to accept his marriage proposal.
In our own mazes, our own high-stakes chases, discerning truth is imperative. But in a world where senses and intellect can be manipulated, our moral and emotional compass needs to be our guiding star.
Stanley Donen Films via “Silver Petticoat Review”