Charade (1963): Cary Grant’s Bond movie?

10 JULY 2023

JBC rating: *****

James Bond Connections (1):

  • Title sequence designed by Maurice Binder (Bond titles, various, 1962 – 1989).

Director Stanley Donen’s superb comedy thriller Charade is frequently (and justly) referred to as the greatest suspense film Alfred Hitchcock never made. Less discussed, Charade also displays key influences from the then new James Bond franchise, and not just Maurice Binder’s Dr No-style title sequence featuring familiar flashing colours (below). Most intriguingly, the film stars screen legend Cary Grant, famously United Artists preferred choice as James Bond in 1962 (and Cubby Broccoli’s best man during his 1959 wedding). Grant plays a government agent who, in a departure from his usual civilian roles, carries (and fires) a gun during his mission to protect Audrey Hepburn’s wealthy jet-setter Regina ‘Reggie’ Lampert as she’s pursued across Europe by a rogue’s gallery of villains.

Two months after the release of From Russia with Love (1963), the film opens with a (very brief) pre-credits sequence showing Charles Lampert (Reggie’s husband) thrown to his death from a moving train. In a backstory anticipating Ian Fleming’s posthumously published short story ‘Octopussy’ (1966), it is revealed Charles helped steal a consignment of U.S gold during the Second World War before double crossing his accomplices and making off with the fortune himself. Having killed Charles without locating the money, his old gang, including James Coburn’s amusing but menacing American Tex Panthollow, George Kennedy as the increasingly manic Herman Scobie (complete with Fleming-style metal hook for a hand) and Ned Lass as the somewhat sinister Leopold W. Gideon, turn their attention to Charles’ innocent widow.

Cary Grant plays Peter Joshua, a US treasury agent on the trail of the stolen money. Joshua’s true identity as a government agent isn’t revealed until the climax and much suspense arises from whether or not Reggie can trust him. As a professional spy Joshua has managed to infiltrate the gang of villains and for much of the film he is the character with the fullest knowledge of the plot. While Joshua never seems a physical threat to Reggie, Grant’s expert star performance ensures he remains credible as at least a potential thief. While Grant doesn’t possess any of the sadism present in James Bond, especially as portrayed by Sean Connery, his outwardly smooth and charming personality mixed with his potential villainy gives the character an air of 007 throughout.

In a departure from the mostly male-oriented thrillers of the time, Audrey Hepburn’s Reggie is the main character. Audrey Hepburn’s heroine shares several Bond girl qualities including being sexually experienced and her status as a (deceased) villain’s wife. Whilst her lack of espionage training means she’s essentially helpless in the action scenes, she retains a leading role in the story even while Cary Grant rescues her. Scott Evyman’s stellar biography Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise documents the aging star’s unease during production of his 26-year age gap with Audrey Hepburn. Anticipating EON’s attempts at appropriately handling age gaps between Bond girls and increasingly mature leading men, at Grant’s insistence the filmmakers were careful to ensure Reggie largely pursues Joshua, thus avoiding any potential inappropriateness. This is another reason why the film has aged so well.


Overt comedy is the key difference between the Ian Fleming novels and the EON produced James Bond films, with a huge part of the audience appeal for the movies being the crowd-pleasing (and often very black) humour. As with many of the best Bond movies, Charade remains frequently hilarious without diluting any of the thriller elements. An early scene, where the three main villains arrive one by one at Charles’ funeral to check he is actually dead, remains blackly comic while menacing. Elsewhere there is a Bond-influenced violence present, far more so than in previous Cary Grant films such as North by Northwest (1959). This includes a quietly sadistic scene where James Coburn’s Tex tortures Regina for information by repeatedly throwing lit matches at her. Later, each villain meets a joltingly gory death involving a stabbing, drowning, asphyxiation and a brutal fall.

Enormously successful upon its release, Charade set the template for the post-James Bond comedy thriller in the 1960s, with influences seen in the 007 connected Masquerade (1965), Arabesque, KaleidoscopeHow to Steal a Million (all 1966) and Fathom (1967). With great star performances from Grant and Hepburn working from Peter Stone’s excellent screenplay, Charade remains a terrific movie 60 years on. The film provides multiple pleasures for James Bond fans, most obviously the chance to see Cary Grant, such a huge influence on the screen presentation of James Bond, play a government agent.

How do you think Charade compares to the early James Bond films? Do you think Cary Grant would have made a great 007? Please leave a comment or an alternative review below.

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