Topaz (1969) Poster

(1969)

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8/10
Atypical Hitchcock
patrick.hunter10 August 2000
Like so many Hollywood talents, Hitchcock was stereotyped. Also like so many Hollywood talents, whenever he tried to escape stereotyping, he would get criticized. That certainly was the case with TOPAZ. Although not as humorous, nor as romantic, nor even as exciting as the director's best films, the movie is nonetheless an intelligent and intriguing spy drama, one that compares more to a motion picture like DAY OF THE JACKYL than usual Hitchcock fare.

His other spy dramas, like NORTH BY NORTHWEST, may be more fun, but none of them are as realistic. In fact, very few spy films have the authenticity as TOPAZ. The story is based on fact. In 1962, a Russian top-level KGB defector informed the U.S. that some very high-level French diplomats, in a group called "Sapphire", were selling secrets to the Soviet Union. TIME Magazine printed this story in April 26, 1968, and did so using the same source that Leon Uris did: the U.S. sympathizing (and exiled) former Chief of French Intelligence, Philippe Thyraud de Vosjoli.

Incidentally, a viewer needs to know the chronology and key events surrounding the 1962 Cuban Missile Crises as background, or else the film will be confusing. I suspect many critics condemn it because it's easier for them to dismiss the film rather than confront their own ignorance.

Not that this movie is without weaknesses. Hitchcock was no realist, and the grim world of films like THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD is probably the type of ambiance it should have presented, but doesn't. However, I definitely join the camp of those who consider it underrated. I read writers on Hitchcock who unthinkingly rank TOPAZ with his worst stuff, and yet many of us prefer it over THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY, MR. AND MRS. SMITH, and other Hitchcock works that don't get castigated as nearly as much. I can't help but suspect they receive less criticism because they are more typical Hitchcock. This film is atypical Hitchcock, so readjust your expectations accordingly.
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9/10
Excellent and definitely underrated movie
TexMetal4JC15 June 2001
One of Hitchcock's last movies, TOPAZ is actually an excellent movie. Sure, it's not Psycho or Rope, but it's a classic in its own right. Too many people who think "007" when they hear "spy movie" have probably seen this movie and been turned off by its realism and lack of explosions.

The acting is somewhat wooden, but it's not terribly noticeable until after the movie, when you have time to think about it. And the ending is incredibly abrupt, but so was the ending to Vertigo, and no one complains about that.

Hitchcock's work here is fabulous. The murder scene is absolutely incredible (the purple dress), one of Hitchcock's finest moments ever (up there with the Spellbound milk-drinking and the Rear Window climax). Another excellent moment, as previously mentioned, is the wordless bribing of secretary Uribe in the beginning of the movie. The opening scene of defection and the torture scene are also very good.

The plot is very good as well. Unlike Torn Curtain, which falls into nothing but repetitive scenes and events, Topaz's plot is coherent and engaging. It features several great twists and turns, and although many characters do have underdeveloped parts, that seems almost necessary to keep the movie under 3 hours.

It's not a Hitchcock classic, but it is certainly an excellent movie, and it deserves to receive much more credit than it does.

9/10
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7/10
Doing A Favor For An Ally
bkoganbing14 September 2007
Topaz was the third from the last of the great Alfred Hitchcock's films and in those last few films Hitch eschewed using big American box office names. No doubt he'd come to the conclusion that his was the biggest box office name on the credits.

But if the leading and many of the supporting players were not known to American audiences they were certainly known to French audiences. Dany Robin, Frederick Stafford, Phillippe Noiret, Michel Subor, Michel Piccoli all have had substantial careers in the French cinema.

Topaz is certainly an international thriller with the action going from Copenhagen, to Harlem, to Cuba, and finally Paris. Only Cuba was not shot on actual location for obvious reasons.

The film is based on a spy novel surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis. A Russian defector whose defection with his family is very nicely shot in Copenhagen hints at some major problems coming our way in the Pearl of the Antillies. Our biggest problem though is that because of the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion, we've got no real intelligence on the ground in Cuba. What to do?

Well if you're John Forsythe there's been a reason you've been cultivating the French for years. He goes to Frederick Stafford of French intelligence and asks him to find out what's happening in Cuba.

History in 1962 bares witness to what was happening in Cuba at that time, but also Stafford is concerned the Russians have a spy real high up in the French government, code name, Topaz.

There's a romantic angle here to, so very French. Stafford makes use of his mistress, a Cuban girl played by Karin Dor who wife Dany Robin has reasons to be suspicious of. Then again she's not sitting home waiting for the grass to grow under her feet. She's having a fling with Michel Piccoli who is a friend of her husband.

International Geopolitics and romantic affairs are all tied together in this novel which Hitchcock serves up with his usual touch.

