Stanley Donen’s best film by far, the scintillating mystery-comedy-thriller-romance Charade, has often been described as “the best Hitchcock movie that Hitchcock didn’t direct.” Not so—not by a long shot. A stylish, purely superficial entertainment that is not really about anything, Charade is dwarfed by the achievement of North by Northwest (1959), the “Hitchcock movie” with which it is most often compared. As I hope I make clear in my piece on it on this blog, North by Northwest portrays profound human relationships in a complex Cold War geopolitical environment that—this is the overarching point—impacts these relationships. Charade is a trifle, a bauble; North by Northwest, a serious and considerable work of art.
I adore Charade for what it is; Peter Stone’s delightfully preposterous script, Paris, Charles Lang’s gorgeous, shimmering color cinematography, especially at night, with its haunting whiff of the mystery of romance, Henry Mancini’s delicate musical theme: all these contribute to a lovely, strangely elusive thing. But the pleasures one derives from it are the same pleasures one derives from it whenever one visits it. By contrast, North by Northwest opens up new depths each and every time.
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