Saturday, August 6, 2011
Studio: A Universal Picture
Screenplay: Samuel A Taylor
Source Material: A novel by Leon Uris
Running Time: 136 minutes
Friday 29th July, 1:00pm
So, I finally got to sit through all of Topaz! I have attempted a number of times before but been overwhelmed by boredom each time. Thankfully, due to the nature of this blog, I was given a reason to persist – and, to be honest, I am glad I did. Sure, it’s not the best Hitchcock ever, but it was certainly better than I had lead myself to believe.
I had a day off work last Friday, so I settled down in the afternoon so I could get it out of the way and leave the rest of my weekend free – however, upon finishing the film, I went to turn on my computer only to find… it wouldn’t! It was dead!! ARGH!!
Luckily, I have a genius friend by the name of Adam who was able to resurrect it on Sunday. I did notice however that over those 48 hours without a computer, I was able to get an awful lot done – housework, sleeping, reading etc. So maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing.
Annoyingly, I simply did not have the time (nor the impetus) to do the blog during the week, so it has been severely delayed!
Anyway, the point is, I had to wait to update the blog, so here it is now. Forgive the lack of depth this time - it's a boring plot and as I write this, I'm very tired...
Andre Devereaux – Frederick Stafford
Nicoel Devereaux – Dany Robin
Rico Parra – John Vernon
Juanita de Cordoba – Karin Dor
Jacques Granville – Michel Piccoli
Rene Jarre – Philippe Noiret
Michele Picard – Claude Jade
Francois Picard – Michel Subor
Philippe Dubois – Roscoe Lee Browne
Boris Kusenov – Per-Axel Arosenius
Michael Nordstrom – John Forsythe
Somewhere in this crowd is a high Russian official who disagrees with his government’s display of force and what it threatens.
Very soon his conscience will force him to attempt an escape while apparently on a vacation with his family.
Copenhagen, Denmark, 1962
Boris Kuzenov and his wife and daughter are taking a holiday in Copenhagen, but they have plans in place to escape and flee to America. They leave their holiday home and visit a ceramics factory whilst being followed by some foreign agents.
Boris’ daughter, Tamara, meets with a contact and discovers they have to be at the Den Permanente store that afternoon.
Eventually losing the men who are following them, they take a taxi to the airfield where the American who has been helping them, Michael Nordstrom, is chastised by Boris for creating such a clumsy scheme. However, they have escaped and arrive in Washington. They are given a home to live in and are given new identities but for the mean time, they must lie low.
At the French Embassy in Washington D.C., Andre Deveraux learns from a man named D’Arcy that there is a Russian defector in the city and would like Andre to find out more.
Kuzenov is being interrogated by Americans regarding what he knows of the KGB and the codename ‘Topaz’.
He and his family are offered new lives and identities.
During the interview, it comes out that a man named Rico Parra has a secret trade pact between Cuba and Russia. He has a right hand man named Luis Uribe who may be able to be of assistance. They need to get to this man.
At Devereaux's home, Nordstrom visits for dinner to discuss the nature of Devereaux's assignment - he has to go to New York to find Luis Uribe and get whatever information he can about Rico's dealings with Russia.
Devereaux and his wife travel to New York and visit their daughter Michele and her husband, Francois Picard. Nordstrom is already there awaiting them, to make sure Devereaux knows what it is he has to do.
Andre goes to see his contact, a man named Phillipe who works at a florist. His role is to act as a reporter from a magazine called 'Ebony' and to get the files away from Parra via Uribe.
Phillie succeeds in persuading Uribe and only just manage to get some photographs of some vital papers before being discovered. Phillipe flees through a crowd and bumps into Andre - handing him the camera discreetly - and runs to safety.
Andre's next job is to head to Cuba to find out what the Russians are doing over there. His wife Nicole is not happy as she knows he has a girlfriend there named Juanita de Cordoba. He tells Nicole that she is simply and underground agent, but he is astonished she knows the truth.
