TOPAZ sees Alfred Hitchcock revisit the nearly hot Cold War of 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis in a 1969 globe-trotting meller of high stakes espionage, intimate betrayal and international insanity.
Debriefing a defected KGB bigwig, CIA agent ‘Mike Nordstrom’ (John Forsythe) learns that the Soviet Union is planting missiles in Castro’s Cuba, now decidedly at odds with the United States. French intelligence agent ‘André Devereaux’ (Frederick Stafford) helps Nordstrom, both as a friend and on quid pro quo. He has resistance contacts in Cuba, including ‘Juanita de Cordoba’ (Karin Dor), connected to one of the new regime’s officers, ‘Rico Parra’ (John Vernon). Complicating André’s mission is that his wife ‘Nicole’ (Dany Robin) has discovered that Juanita is more than just a source to her too-frequently absent husband.
Samuel L. Taylor’s screenplay was crafted from Leon Uris’ novel, loosely based on 1962’s “Sapphire Affair” with Stafford’s character a version of the real-life French intelligence liaison Philippe Thyraud de Vosjoli. With a $5,000,000 budget, like the story it told the production hopped the map from Denmark, West Germany and Paris to New York City, Virginia and California (subbing for Cuba), taking more of a methodical procedural bent than one of pure suspense, mainly eschewing the kind of set-pieces Hitchcock was noted for in favor of a good deal of mostly interesting talk from a large international cast. There are no big stars on board to distract from the narrative.
Working against it is a stiff performance from Czech actor Stafford, who’d featured in several European spy films; a sag in momentum in the last act; and an abrupt finish. Maurice Jarre’s too jolly score is one of his odd misfires.
On the plus side, the complicated story holds the interest, there are an array of well-picked supporting players and some well-crafted emotional moments from German beauty Dor (sultry and classy at the same time; best known as a bad Bond girl from You Only Live Twice) and France’s elegant Robin (Waltz Of The Toreadors). Vernon is a formidable adversary, Forsythe persuasively confident as the CIA vet. Philippe Noiret scores in a small role as a compromised NATO liaison.
A U.S. gross of $11,000,000 put it 28th in 69’s lineup of flashier fare, which included politically-tinged essays like Z, The Damned, Che! and Burn! Flaws notwithstanding, Topaz is better than its tepid reputation.
With Roscoe Lee Browne, Michel Subor, Michel Piccoli, Per-Axel Arosenius, Edmon Ryan, Carlos Rivas, Roberto Contreras, Ann Doran. Released theatrically at 127 minutes, restored on disc to 143. Three separate endings were shot: none, including the one used, were satisfactory.
* As with Marnie and especially Torn Curtain, critics dismissed the film and flayed the director. Hitchcock was more than unhappy with it, calling it “a total disaster”. All too harsh: it’s flawed but far from fatally, the stronger pieces make up for the weaker.