Today in Charade: Stanley Donen

23 February, 2019 at 3:43 pm (charade, film)

Stanley Donen speaks with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn behind the scenes of Charade.Coming hot on the heels of the announcement of the death of actor Albert Finney, we discover today that his director of Two For the Road, Stanley Donen, has died.

It’s been a long time since I watched 2ftR (as no one is calling it), and I had intended to give it a rewatch after learning of Finney’s passing. My main memory of it is that it did an amazing and convincing job of making the actors seem young at the beginning and older over the course of the film — no mean feat considering we had watched co-star Audrey Hepburn age onscreen over the previous decade and a half. I also was bemused by some of the late-sixties mod styles of clothes and automobiles, and overall enjoyed the push-pull of the evolving and maturing relationship between the characters. I didn’t know how to place the film in Donen’s opus, as it wasn’t as comic as most of his works with which I was familiar. Even his pictures that bent serious did so within genre conventions, so while I felt I knew how to evaluate Arabesque or even Blame it on Rio, 2ftR had been hard to pigeonhole.

In the end, I decided to watch Finney’s performance in Murder on the Orient Express, which I’d never witnessed, and put off Road for a future day in which I was feeling maudlin about relationships. It seemed easier than opening up the can of worms that I was really avoiding: that all the film buffs I know have a deep, classic appreciation for Donen as choreographer-turned-director, and I do not. So as someone who still largely eschews musicals, my trying to figure out where that film fit amongst Donen’s work would be impossible. Because most of his work still eludes me. Read the rest of this entry »

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Today in Charade: A Spanking! A Spanking!

16 December, 2018 at 10:27 pm (charade)

CHARADE: How would you like a spanking?

Despite the title and the pervasive references to comedies in today’s Today in Charade feature, I’m not making light of this topic. In the ongoing saga of how much CBS apparently needs to change its workplace attitudes, the business section of the New York Times has devoted significant column inches to detailing the recorded circumstances that led Eliza Dushku to seek arbitration about her employment on the show Bull. There is some blurriness about ultimate responsibility and whether Dushku was fired for reporting his behavior — I don’t know the man, but I would be a mixture of disappointed and unsurprised if the former head of Moonlighting, a show all about gender roles and subsequent tensions, was blind to an atmosphere of casual discrimination — but Bull‘s star, Michael Weatherly, does not come across at all well.

Putting aside any easy assumptions one could reach about the gendered expectations of a show that cast a thirty-seven year old woman as the eventual romantic partner of a fifty year old man — a few hours after I started writing this, Vulture did that for me with a pretty salient summary of the pervasive entitled male perspective CBS’s shows embody and perpetuate — one can probably safely assume that Bull‘s characters engaged in romantic persiflage. I’ve never seen the show, but the Times‘ description of the show’s strapline and that the relationship between the characters was “flirty” conjures a reliable trope in terms of tone and scope. That the lead in the show would also, therefore lean in to keeping that fun, smarmy atmosphere that is part of the product alive in between takes and behind the scenes also both fails to surprise and disappoints.

Weatherly, in the Times transcripts, refers to three specific instances where sexual innuendo came about because of improv on his part. Twice, he specifically refers to the improvised innuendo as “ad-libbing” on his part, and while the third time doesn’t use that exact phrase, it is specifically couched within a moment when he was trying to jokingly improve a line of dialogue on the fly. In this last instance, he says, “[I]n retrospect, [it] was not a good idea.”

You think? Read the rest of this entry »

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Yesterday in Charade: The Annotated Regina

13 June, 2017 at 10:47 pm (charade)

Midway through the day, The A.V. Club cheerfully chirped up about the opportunity to bid on a copy of Audrey Hepburn’s personal copy of the script for Breakfast at Tiffany’s should one “have unlimited means“. Aside from the traditionally Blake Edwards’ party sequence, Tiffany’s has never particularly warmed the cockles of my heart, but I was interested to see what else might be for sale in late September when Christie’s holds its London auction. Because, while I do own a couple of supposedly genuine screen-intended props from the remake of Charade, the opportunity to own something actually used in the original 1963 film has never availed itself to me. (A minor exception: I could own a severed swatch of fabric apparently from Hepburn’s screenworn faux-leopard fur hat, but that feels like a predatorily ghoulish way to collect “memorabilia”.)

