Thursday, June 3, 2010

Hollywood couple dreams up tales in 'Charade'

Charade (1953)
Starring: James Mason and Pamela Mason
Director: Roy Kellino
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

This "Charade" is a black-and-white anthology film starring James Mason and his wife Pamela,and it predates the more famous "Charade" (with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn) by a decade. It draws its title from the set-up and linking device for the three stories--James dreams of being a film producer instead of just an actor, and together with his wife imagines what the movies he might produce would be like.

The three tales in the film share a common thread of love and how it might enrich or destroy a life. The first story is a little chiller about a failed artist who developes a fatal attraction for a man she knows to be a murderer, the second one is a melodrama about a man of honor who is tricked into a duel by a dishonorable man who once had designs on his fiance, while the closer is a light-hearted little story about a man blessed with infallable luck who goes looking for that one thing that's missing in his life and discovers it may or may not be love. (The first of the three stories even bears a small resemblence to the more famous "Charade", in that it takes place inside a shabby rooming house and focuses on a woman who is attracted to a potentially dangerous man.)

All three stories are well written, well staged, and expertly acted, with James and Pamela playing the leads in each one. The third, comedic story is a bit of a head-scratcher, but it's fun and entertaining nonetheless. The framing sequences add to the overall fun of the film, with the moment where what seemed to be James and Pamela's sitting room suddenly gives way to a partially struck sound-stage when James starts dreaming about the movies he's going to produce.

James Mason's talent as actor are clearly on display in this film, particularly between the first and second stories, where he goes from a character of quiet menace to one of stiff-necked, hidebound honor. and gives an excellent performance in each role.

"Charade" is definately a movie that isn't seen nearly enough. I recommend tracking down a copy and taking a look for yourself.

(That link is not a mistake. As far as I know, the 1953 "Charade" is only available as a bonus feature on that particular DVD edition of the better known film from 1963 of the same title. Click here to read my review of this Audrey Hepburn/Cary Grant thriller at Watching the Detectives.)

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