Tuesday, April 2, 2013

#960. Topaz (1969)

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!


Dusty said...

Dave, I kept meaning to leave comments because you are edging very close to 1, 000 movies. (What a feat!) So apologies for my absence.

This is a very fair review of Topaz. Most people would be just as inclined to flippantly say: "Well, it sort of sucks." My hat is off to you because I have never, ever managed to finish watching the thing. How many times I have channel flipped past it on AMC? I can't even tell you.

Was Hitchcock losing his touch? It's impossible to say. But you do wonder about his level of engagement in some of the later movies.

Great review!

DVD Infatuation said...

@Dusty: Yeah, #1,000 is creeping up on me! I'm still trying to decide what movie will BE #1,000 (I got one in mind...a movie I can't BELIEVE I haven't covered already!)

Yeah, TOPAZ is one that just doesn't generate enough tension and excitement. It's certainly not a TERRIBLE movie, but for Hitchcock, mediocre is nearly as bad!

Though I will say that a few years later he made FRENZY, which i absolutely love! A definite return to form.

Thanks for the kind words, and for the comment!