Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Frederick Stafford, Dany Robin, John Vernon
Tag line: "Hitchcock takes you behind the actual headlines to expose the most explosive spy scandal of the century!"
Trivia: Leon Uris wrote the first draft of the screenplay, but Alfred Hitchcock declared it unshootable at the last minute and called in Samuel A. Taylor (writer of Vertigo) to rewrite it from scratch.
Having kicked off the 1960s with two excellent movies (Psycho and The Birds), director Alfred Hitchcock rounded out the decade with three films many feel are among his weakest efforts: Marnie (which I enjoyed), Torn Curtain, and Topaz. Based on the best-selling Cold-War novel by Leon Uris, Topaz is a spy thriller that, unfortunately, contains very few thrills.
Set just before the Cuban Missile Crisis, an event which brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, Topaz stars Frederick Stafford as André Devereaux, a French intelligence agent who’s recruited by CIA operative Mike Nordstrom (John Forsythe) to look into a report that the Soviets are establishing a presence in Cuba. While working on this mission, Devereaux learns from Nordstrom that the U.S.S.R. has a spy ring, code-named Topaz, operating within the French Intelligence community. Determined to expose the Russian threat, Devereaux does all he can to discover the identities of these double agents, while at the same time keeping his superiors in the dark (in case they themselves are a part of it).
On a few occasions, we see flashes of the “old Hitchcock” in Topaz. The opening sequence, in which a Soviet official (Per-Axel Arosenius) and his family are followed through the streets of Copenhagen, is well-executed, as is a later scene, where Juanita (Karin Dor), a member of the Cuban underground, is confronted by Rico Parra (John Vernon, appearing very Castro-like), a military leader with whom she has a relationship. The movie also looks great; it was filmed on-location in Germany, Denmark, Paris, and New York City, among other places. But with a story that twists and turns in so many directions, involving everyone from the KGB to Cuban revolutionaries, it isn’t long before Topaz becomes a muddled mess of a film, one that gets even messier with its inclusion of Deveraux’s domestic problems (his wife, Nicole, played by Dany Robin, is convinced he’s cheating on her, leading to a great deal of tension between the two).
After the dismal response Topaz received at the box office (the movie made back only a fraction of its $4 million price tag), many wondered aloud if the Master of Suspense had lost his touch. As he’d prove a few years later with the excellent murder mystery, Frenzy, the answer to that question was a resounding “no”.
Still, after Topaz, it’s quite possible even Hitchcock himself might have had a doubt or two!