Topaz (SE)/B-,B-
Universal/1969/143/ANA 1.85

     I have seen Topaz several times. This was the best it played for me, but itís still paced far too slowly, itís talky to the extreme and somehow Hitchcock saps the tension out without letting the audience enjoy the sweetness. The sectional structure of the film makes it seem much longer too. Thereís the very well done opening set piece of the diplomatic defection, then thereís the Washington coda followed by the New York episode leading to the Cuban escapade ultimately forcing the Paris confrontation.
    Topaz is unlike any other Hitchcock. There's a hint of documentary style. Rather than dramatizing, Hitchcock is presenting events. Elements of the classic procedural are in evidence. Hitchcock goes to great lengths to establish relationships between the players and details of involvement.  The storytelling certainly lacks the flair customarily expected from the director. Topaz is a contemporary film, dealing with events surrounding the Cuban missile crisis a scant seven years after the fact. I think it's Hitchcock's attempt to stay up to date, but it backfires.

Hands off my woman, Rico. ©Universal

     When a Russian intelligence big wig defects to the West, an American CIA agent Mike Nordstrom enlists the aid of a French counterpart Andre Devereaux to corroborate information delivered in the Russian's debriefing. Acting on his own, the Frenchman puts extra pressure on his already delicate marital situation, but he believes he must take on this mission. In Cuba, he rendezvous' with a gorgeous Cuban counter revolutionary, dances around a Cuban official and helps to set in motion the apparatus to details the Cuban missile plans. His mission complete, Devereaux must return to Paris to make sure that the information he delivered to Washington is not compromised.
      Perhaps the lack of star power backfired in Topaz, as Leonard Maltin ponders in the excellent documentary.  Itís true that lead Frederick Stafford is not flamboyant, does not command the attention of the camera, but heís effective nevertheless. I always thought he was too young for the role. He looks younger than his son-in-law, though that certainly does happen in life. The rather bland John Forsythe is on hand again under Hitchcock's baton this time out playing a agent Mike Nordstrom. Karin Dor is hot as the Cuban Juanita de Cordoba,  Dany Robin looks great as Devereaux's wife Nicole, but John Vernon seems especially out of place as Cuban strongman Rico Para.  The French segment features some first rate International actors including Philippe Noiret and Michel Piccoli.
     Leonard Maltin provides an excellent overview of the work in the accompanying documentary. Maltin looks at the film in relation to Hitchcock's career, provides insights into the skill behind the work, and expands on one amazing shot that stands out.
     The film elements exhibit some slight color fading, but most of the time the DVD looks quite good. The images are reasonably sharp. Contrast ratio is less than optimal and several scenes look a bit washed out. The Dolby 2 channel mono sound is thin but dialogue is clear. The Maurice Jarrť score is also somewhat pinched.

 

 


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