Topaz (1969 film)

Topaz is a 1969 American espionage thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Based on the 1967 Cold War novel Topaz by Leon Uris, the film is about a French intelligence agent who becomes entangled in the Cold War politics of the events leading up to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and later the breakup of an international Soviet spy ring in France. The story is closely based on the 1962 Sapphire Affair,[2] which involved the head of French Intelligence SDECE in the United States, and spy Philippe Thyraud de Vosjoli—a friend of Leon Uris[2]—who played an important role in "helping the U.S. discover the presence of Russian offensive missiles in Cuba".[2] The film stars Frederick Stafford, Dany Robin, John Vernon, Karin Dor, Michel Piccoli, Philippe Noiret, Claude Jade, Michel Subor and John Forsythe.

Topaz
Topaz movieposter
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay by Samuel A. Taylor
Based on Topaz
1967 novel
by Leon Uris
Starring
Music by Maurice Jarre
Cinematography Jack Hildyard
Edited by William H. Ziegler
Production
company
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date
  • December 19, 1969 (USA)
Running time
127 minutes
(theatrical cut)
143 minutes
(Extended DVD cut)
Country United States
Language English
Budget $4 million
Box office $6 million[1]
Theatrical trailer.

Plot

In Copenhagen in 1962, a high-ranking Soviet intelligence officer, Boris Kusenov (Per-Axel Arosenius), defects to the West. During de-briefing, CIA agent Mike Nordstrom (John Forsythe) learns that Russian missiles with nuclear warheads are to be placed in Cuba.

Needing physical evidence, Nordstrom discloses Kusenov's name to French agent André Devereaux (Frederick Stafford), asking him to bribe Luis Uribe (Donald Randolph), a member of Cuba's U.N. delegation, to provide photographs of documents confirming the missile bases in Cuba. Devereaux decides to accompany his daughter Michèle (Claude Jade) on her honeymoon to New York City with son-in-law François Picard (Michel Subor).

In New York, a French-Martinican agent, Philippe Dubois (Roscoe Lee Browne), is to contact Uribe, who is the secretary to Cuban official Rico Parra (John Vernon), who is staying at the Hotel Theresa in Harlem to show solidarity with the black community.

Dubois sneaks into the hotel. He bribes Uribe to take the documents from Parra's office to photograph. Parra catches Dubois photographing the documents. Chased and shot at by Cuban revolutionaries, Dubois purposefully knocks into Devereaux—who was watching events from the other side of the street—and slips him the camera. A red-headed Cuban guard helps Devereaux to get up, but lets him go. Dubois escapes into the crowd around the hotel.

Dubois' photos confirm that the Soviets are placing missiles in Cuba. Devereaux, despite his wife's accusations of infidelity, flies to Cuba. His mistress, Juanita de Cordoba (Karin Dor), was the widow of a "hero of the Revolution". This enables her to work undercover in the resistance. Upon his arrival, Devereaux finds Parra (another lover of hers) leaving Juanita's mansion. Devereaux asks Juanita to take photos of the missiles. Juanita's loyal domestic staff, Carlotta and Pablo Mendoza, pose as picnickers and photograph the missiles. Pursued, the two hide the incriminating film before they are captured.

During a mass rally and lengthy speech by the "líder máximo", the red-headed Cuban guard recognizes Devereaux's face from the New York incident.

Parra has heard from the tortured Carlotta Mendoza that Juanita is their leader. He embraces her, shooting her dead to save her from extreme torture.

At the Havana airport, the Cuban authorities fail to find the microfilms on Deveraux. When Devereaux gets back, his wife has left him. Devereaux is to be recalled to Paris. Kusenov tells him about the existence of a Soviet spy organization called "Topaz" within the French intelligence service. He is given the name of NATO official Henri Jarré (Philippe Noiret), who leaked documents to the KGB.

Devereaux researches the leak. He invites some of his old friends and colleagues, including Jarré, to a lunch at a fine Paris restaurant under the pretext of helping Devereaux prepare for his inquiry. Devereaux tells the others about Topaz, in order to provoke some reaction. Jarré claims it is misinformation, and says that Kusenov died a year ago.

Jarré starts to panic. He visits the leader of the spy ring, Jacques Granville (Michel Piccoli). Devereaux, Nicole, and Granville were close friends from their days together in the French Resistance. Granville tells Jarré it was a mistake to say Kusenov was dead; the Americans will easily discover that Jarré is lying. As Jarré is leaving Granville's house, Devereaux's wife arrives to meet Granville, her lover.

