Charade

Criterion Collection, $39.95

Jonathan demme tried a remake of this light-on-its-feet 1963 romantic thriller two years ago, and what a dud that turned out to be. The Truth About Charlie featured the same plot twists and Parisian locations as the original, but the world had changed a lot in four decades. Back in print from Criterion on April 6, Charade hardly seems dated in itself. As director Stanley Donen and screenwriter Peter Stone note on their commentary (recorded for the 1999 DVD), Cary Grant brings an essential modernity to any picture he's in. Then there's female in jeopardy Audrey Hepburn, hardly dated herself in those Givenchy outfits. Not to unduly slam Demme and his leads Thandie Newton and Mark Wahlberg too hard, but we can no longer see stars in the same light as during that late Camelot era of Hollywood. (Production was halted, we learn, so the crew could watch the Cuban Missile Crisis unfold on TV.) Says Stone, "There remained a kind of distance with stars. We don't have that today."

As newly widowed Hepburn tries to decide whether Grant is a prince or a predator, the rest of the world recedes ever so slightly. Charade isn't explicitly non-naturalistic (in fact, most of its loca­tions are real), and the goons pursuing Hepburn kind of serve to put reality in its proper place. James Coburn, Walter Matthau, and George Kennedy stand in for the rest of us plain folks.

The main addition to this single-disc reissue is an impeccable digital transfer in the correct 1:1.85 wide-screen ratio (perfect for that big plasma-screen TV). The titles by Maurice Binder (who designed the famous 007 gun-barrel titles) and score by Henry Mancini set the tone for the parade of masks and deceptions that's about to follow.

Unlike so many slapdash commentaries today, the real treat and main extra here is the gently bickering Stone-Donen audio track; they've almost got the dynamic of an old vaudeville routine. Debating Hepburn's height, Donen insists she was 5 feet 8 inches. Stone replies, "Standing on her money, she was."

Among other retro rereleases, MGM is putting out a six-disc Pink Panther collection (they go downhill fast after A Shot in the Dark). Also out April 6: John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath includes a scholarly commentary; both Merchant and Ivory join the chat track on a two-disc reissue of A Room With a View. The Steve Martin remake Cheaper by the Dozen probably includes no mention of the equally undistinguished 1950 original.

Brian Miller

bmiller@seattleweekly.com

 
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