Promotional still of Hepburn in Charade on display in Christie's promotional video
The auction house’s accompanying promotional video for the upcoming event doesn’t display much Charadiana, surprising no one, but near the bottom of the press release a very small amount of “film memorabilia” is mentioned. It’s difficult to tell if one should infer from this delayed placement that Christie’s, while enjoying the borrowed splendor of the late actress, would prefer to not sully itself with such things as movie props and other pop cultural ephemera. This is where one finds the item that The A.V. Club flagged up so prominently, Hepburn’s copy of the Tiffany’s screenplay, as well as the estimate of its anticipated value, between sixty thousand and eighty thousand pounds. And, no, that variance is not due to the soft market value of the pound sterling after last week’s special election failed to cement Theresa May’s or even the Tories’ mandate as leading parliamentary party.

But tucked in next to that leading treasure is that Hepburn’s copy of Charade will also be for sale, expecting to rake in the comparatively paltry median amount of £20,000. Read the rest of this entry »

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Criterion Blogathon: Charade

18 November, 2015 at 10:44 pm (charade, film)

This post is intended as part of the Criterion Blog-a-thon, hosted by Kristina at Speakeasy, Ruth at Silver Screening, and Aaron at Criterion Blues. Click HERE for the full roster for the event!

It’s been a good couple weeks for me and the Criterion Collection. They had a 50% off flash sale in early October and then they did their annual November sale with Barnes & Noble, and I proceeded to clean up about half of my profile wishlist. I’ve enjoyed coming home to a brick of Blu-Ray, whether the single-chaptered crisp blue key of Mulholland Drive, or the much-anticipated update of the classic Fisher King Criterion laserdisc. And then, today on the Criterion blog, I learned that the Speakeasy and Criterion Blues film blogs had organized a marathon of homage posts to the collection. Today featured English-language films from 1947 until 1980… which should have included Charade, but no one seems to have stepped up and claimed the title. I don’t really have the time to spend on this, as I should be working on other writing, but I shall stride in where others haven’t deigned to tread and add my own small, unrequested contribution.


I have previously written on the fiftieth anniversary of the film, of copyright issues surrounding it’s public domain status, and how I first started buying various editions of the DVD way back in 2002. The film has either been a touchstone or an obsession of mine, depending upon who you talk to. So what remains as a topic to address? A day after the internet, particularly “Film Twitter”, went nuts about the idea of remaking Memento, it could be time to mention that The A.V. Club listed Charade first amongst its list of films that merited updating or at least a revisit. Cameron Scheetz acknowledges that Jonathan Demme already tried this, but still seems to think that the chemistry and repartee between the leads would crackle under the deft hand of someone like Steven Soderbergh, saying the script would foster his “ability to build palpable, simmering chemistry between his two leads amid a thrilling crime yarn.” I adore Soderbergh, and have faith in his timing, his stylishness, and his control of tone. And if there’s something that Charade tries very hard to do, it’s to pendulum between these three cardinal points of romance, comedy, and genuine suspense, occasionally dangling one over the dark pit of whether a classic Hollywood star could actually be sharkskin: deliciously smooth in one direction, but barbed and even savage in the other. And in Soderbergh’s Side Effects, we unfortunately saw that he wasn’t able to successfully manage that kind of audience deception. That the consequence of lying to another character also meant completely obfuscating the audience as well, which rendered revelations and payoff as a disappointing gruel. Stylish and engaging, but with a sense that not even the most dedicated of mystery readers could have found the hidden clues and followed along at home.

But no, let’s not talk about what the film shouldn’t be, lets talk about how the film succeeds, and then wrap up by noting what the disc itself provides. Read the rest of this entry »

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Today in Charade

21 July, 2015 at 9:10 am (charade, webjunk)

The AV Club is still plugging along, successfully bridging the gap between actual commentary and clickbait in a manner that The Dissolve quite mournfully was unable to do — with a strict reading of “successfully” as “commercially successful” only — and late last night I stumbled upon a headline for an article that claimed a “New search engine lets you quickly find your favorite movie quote’s source” accompanied by a photograph from Charade.

CHARADE: 'Good lord, where is he?'

But wait, I asked myself, how did the article know that was my favorite movie? And why on Earth would that be used as an example of being able to find film quotes, when the lines captured are amongst the least evocative of all time? A quick scrumble about Google Image Search revealed that the above pitcure has shown up in news articles when someone needs an example of movie subtitles or closed-captioning. Why? Because Wikimedia has it as a non-copyrighted image of an example of film subtitles and online journalism seems to use Wikipedia as its first and only stop for research. And why is it non-copyrighted? Because the film was published without a complete copyright notice.