What a sad end both the leads in this film had. Frederick Stafford was killed in a plane crash in 1979 and Dany Robin and her husband died in an apartment house fire in 1995. Truly a cursed film.

Besides those mentioned look for good performances by John Vernon as a Castro aide and wannabe and from Roscoe Lee Browne who's an operator for French Intelligence in Harlem. I kid you not.

It's not one of Alfred Hitchcock's best films, but Topaz is entertaining enough and Hitchcock fans won't be disappointed.
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7/10
Brilliant sequences in an unsung Hitchcock film
Jugu Abraham8 April 2006
While Leon Uris' book is a good read, Hitchcock's adaptation of the book for cinema captures much of the book's selling points. The killing of Juanita by Rico Parra is central to book and the film. The book has a sensual scene where Juanita distracts Parra to allow Andre to escape before she is killed. In the film, Hitchcock dispenses with the sexual distraction to go directly to the killing. The killing of Juanita captured by the overhead camera, shows the purple gown spreading in the floor as blood would have spread. No blood is shown—only the gown. What a brilliant shot from Hitchcock and cameraman Jack Hildyard! The second remarkable facet of the movie is the performance of Phillip Noiret as a French bureaucrat and spy. The lunch sequence (a typical Hitchcock food event) may look simple but the montage of shots capturing Noiret's apparent interest in the food than the conversation is truly engaging. Noiret is a fine actor. So is Michel Piccoli. The two of them outshine Frederick Stafford and John Forsythe.

The third most fascinating shot is post-torture interrogation of Mrs Mendoza—the whispered response from a posture that reminds one of Michelangelo's Pieta—with her dead husband replacing the dead Christ.

Hitchcock's perseverance with "marriage" continues. Andre blandly tells his daughter of his wife "She left me. I did not leave her" after a tryst with his lover in Havana. The Michel Piccoli character says of Andre's wife "Andre, his wife and I were very close. She married him." We know later that Andre's wife was cheating on him as she recognizes the Piccoli character's phone number at his secret love nest.

The defection sequence in Copenhagen might look clumsy—but Hitchcock's style is everywhere—faces in mirrors, close up of a porcelain figure about to be dropped with no music in the background, etc. What was most amusing was the criticism of the American espionage agents: "We would have done it better" and the exchange of words by the defector in Washington, D.C. Andre's outburst to his bosses on the outcome of French intervention in the defection would lead to the defector's assassination is equally poignant had the film ended with the French spy defecting to Russia (one of the alternate endings).

Finally, Hitchcock's use of the newspaper headlines during key scenes in the background was interesting: The Pieta shot had the newspaper shot in the background and the newspaper left behind on a bench in Paris is the final shot. The alternate endings—the duel and the departure of the spies to two cold-warring countries would not have served well as well the suicide of the spy suggested by the gunshot in his house.
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7/10
Interesting but unsatisfying
fletch59 September 2000
"Topaz" is one of Hitchcock's least satisfying films, yet the same time it's one of his most interesting ones, as well. Usually people don't remember it, maybe because there are no famous Hitchcock stars. Either the director didn't get any, or he didn't want them, because the audiences should tightly concentrate on the complex plot.

The film clearly divides into three parts. The one in the middle, which takes place in Cuba, is the best of them. It involves the films most memorable scene, the beautifully photographed murder. Weakest part is the last one, where you might get confused with the messy intrigues.

There are too many characters in the movie, which leaves many of them just bystanders, for example the worried wife (Dany Robin), who doesn't do really anything. The films brightest spot is Karin Dor, who gives an excellent performance as the beautiful Juanita. Too bad that her screen time is quite short. And the ending climax shines with its absence: the film ends like bumping into a wall.
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6/10
Serviceable, workmanlike spy thriller that will never end up in anyone's "Top 10 Hitchcock films" list
gridoon1 May 2007
"Topaz" is at its best when Alfred Hitchcock lets the camera tell the story: there are several small but brilliant moments in this film. But while his direction is still masterful, his pacing certainly isn't - the film often feels talky and plodding. The abrupt ending is another problem - one of the alternative endings, the airport one, sounds much better (unfortunately I haven't had the chance to see it yet). Frederick Stafford is no Cary Grant or even Rod Taylor, but he does the job; so do the rest of the actors, with Phillipe Noiret a standout in a brief role and Karin Dor adding a touch of sensuality to the proceedings. On the whole, "Topaz" is not even among Hitchcock's Top 10 pictures, but his fans will still have fun spotting his touches here and there. His cameo - a wheelchair-bound man who suddenly gets up and starts walking (!) - is just one of them. (**1/2)

EDIT: I finally did see the airport ending: it is undeniably better than the present one, but still a bit too abrupt.
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The French Connection
ecarle2 April 2004
One aspect of "Topaz" that should be kept in mind is that while American and British critics were belittling Hitchcock as a "mere entertainer," the French New Wave critics, led by Francois Truffaut, were lionizing him and Truffaut even published a book-long interview with Hitchcock published in 1967.