Devereaux sends his son-in-law, François, to interview Jarré. Devereaux and Michèle rush to Jarré's flat and find Jarré dead, a staged suicide. François has disappeared. After being clubbed and kidnapped, François managed to escape from his captors' car with an overheard phone number and his sketch of Jarré.

Nicole tells her family, with tearful eyes, that the phone number is Granville's, so he must be the leader of the Topaz organization. Granville is exposed and then commits suicide (in the USA and French versions) or flees to the Soviet Union (in the British version).

Cast

Production

Screenplay

Alfred Hitchcock first hired Leon Uris to adapt his own novel for the screen. Reportedly, the two differed on aspects of character development, with Hitchcock claiming that Uris hadn't humanised the villains of the story. Uris also did not appreciate Hitchcock's insistence on adding black humour. After a portion of the draft had been written, Uris left the film. Hitchcock attempted to hire Arthur Laurents to complete work on the screenplay, but he refused, leaving an unfinished draft and the shooting schedule rapidly approaching. Ultimately, Samuel A. Taylor, co-writer of Vertigo was hired, but the film began without a completed screenplay. Some scenes were filmed just hours after they had been written.[3]

Hitchcock changed the script shortly before the beginning of filming and distributor Universal forced a different ending to the one preferred by Hitchcock.[4] For Topaz, Hitchcock engaged the 19-year-old French actress Claude Jade from Truffaut's Stolen Kisses. She and Dany Robin, cast as her mother, would provide the glamour in the story. "Claude Jade is a rather quiet young lady," Hitchcock said later, "but I wouldn't guarantee [that] about her behavior in a taxi."

Cinematography

Like his previous films Rope and The Trouble with Harry, Hitchcock intended the film to be an experiment for whether colours, predominantly red, yellow and white, could be used to reveal and influence the plot. He later admitted that this did not work out.[3]

Alternate versions and endings

The original cut of the film ended with a duel between André and Jacques in a French football stadium, shot by associate producer Herbert Coleman when Hitchcock had to return to the U.S. for a family emergency. This ending was panned by audiences during test screenings, who also said the film was far too long.

Under pressure from the studio, Hitchcock shot a second ending he actually liked better, with Jacques escaping on an Aeroflot flight to the Soviet Union as André and Nicole board their adjacent Pan Am flight back to the United States. However, this ending apparently confused audiences. Additionally, screenwriter Samuel Taylor objected to the villain escaping unpunished, and there were fears that this ending would offend the French government.[5]

As a compromise, Hitchcock used existing footage to create a third ending: Granville is exposed and expelled from a NATO meeting, and over a shot of the exterior of his apartment, the sound of a gunshot tells us he commits suicide behind his drawn curtains (since no footage of his doing so existed).[6]

The film was released with this third ending, and also edited down by nearly 20 minutes, to a final length of 127 minutes. The "airport ending" briefly appeared on UK prints of the film, by mistake, but those prints were soon altered to match the version released elsewhere.[7]

When American Movie Classics aired the film in March 10, 1991, it included the alternative endings filmed by Hitchcock that had been kept in the Universal vaults.

The longer 143 minute cut of the film was released for the first time by Universal on DVD in 1999, using the second ending, in which Jacques escapes. All three endings appear as extras on the DVD, together with an "Appreciation" by Leonard Maltin in which Maltin discusses the deleted scenes and alternate endings.

The longer version of the film has been released numerous times on DVD and Blu-ray in the US and many other markets. However some markets, like Germany, Japan and Scandinavia, continue to have the shorter theatrical cut on DVD and Blu-ray.[8]

Filming locations

Portions of Topaz were filmed on location in Copenhagen, Wiesbaden, West Germany, Paris, New York City, and Washington, D.C.[9] The remainder of the film was shot at Universal Studios Hollywood and in and around Los Angeles.

Hitchcock cameo

Hitchcock's signature cameo appearance occurs around 28 minutes into the film, at the airport: he is seated in a wheelchair as he is being pushed by a nurse. She stops, and he nonchalantly stands and greets a man, proceeding to walk off screen with him.

Reception

The film was not particularly well-received or successful at the box office.