Having read a little about this, my memory was that some prints of Charade — but not all! — were distributed without without copyright indicia, and I had previously gone on record that I simply couldn’t believe that Universal would endorse remakes of Charade if it didn’t actually control the copyright, that the gazillion chop-shop DVD releases of Charade had to be from prints that left off the copyright notice, that it was a loophole. This was an incorrect reading or understanding of events. Turns out, while it was a technicality, it wasn’t a some-prints-are-protected-some-aren’t glitch. It was much more along the lines of the single misplaced comma that cost Ed Stevens his job, as apparently Universal Pictures published a copyright notice on the film, but did so in a manner that only met two of the three required elements for a statement of copyright in 1963: the claimant, the year, and the word or symbol for copyright. All copies of Charade at the time lacked the last of those elements. And so, according to the copyright cheatsheet from Cornell University, it “fail[ed] to comply with required formalities” and instantly became a work in the public domain. Which was fine for twenty-five years, as most people couldn’t get their hands on an actual 33mm print of Charade to distribute or duplicate it, but the home video market changed that significantly.

So with this new understanding firmly in place, only two quibbles remain: if the soundtrack and script are maintained under separate copyrights, and Peter Stone had maintained his copyright on the screenplay to Charade (or, at least he registered copyright on its original short story version, “The Unsuspecting Wife” in 1961), surely the dialogue quoted in the subtitles is under copyright? Could a film be in the public domain, but the ability to reproduce its dialogue in print not be?

And secondly, am I an unredeemable, pretentious idiot for continually calling the film in question CharAHde instead of CharAIde? The obvious niche benefit of the website this AV Club article was about is that it could help in the production of certain supercuts. I have been slowly collecting a list of different pop-culture examples of the pronunciation of “charade”, (Pro-AHD: The Hour, The 39 Steps, Buffy the Vampire Slayer; pro-AID: The X-Files, NewsRadio, Agent Carter — I’m very disappointed in you, young Jarvis!), but an intital search of QuoDB provides me with more to go and listen to and add to this accounting.

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50th Anniversary: Charade

5 December, 2013 at 10:04 pm (charade, film)

Audrey Hepburn in CHARADEToday is the fiftieth anniversary of the release of Charade by Stanley Donen, starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. (If you’re unfamiliar with the film, you can quickly watch a five-minute version of it here.) I own many, many, manymany copies of the film, having perversely tried to collect all of the cheapo, pharmacy-bargain-bin versions of the movie that sprang into being due to the film’s accidental lack of copyright. Each of them suffers from a variety of flaws based on how the individual company was able to acquire a battered 35mm print and digitize it. Most of these companies would list amongst the “special features” of their version of Charade that it had been “DIGITALLY REMASTERED!” Which was true, as there was no other way to get it onto a DVD, but the fact that it was a “special” feature was accurate only in the cruel, schoolyard way in which travelers on the short bus were taunted. The sound was tinny, the picture was scratchy, and sometimes the discs had as few as four chapter stops (one per film reel, perhaps?), but they were all between four and seven dollars, and they enabled me to watch one of my favorite films on my shiny new DVD player back in 1999, as well as to marvel at the fact that a film that felt like it should be a stone-cold classic could receive such shoddy treatment.

And then the Criterion edition came out, and all was right with the universe. I’ve purchased three versions of the Criterion Charade (letterbox, anamorphic widescreen, and Blu-Ray), and I eagerly expect to purchase one more when they eventually re-re-release it in their new standard combo pack edition. The lush, crisp visuals have enabled me to luxuriate in the film many times, so here are my thoughts for its silver anniversary:

The film is almost — almost! — able to have its cake and it, too. What do I mean by that? Charade wants to be both a romp and a thriller. It wants you to root for the romance between Grant and Hepburn, but it wants you to be genuinely worried that Grant might be the bad guy. It wants you to have a cheerful good time, but it wants to kill people off. It wants the people it kills to be menacing, but also to be sweet and a little daft. This is essentially an impossible goal, and even Charade is unfortunately unable to fully fulfill such demanding, lofty aspirations, but it gets close enough for the audience (read: me; please understand that I will brazenly assume hoi poloi surrogacy throughout this missive) to sweep past any misgivings in a flourish of batted eyelashes and warm Mancini brass.

Almost, but not quite. Let us begin with the three hapless war profiteers that are trying so hard throughout the film to recover the paltry quarter of a million dollars they secreted away during World War II (in his commentary for the UK DVD of the film, Ken Barnes claims the first place where the film seems dated is in the use of a record player at the funeral home, but the second is most certainly the film’s Dr. Evil-esque insistence that $250,000 is a lot of money*). They are the film’s three threatening bears: Scobie is too hot, Gideon is too cold, and Tex Panthollow is jussssst right, which is why he survives the longest (“My momma di’nt raise no stupid children”).

