Topaz (1969)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.  

USA, 1969.  .  Screenplay by , based on the novel by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .

Alfred Hitchcock returns to a Cold War theme following his underwhelming Torn Curtain, this time adapting Leon Uris’ book about the events leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis.  A magnificent opening shows the filmmaker off at his best, in which a Russian politician defects to the United States with his wife and daughter in tow, thinking his success a free ride until the United States government presses him for information on the KGB.  He eventually reveals that the Russians are storing nuclear weapons in Cuba, prompting to ask French operative to operate on America’s behalf in finding proof of this development.  The job takes Stafford to New York, under the guise of him and his wife () celebrating the engagement of their daughter () to her fiance (), before sending him to Cuba to gather up some evidence on microfilm.  His time on the tropical island, and his reconnecting with his gorgeous mistress () eventually leads to the final section of the film in which our protagonist goes after a spy ring in France that has been leaking classified information to the Russians through a NATO contact.  It’s great to see French superstars that we know for more intellectually sobering films, also including  and , enjoying the chance to work for one of Hollywood’s greatest filmmakers, but Samuel Taylor’s screenplay adaptation is flat and the drama is only occasionally punctuated by Hitchcock’s visual flourishes (including a great death scene involving the flaring out of a purple dress).  It feels as if Hitchcock was trying to make an intellectual James Bond film as response to the popularity of that franchise (including casting an actual Bond girl), but Martin Ritt did a much better job of exploring anti-Bond espionage cinema with The Spy Who Came In From The Cold a few years earlier.  Reportedly, this project, which the master of suspense was pressured into directing, was one of his unhappiest assignments, but the ease with which he directs the best sequences doesn’t allow for this malaise to show.

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