Some critics liked Topaz. New York Times critic Vincent Canby put the film on his year-end list of the ten best films of 1969, declaring it a "huge success, a quirky, episodic espionage tale made rich and suspenseful, not through conventional Hitchcockian narrative drive, but through odd, perverse Hitchcockian detail, economy of cinematic gesture, and an over-all point of view that can never for a moment be mistaken as belonging to anyone but Hitchcock."[10] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times also liked the film, writing that although there was a "loss of momentum" at the climax because of the time it took to resolve the complex plot, the first three-quarters of the film were "bravura displays of the fabled Hitchcock technique, replete with dazzling camera movements and acute imagery." Thomas singled out the Harlem sequence as among "the best that Hitchcock has ever done."[11]

In 1969, Hitchcock won the Best Director Award for Topaz from the National Board of Review.

Other reviews were mixed to negative, usually faulting the film for lacking excitement. Variety wrote that it "tends to move more solidly and less infectiously than many of the maestro of menace's best remembered pix. Yet Hitchcock has brought in a full quota of twists and tingling moments. It is just that the picture seems to move predictably and lacks the fun and surprise blood curdling moments that can lift his thrillers with breathtaking excitement."[12] The Monthly Film Bulletin in Britain wrote that the film had "intermittent pleasures (the silent conversation behind hotel doors seen from across the street, the long pull back across the conference room and the reverse track forward ending with a zoom on to Piccoli's face), yet we are constantly deprived of the action set pieces which would have given the narrative its much needed boost. It is known that Hitchcock had trouble with the climax (and juggled three different endings); but the one finally chosen for the commercial print here looks as if it could have been devised by anyone."[13] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote: "The film as a whole dies from a lack of humor and animation ... The awful truth is that Hitchcock would probably be better off if he retired. The most one can say for his direction of 'Topaz' is that it's polished: The compositions are symmetrical and the photography is glossy. But if this is all it is, the film might as well be the work of a disinterested computer."[14] Pauline Kael of The New Yorker called it "the same damned spy picture he's been making since the thirties, and it's getting longer, slower, and duller."[15]

Some U.S. critics complained that there was no Hollywood star in the movie—no Bergman, no Grant; the cast did however include renowned international film stars (Jade, Piccoli, Noiret), whose previous successes had been primarily in France. Some attribute Hitchcock's casting choices to the negative experience the director had working with Paul Newman on Torn Curtain; however, Hitchcock is said to have approached Sean Connery (who had worked with him in Marnie) for Andre, and Catherine Deneuve for his wife. Topaz currently holds a 64% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 25 reviews.[16]

Some critics have inferred that Hitchcock was hoping to groom the relatively unknown Frederick Stafford as a star of his own making, similar to Tippi Hedren; however, Stafford remained an unknown in Hollywood, though he had a lengthy career in European films.

The movie earned $3,839,363 in North American rentals in 1970.[17]

See also

References

  1. ^ Topaz, Box Office Information. The Numbers. Retrieved May 26, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c "France: The Sapphire Affair". Time Magazine. April 26, 1968. Retrieved March 8, 2013.
  3. ^ a b Miller, Frank. "Topaz (1969)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved March 9, 2013.
  4. ^ "The Times (27/Jan/1970) - The Times Diary: Topaz trio - The Alfred Hitchcock Wiki". www.hitchcockwiki.com. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  5. ^ "Topaz (1969) - The Alfred Hitchcock Wiki". the.hitchcock.zone. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  6. ^ Sullivan, Jack. Hitchcock's Music. p. 296.
  7. ^ "Topaz (1969) - The Alfred Hitchcock Wiki". the.hitchcock.zone. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  8. ^ "Topaz (1969) - The Alfred Hitchcock Wiki". the.hitchcock.zone. Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  9. ^ "Topaz Notes". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved March 9, 2013.
  10. ^ Canby, Vincent (December 28, 1969). "The Ten Best of 1969". The New York Times: D1, D13.
  11. ^ Thomas, Kevin (December 19, 1969). "'Topaz': A Spy Adventure by Hitchcock". Los Angeles Times. Section IV, p. 1, 15.
  12. ^ "Topaz". Variety: 21. November 12, 1969.
  13. ^ "Topaz". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 36 (341): 261. December 1969.
  14. ^ Arnold, Gary (December 28, 1969). "A Suspense Thriller With Neither Suspense Nor Thrills". The Washington Post: G1.
  15. ^ Kael, Pauline (December 27, 1969). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker: 49.
  16. ^ "Topaz". Retrieved 29 July 2017.
  17. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1970", Variety, 6 January 1971 p 11.

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