When in Cuba, Andre meets up with his lover and they have plans to investigate Parra's plans. There is a port and there are a significant number of guards surrounding it. They send the Mendozas, a local couple, to investigate - disguised as a gentle couple on a romantic picnic, they take with them a camera, a recording device and a Geiger counter hidden within their basket of food. They get some images and some recordings, but they sea gulls give them away. They are chased after and apprehended but not before they have hidden the equipment in the hollow metal railings of a bridge, to be picked up later. These are later returned to Juanita hidden inside a plucked turkey.
Juanita's house-boy, Tomas, sets to work and later informs Andre that the evidence is hidden within the spools of ribbon in the typewriter and within the blades of his razors. Juanita fears this may be the last time she sees Andre and gives him a small book for him to read on the plane - she tells him not to open it until later.
Sadly, Parra has tortured the Mendozas and they have revealed that it is Juanita who has employed their services. He heads to the her home and the place is searched, but Andre has already left. Rico shoots Juanita.
Andre makes it away on the plane, despite the razors and ribbons being confiscated (and apparently empty too) - Andre is perplexed and saddened, but discovers some evidence sealed within the inside cover of the book Juanita gave him.
When Andre returns home, there is a pile of mail awaiting him - Nicole has returned to Paris with her daughter.
Rene D'Arcy turns up and tells Andre he too has to go to Paris.
Topaz, it is revealed is the code name for a bunch of French officials who work secretly for the Soviet union - one of these men is apparently named Henri Jarre.
Andre now has to expose 'Topaz' for what they are.
In Paris he meets with a number of high officials including Henri. Henri states that all this nonsense with Boris must be untrue because, according to him, Boris has been dead for a year.
Later, Francois Picard visits Henri and tries to get more information out of him. He admits Andre sent him and eventually persuades Jarre to meet with Devereaux again. Two men come into Henri's room and attack Francois, knocking him unconscious and they throw Henri from the window, killing him.
Francois returns to their apartments, grazed by a bullet, but essentially unhurt. With evidence they have collected, they now know the man they are looking for is Jacques Granville. They inform the authorities and Granville is removed from the peace conferences and sent back home. 'Topaz' have been exposed and it's all over...
(There are another two alternate endings. In one,Granville is assassinated during a duel and in the other, he simply returns to his home and shoots himself. The DVD ending I have has him simply extradited from the country.)
This has to be the worst synopsis I have written. Part of me wants to apologise but another part feels rather apathetic about it. After all, it's not the most thrilling plot ever.
Andre: ”Diplomat’s wives should not talk.”
Nicole: ”All wives talk!”
Juanita: ”Even tortured people lie.”
I find this to be the least ‘Hitchcock’ of all the Hitchcock movies, if you see what I mean. It’s a standard espionage affair with a real political backdrop and all in all, it’s a tad dull. However, there are some things which lift it from being appallingly tiresome.
The death of Juanita is as beautifully shot as it is predictable. The overhead view of her body falling away from her assassin is a stunning visual display albeit so simple. It is something which remains in one’s mind for long after the film is over.
The horrific off-screen torture of the Mendozas is implied merely by the tableaux of the near-dead couple – he lying prostrate in her weak arms – and with this gripping image, one can understand why they finally relent and give up Juanita’s name to Parra. One cannot help feel for this ill-fated couple.
The young Tomas’ fate is also off-screen, but we can take it for granted that his end would be a grim one.
The globe-trotting locations of the story are well realised. From Copenhagen to North America to Cuba and to France… it’s quite a travelogue. Hitch makes fine use of his locations and it certainly feels like his most wide-ranging film to date. I am not overly familiar with national anthems of the world, but I could not help but titter to myself when hearing what must be the Cuban national anthem (or whatever it is they are singing) as it bore a strange uncanny resemblance to Oh, I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside in places. No disrespect intended, of course!
And, true to my nature, I have to say that when Tomas (played by John Roper) came on screen I said out loud; "Hello Tomas!" (Some sources credit him as ‘Thomas’ but I prefer the Spanish spelling for a Cuban boy.)
Oh, and Philippe Noiret looks like Chris O'Dowd - Roy from The IT Crowd.
Sure, it’s a tad overlong, a bit boring in places and doesn’t always feel like a Hitchcock film, but it wasn’t all bad. 3/10