Charade (1963)

True confession: I’ve seen some dogs with Cary Grant, but I never saw Charade. Maybe I was saving it for this past weekend, to cheer me up while I recovered from my second COVID booster. A little jaunt to Paris with the lovely Audrey Hepburn modeling a succession of elegant coat dresses and pillbox hats, and those oversized sunglasses that helped define the Holly Golightly look (along with the little black dress), capped off by the mature Cary in a playful mood, turned out to be just the ticket.

I settled down on the sofa with a cup of tea and was instantly drawn in, what with the jazzy, syncopated Henri Mancini score playing behind the titles designed by the great Maurice Binder, of James Bond fame. But then I got distracted. Walter Mathau’s, James Coburn’s and George Kennedy’s names spun by. I didn’t know those guys were in Charade!

Kennedy had only recently left the service, having enlisted in 1943, served under Patton in the infantry, earned two Bronze Stars in the Battle of the Bulge, then up and reenlisted when the war ended.Herman Scobie,” a ruthless guy with a short fuse who had a hook instead of a right hand was an early role for him. 1967 would be his big year: The Dirty Dozen and Cool Hand Luke both came out. He won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as “Dragline” in the latter. (Little-know others in that movie, since we’re playing the game: Dennis Hopper as “Babalugats,” Wayne Rogers as “Gambler”, Harry Dean Stanton as “Tramp”).

Mathau seemed to be in a bad-guy phase, movie-wise. He used a whip on Burt Lancaster in The Kentuckian (1955) and got beaten up by Elvis Presley in King Creole (1958). Knowing him as Oscar Madison, though, I wouldn’t have believed he was a fake spy—I mean agent—were it not for the suspicious mustache. He had yet to grow into a loveable curmudgeon.

Coburn was close to the peak of his career, coming off The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Great Escape (1963) when he made Charade. But for a bad decision, he could have kept riding that wave; Sergio Leone wanted him for Fistful of Dollars, but Coburn asked for too much money and the role went to a lesser-known actor, Clint Eastwood.

But who’s that balding little guy with him? The name Ned Glass meant nothing to me, but “Leopold W. Gideon” sure looked familiar. Turns out he was a character actor who played in a number of shows and movies I watched growing up, including Get Smart, Hogan’s Heroes, The Monkees and Julia (he was nominated for an Emmy for one episode of that show). His big breakthrough came with West Side Story (1961), where he played “Doc.” Before that, he played a series of uncredited parts in movies with titles like I’m from Missouri (1939), Callaway went Thataway (1951) and Stop, You’re Killing Me (1952). North by Northwest (1959) where he played the uncredited role of the ticket collector, broke that streak.

Grant and Hepburn were entertaining enough, I enjoyed the costumes and the scenery, but it’s the minor characters who kept me watching.