Topaz (1969) – Alfred Hitchcock

Hitchcock takes on Leon Uris’ novel Topaz in this film adaptation of the same name. It’s not quite on the level of a Tom Clancy techno-thriller, but the subject material, centring around the Cuban Missile Crisis and a Russian spy ring within the French intelligence community is pretty engaging stuff.

Unfortunately, for me, it ended up being the least entertaining Hitchcock film I’ve seen to date. While the Master of Suspense usually crafts fascinating and technically proficient sequences, this one just felt like a lot of talking heads, with little to no action to move the plot forward. Which it pretty sad considering the film’s subject matter.

John Forsythe plays American agent Micheal Nordstrom who, in the midst of the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia, turns to his friend, Andre Devereaux (Frederick Stafford) who is a French agent for help in getting information about Cuba.

He realises he is asking his friend to risk not only his life, but his family, to pursue these leads, but Andre is the best man for the job, with contacts in Cuba, and a long history of travel between the two countries.

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Unfortunately, it is going to cost him more than he knows, as Andre’s family gets torn apart through the course of the film, even as they search for a way to defuse the situation in Cuba. Things get even riskier, when he uses members of his family to help expose the leak within his own agency’s ranks.

For all that, it just didn’t captivate me like most Hitchcock films will. Having said that I was delighted to see John Vernon and Roscoe Lee Browne in the film, both of whom are exemplary character actors. In fact the sequences with Browne may be my favourite of the film, as he works his way into a hotel taken over by Cubans in order to photograph documents in the possession of the dangerous Rico Parra (Vernon).

Hitch’s cameo is quick and smile-inducing, but the rest of the film lacks his usual panache. There’s nothing in this spy film to differentiate it from the countless other films in the genre, even when it’s using actual events as a launching point for its tale.

And don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good dialogue driven film, but this one just didn’t have that, and when you have a name like Hitchcock attached to it, you go in with your expectations set a little higher. I mean there are a lot of characters, which is great, and each one adds to the narrative, and pushes the character of Andre to the film’s final moments, but sadly, there was no hook for me.

An interesting film, but not one I’m going to rush out and watch again real soon, there are other films from Hitchcock I would rather revisit first.

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