Hitchcock hadn't worked in years and was desperately trying to get another movie going when Universal showed him the book "Topaz" -- about spies in the French government, with a French protagonist and climactic scenes in Paris. I think that Hitchcock may have -- unwisely -- decided to do "Topaz" so he could do a "French picture."

There are some great individual scenes in Topaz -- the opening defection in Copenhagen, the suspenseful mission to get secrets from the Cubans in Harlem's Hotel Theresa (Hitchcock in Harlem?!); the hero's dangerous mission into Cuba and the death of his key contact there.

But Hitchcock really didn't like making "Topaz," he was bored and ill and resentful (Universal had killed a project called "Frenzy" -- not to be confused with the 1972 film he made of that name -- and Hitchcock was bitter about it.)

So we end up with a very half-hearted Hitchcock movie with a few good scenes, no real stars, THREE failed endings (all available to see on the DVD), and an attempt to "make nice with my French friends."
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Truly Hitchcockian despite its weaknesses
The Big Combo10 March 2003
Unfortunately, I'd only come across the weak ending version. Despite of that, it's a truly Hitchcockian film. The memorable scenes are pure and exclusively visual: the intriguing start, the stealing of the documents, the death of Juanita, the torturing of the cuban spies, the discovery of the body at Jarre's apartment, the meal of the french officers...

Hitchcock used to take technical challenges in every one of his films, I assume that here he committed to deliver the most complicated information concerning the plot without using dialogue, and he succeed.

There's a lot of subtle humor and some clever twists. The cuban officers are just great, absolutely surreal. I loved the atmosphere in that hotel room, with people doing paperwork, smoking cigars and drinking, and the detail of the hamburger wrapped in the document. I think the very broad differences in tone between the three main sections of the film affects the pace and the appreciation of the story as a whole.

It's amazing how Hitchcock managed to survive in it in the light of the multitude of trouble this film went through.

Watching the video version edited in Norway had its extra. Amazingly, all subtitles were delayed a good five, six minutes throughout the entire film, so you actually had text during the silent scenes and incongruities such as love words during killings.
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10/10
A MUST-SEE UNDERATED HITCHCOCK.
You must see this movie even if you have before. You must see the DVD version, offering the widescreen version and about a half hour of deleted footage that had no right being deleted in the first place. Many important scenes and dialogue were cut for the video release, and haven't been put back in until recently. This is an very underated Hitchcock movie. It contains all the suspense that Hitchcock enjoyed. There are NO STARS in this movie. I can see why it failed at the box office because it's lack of star power. Although the actors are just as good as any superstar. Actually I believe it to be more REAL to see lesser known actors and actually masterful on Hitchcock's part. It's the story of the Cold War, during the days of the Cuban Missle Crisis and the secret spy ring -- Topaz. Great performances and masterful direction. ****/*****. Avoid Maltin's documentary of the movie on the DVD! -- What an arrogant critic.
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An underrated Cold War thriller
sundar-224 July 1999
Based on Leon Uris' novel of the same name about the tense days of the Cuban missile crisis, Alfred Hitchcock's `Topaz' is an underrated cold-war thriller - - underrated by English-speaking audiences and critics probably because the chief protagonist is a Frenchman! The first half of the movie is especially exciting, starting as it does with the defection (very realistically filmed) of a top Soviet official to the U.S, who hints at the existence of Soviet missiles in Cuba.. Frederick Stafford very adequately plays Andre Deveraux, the French trade official with Cuban connections whose help is requested by the Americans. Karin Dor is excellent as his beautiful Cuban paramour. Hitchcock's initial portrayal of Castro's Cuba is that of a rather benign place, but quickly changes to a frightening place later in the movie when the director clearly delineates the full brutality of his terrible regime. Deveraux's allies in Cuba are tortured and killed. The last third of the film, set in France, is not as exciting. The movie takes it own time exposing the members of the Topaz spy ring. The transition of the action from Cuba to France is abrupt and is another weakness of this flick. Maybe, `Topaz' should have been filmed in 2 parts, one about the Cuban missile crisis and another about French fellow-travellers! This is, perhaps, the only movie in which Hitchcock seems to show some sympathy towards those who get murdered, as evidenced by the final scene, which shows the ironical contrast between the superficial newspaper headline about the Cuban missile crisis ending and the grim fates of the unsung secret agents who helped end it. `Topaz' is one of the best cold-war movies ever made. Critics should re-evaluate it. But it is only a good Hitchcock movie, not his best.
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