Leopold W. Gideon and Tex Panthollow

Read the rest of this entry »

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Toast Julienne

1 October, 2005 at 11:14 pm (charade, clerical, music)

Sometime in August I did a massive design update on the site, as I finally figured out how to use Blogger’s archive function, something that had been eluding me for, yea, these five years of membership. In doing so I also instituted the comment function so that the site can be a little more interactive.

This immediately paid off. Back when I first made a website in college, I can recall searching for various pop culture homepages and tribute sites and finding nothing. It was an incredible thrill to dedicate a section of my website to the television show Nowhere Man, and have it be one of two relevant things that came up in a Google search. And because the web was still thin and rarefied at that time, I actually got an e-mail from the show’s creator, Larry Hertzog, who had found my page in a similar search.

Now that the web runneth over with content, I never assumed that similar things would happen, but immediately after establishing the content function I have received comments from the screenwriter of Charade-knock off Duplicity and from author Julian Gough.

CHARM AND ARROGANCE by Toasted HereticMr. Gough was incredibly nice, answering my little questions about his previous works and his former band, Toasted Heretic. He mentioned that the band’s first two albums were being released for the first time on CD and would be available through the indy music retailer CD Baby. The disc was released on September 23, against all conventional New Music Tuesday rules, and CD Baby didn’t have a link to it until the following day, and I’d only just posted. So in order to maintain my one-post-a-week consistency I said that I’d write all this up for New Music Tuesday on the 27th, and promptly forgot.

So here we are now.

And since I’m well aware that none of you have the faintest clue who Toasted Heretic are (unless, of course, you found this entry by searching Google’s new blog search for “Toasted Heretic”), I recommend that you download “Lightning” which is charmingly energetic, and “You can Always Go Home“, which I think gives an indication of how much fun of a live jam band they must be. Remember that you can download these with impunity; on the liner notes of the album, the band is quoted as saying, “Our principle on PIRACY and COPYING STUFF remains the same as it always was: copy this album for your poorer friends, and make the rich ones buy it.”

In other update news, I have also redesigned the Pan~Theism page, and will be adding new weekly strips to it on Wednesdays. We kick this off with a computer-generated comic made with the online Strip Generator, as pointed out to me by Nick Locking.

2005-09-30 :: Strip Generator

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Charade for Free

5 August, 2005 at 9:30 pm (charade, film, webjunk)

While reading through a Wikipedia entry on Frank Sinatra, trying to clearly establish which came first, his film career or his wide renown as a singer (it seems he began as a singer but didn’t catapult into chanteur status until after he began appearing in movies), I happened upon an anecdote about the film Suddenly, which was reputedly watched by Lee Harvey Oswald just prior to his shooting of President John F. Kennedy. According to a biography of Sinatra, when he learned this, he had all prints of the film pulled from available distribution, and did not renew the copyright, thus allowing the film to fall into the public domain. A wikipedia link to a website that allows free downloads of lapsed public domain films led me to a link to a free download of Charade.

The Criterion Collection edition of Stanley Donen's CHARADEHowever, despite assertions to the contrary, I maintain my belief that Charade cannot actually be in the public domain. Now, I’m not a copyright lawyer, and I may well be wrong about this, but it seems quite clear to me that the various public domain DVD releases of Charade — and there are many — are not standing on firm legal ground, but taking advantage of a loophole that wouldn’t stand up under close scrutiny. Y’see, some prints of Charade were distributed without a notice of copyright. These prints are the ones that have been reproduced freely, as people are saying, “Hey! It didn’t say it was copyrighted on this print! How was I supposed to know?” The fact that it was copyrighted on other prints, and that intellectual property adheres to the content and not just the physical iterations of said content seems to be escaping most of these people. Plus, the fact that Universal Pictures made a remake of the film and re-released Charade on the DVD of said remake seems to indicate that they’re pretty sure they’re the copyright holders.

However, because of this loophole there are those that have thought the reproduction or adaptation of the contents of the intellectual property of Charade were fair game. So not only is there the official Universal remake, but there is also an indie-film adapation of the film. Robert Foreman has written and directed a film called Duplicity, written by Jack Cornish from “a 16th draft of a screenplay based on Charade”. Viewed at Cannes in 2004, it’s gone nowhere since. I’m hoping someone forgets to renew its copyright, so that I can legally download it and watch it for free, as I think that a film based on a screenplay based on a draft of a rewrite of a film based upon a novel based upon a screenplay based upon a short story in Redbook seems like something for which one might not want to pay good money.

