Now, it's not a terrible film per se, but it certainly doesn't have a lot going for it. The plot is the old Cold War spy intrigue/mole hunt sort of thing, with emphasis on a French operative diving into Soviet and Cuban dealings around the time of the Cuban Missle Crisis. The storyline is heavily fact based, and as a result, is pretty cut and dried, and not really as compelling as it should be.
It doesn't help that Hitch made a lot of films like this already, most of them better, and ones I saw before this one. Even though it has ties to reality, the film is dull, not engaging, and kind of a bore. I really didn't care what was happening most of the time, and that's really not a good sign considering the film's long running time.
The film's not all bad though. It has a lot of merit from a technical standpoint, with some good locations, sets, and camerawork. Maurice Jarre's score is also really good, and probably the film's highlight, aside from the film scene Karin Dor is in. Speaking of actors, this could probably have benefited from some serious star power. That wouldn't be a guarantee that it would've helped, but you never know. I do think the highlight as far as acting goes to John Vernon, and his portrayal of a Cuban revolutionary is both bewildering and awesome. I t probably wouldn't fly today, and, while I'm not sure why they got a Canadian to play a Cuban, I won't complain either, as I think Vernon was a solid character actor.
All in all, the film is just kinda 'meh'. I mostly just think the film falls because it all feels very routine and phoned in. Of course, when you're Hitchcock, I guess it's okay to not be on the top of your game all the time...even though it happened to him a few times, especially during the latter years. See it if you want, but just know that its reputation is pretty true.
OK if you need to kill a couple of hours...
The cast is decent enough but no one really captures your attention here. And while there are a couple scenes of great tension that Hitch builds masterfully, but they are a little too few and far between to keep this from being one of his most disappointing efforts.
Of all his films, 1969's 'Topaz' is arguably the least "Hitchcockian". With it's rambling plot and overly talky script, it resembles the work of a modern Hollywood hack rather than a master film-maker. Hitch had absolutely zero interest in adapting Leon Uris' novel but, following the commercial failures of 'Marnie' and 'Torn Curtain', Universal forced the best-selling book on him. The production was a troubled affair, with scenes being written as late as the night before they were due to be filmed. This infuriated the director, who had spent his career working in a strict, organized manner. He's often quoted as saying how his films were made long before the cameras began to roll, with every last detail worked out meticulously. This was far from the case with 'Topaz'.
After a cheap, stock-footage utilizing, credits sequence, Hitch gives us an impressive opening. The defecting general and his family leave the Russian embassy in Copenhagen, planning to rendezvous with the C.I.A men who will aid their escape. Through a great crane shot, it's revealed that they have been seen leaving the building and are followed by two men and the creepiest female Russian agent since 'From Russia With Love''s Lotte Lenya. Hitch builds a suspenseful, dialogue free, set-piece as the family are followed through downtown Copenhagen by the villains. We're on familiar Hitchcock ground here but it's one of the few occasions in this film's lengthy running time.
This opening sequence apart, there's about two minutes at best of classic Hitchcock on display in 'Topaz'. The film's most famous moment comes when Dor is discovered to be a traitor by Vernon, who holds her in his arms before shooting her. When he releases her lifeless body from his grip, she collapses to the floor, her purple gown spilling out like a pool of blood, all shown in a stunning overhead shot. (Spielberg paid homage to this moment in 'Munich', replacing the gown with a shattering milk bottle). Just as he used the roar of a jet engine to prevent us from hearing plot details in 'North by NorthWest', here Hitch has two characters hold a discussion behind a thick sound-proof door. We can see them but can't hear a word they say.
For the most part, 'Topaz' is a humorless affair but there are a couple of moments of absurd comedy. They both feature Hitch's great love - food! In one scene, Vernon is searching for a document he seems to have misplaced. He finds it doubling as a napkin for a half-eaten burger, its text smeared with grease. (Once again America has meddled with Cuban affairs). The second comes courtesy of photographic equipment, hidden by spies inside baguettes. When seagulls fly off with the bread in their beaks, it alerts the villains as to the whereabouts of the spies.
These brief sprinklings of note are rare and mostly only of interest to Hitch buffs. On the whole, the film is a terminal bore, like watching a Bond movie under the influence of heroin. The plot seems to ramble on for an age, eventually leading to an unsatisfying conclusion. Three endings were filmed as Hitch and his screenwriter Samuel Taylor struggled to wrap it all up.
The final line of the movie comes from Stafford, "That's the end of Topaz". It's a relief to hear it.
"Topaz" is not one of Hitchcock's best but it's not a bad film. The problem has to do with the ending and the film's pace, audiences (including myself) will have a difficult time understanding the secret agent lingo. The movie is very well casted and the performances is well acted. I especially enjoyed watching the scenes between the late actor Frederick Stafford and the beautiful Karin Dor. Hitchcock had problems with the studio and the test audiences, and reshoots but was able to complete it nonetheless. "Topaz" imo is still enjoyable to watch and just to slowly savour.
2008 Movies: 66