Topaz (1969)

Topaz trailer

Although a Cold War drama should still have impact, Alfred Hitchcock’s Topaz didn’t. Based on a novel by Leon Uris, Topaz plods along telling the story of a French spy André Devereaux who agrees to go to Cuba to get top secret documents outlining the transport of Russian missiles to Cuba. This mission was instigated based on intel from a Russian official who defects to America and spills the beans to a NATO official Mike Nordstrom, who tapped André to work for the US. André has a network of agents from New York to Havana who risk their lives to help him.

After nearly getting caught in an operation in New York, despite the pleas of his wife to mind his own business and not help the Americans — or to rendezvous with his Cuban lover Juanita, André flies to Havana. Juanita gets her servants to take pictures of the missiles while pretending to be on a picnic. The couple are arrested for espionage, but do manage to hide the film so that André can get it later.

After a couple love scenes with Juanita, who’s as pretty and as superficially developed as his wife, André obtains and hides the film. But before he leaves, his nemesis Parra, a Castro surrogate, storms into Juanita’s mansion. A fiery, jealous argument ensues, and Parra shoots Juanita to save her from inevitable torture, the sort that’s in store for her servants and that Parra no doubt employs regularly. André escapes back to DC where he meets Mike and the Russian defector.

Here he learns that the French government and intelligence office is full of corrupt officials who’re in bed with Russia. André also faces his wife who’s moved out and his grown daughter, who knows about the affair.

The plot moves to a climax where André and his son-in-law work to bring down and expose the French no-goodniks. The ending seen on the DVD is a whimper rather than a bang. The DVD included the two other endings and both, for my money, outperform the “Airport” ending. The fact that there are three endings indicates that the film’s production was troubled.

Indeed Topaz had three screenwriters and while Topaz was being shot the script was getting rewrites. That’s often the case and doesn’t always spell trouble, but in this instance it does.

At 127 minutes, the film plods along, It’s hard to believe but originally While there are some twists and turns, the characters seemed wooden and poorly developed. Everyone seemed to be wearing a mask and authentic reactions to betrayal, jealousy and infidelity were missing. Even an underlying emotion was missing.

Topaz isn’t one of Hitchcock’s greats and I recommend films like Rear Window, Vertigo or even Torn Curtain over it.

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