Blu-Ray Review: Charade -- The Criterion Collection

Is there anyone in the world who embodied grace and charm like Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn? Even today, fifty-some years after Charade was made, the Parisian setting lends itself enormously well to Grant, who wears his suits with panache, and Hepburn, positively radiant in her coats and dresses by Givenchy. Sometimes putting two talented actors in a room with a camera isn't enough, but the script penned by Peter Stone is also sharp, clever and hilarious at every dark turn.

I've seen Charade perhaps five times in my life, the first was when I was rather young, perhaps no more than ten years old, and I'm pleased to report the film stands the test of time rewards repeated viewings. The story is a classic murder mystery involving a girl, a great deal of money and a dashing and ostensibly trustworthy stranger. Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn were two of the most classic Hollywood icons of their day, and their comfortable charm and grace is a delight to see. Hepburn fans should adore this film as it is her first performance in a comedic thriller, and Walter Matthau and a bevy of memorable side-kicks co-star. Audrey Hepburn was thirty-four at the time the film was made, but Cary Grant was pushing sixty, their disparate ages make for some long-running gags and an interesting change of pace as the tables are turned and the girl takes the lead, both in matters official and romantic.

Charade was the fifty-seventh title released by Criterion, and a Blu-ray edition has been a long time in the works. For such an enduring and special film, you'd think they'd want to pack it full of special features, especially considering how stark the original release reads, with hardly anything more than the commentary. Well the Blu-ray has been pared down even further, with only the commentary, a theatrical trailer and the essay by Bruce Eder. The essay is delightful, not too long and not too short, and even better -- available for free on the Criterion website. The Blu-ray looks exceptional here, the image fine-tuned and cleaned up as much as is possible from the negative. The film itself isn't particularly bright or colorful, but Paris and Miss Hepburn's Givenchy costumes are rendered with precision and care. The movie looks better than it ever has, the grainy and discolored viewings of my youth were banished from my mind as soon as the vibrant title sequence began.

The only special feature is an audio commentary between Peter Stone the writer and Stanley Donen the director. As such, it's wonderful. Filled with dry humor and plenty of factual recollections as the two discuss the writing and production of the film, arguing amicably over discrepancies in memory. Recorded in 1999 for the original DVD Criterion release of the film, the commentary stands up remarkably well as two veterans of the film industry looking back fondly on a single film they had made, tying together people, places and events with clarity and humor. Fans of the film will love listening to these two old-school Hollywood gents wax eloquent on Charade.

The design of the package is graceful, the swirling arrows reference the main title sequence directly. However, the package remains unchanged from the original release. So what is the final assessment? Though it pains me to say, I'd rent the film and read the essay on the Criterion website. This Blu-ray edition simply isn't worth the money. Criterion had a chance to add to the original release, and even update the DVD with supplemental materials and interviews, but this is one of the spottiest releases in the collection. Merely restoring the film isn't enough to make it worth the added cost. Criterion has set themselves up as the preservers and collectors of film, presenting the most important films from across the globe, with extras galore. Once a standard of excellence has been set, it seems shameful to issues releases that do not meet these high standards. Though the film is excellent, this slipshod release with nothing notable added truly doesn't merit the Criterion name.

Charade is available now from The Criterion Collection.