Two last things. Firstly, while searching for some definitive answers to the public domain status of Charade, I stumbled upon some newsreel footage from 26 September, 1963 of “Mr. and Mrs. Robert Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife, and the President’s sister Mrs. Sergeant Shriver” attending the sneak preview of Charade at a benefit for the Stay-In-School Fund, an organization of which Mrs. JFK was honorary chair. Charade was released on December 6, 1963, and there was a rush to alter the prints so that the word “assassinated” would be dubbed over in the wake of the murder of President Kennedy. Why aren’t there more conspiracy theories surrounding this? VP Johnson clearly saw the original, pre-dubbed cut!

Still from MK12's video for Guided By Voices' BACK TO THE LAKESecondly, I feel I should point out that Matt Fraction blogged about the free, downloadable public domain feature films aaaaages ago, but I never noticed that Charade was on the list. So, once again it becomes quite clear that I was born one day too early to actually be cool. Curses. However, the new video that Fraction’s animation and design studio produced for Guided By Voices is similar to their past works but a quantum step forward in terms of 3D incorporation and effect. Go watch it. I actually prefer the images with the sound off, but the camera strobe movement of the characters in the film make more sense when you realize that they’re in time with the song. Beautiful little thing, though, and the x-ray glasses effect is wonderful.

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Who’s got a stamp on his Mancini?

17 March, 2004 at 9:33 pm (charade, film, music)

Shamelessly ganking the idea from Fraction‘s blog, I present to you the first stamp to be released in April of 2004: Henry Mancini.

Henry Mancini memorial stampAnd why do I care so much about this? Well, gentle reader, squint your eyes and read the third title from the list of films presented in the background of the stamp. Ah, yes, the classic CHARADE fixation rears its beautiful, coiffed head once again.

Peter asked if I were going to purchase the upcoming Criterion Collection re-release of the disc in anamorphic widescreen even though I already owned the previous non-anamorphic letterbox release. It’s not as if you have a widescreen television that will really take advantage of the difference, he said, and I concurred, adding that the special features were exactly the same. However, when one is a fanatic and dedicated to collecting every possible version of CHARADE available on DVD, then it’s really almost a requirement. After all, I bought the DVD of THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE just because CHARADE was available as a b-side, so I must clearly not have any powers of discernment when it comes to this particular fetish.

And since Criterion is offering a $10 discount to those who purchased the previous edition, there is now no question about my acquisition.

And while we’re talking Mancini and Hepburn, 20th Century Fox revealed in a Home Theatre Forum chat in January, that they are considering releasing TWO FOR THE ROAD on DVD. With Albert Finney’s recent success in BIG FISH, we can only hope that his old films may have a more marketable lustre.

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22 February, 2002 at 7:55 pm (charade)

I received my sixth copy of the 1963 film Charade on DVD the other day from Amazon. This was a bit of a departure for me in my Charade acquitions, as four of the five others were tripped over serendipitously. This one I ordered.

Criterion Collection: CharadeLast year, having just purchased a DVD player, I was having fun window shopping as retail joints were suddenly flush with DVDs. The most outrageously bad films were being offered for “bargain” prices of more than $25USD, a price justified seemingly because of the fancy new uber-technology. As a true capitalist reactionary, I found myself pawing through Bargain Bins, laughing at the public domain options.

And then I found a copy of Charade for eight bucks. Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Walter Matthau, James Coburn… these were names to be conjured with, not relegated to remainder bins! I snagged it, brough it home, and found out why. The producer, Diamond Entertainment, had acquired a dingy old 35mm print of the film, made the transfer to digital, and printed the DVD. No artisan cleaning job was done on the content: when the film jumped, when there were scratches and pops on the soundtrack, they were all preserved perfectly.

I howled with laughter. The version produced by D3K uses stock footage photos of the stars on the cover and doesn’t allow you to get to the first or last chapter from the “scene selections” menu. It also has a “digitized” soundtrack that makes everything sound like a MIDI played through a tin-can telephone. Madacy Entertainment has Audrey Hepburn’s biographical information under James Coburn’s name and photograph in the “Special Features” biographies, and includes the special feature of a completely unrelated film, also called Charade! Front Row Entertainment’s offering claims to be widescreen and is anything but.

Each one of these prints has it’s own flaws and cuts and crimps and pops, and I adore them all. DVD Profiler lists five more prints by different companies out there. I will have them all.

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