Saturday, 15 November 2008

Topaz (1969)

It is a sad fact of life that even one's favourite directors can produce one or two films that fall outside the expectations of their faithful followers. I have banged on often enough about John Ford's "Gideon's Day" for example. With Hitchcock, despite the light-weight quality of some of his other movies, it is this one that continues to disappoint. I think I try re-viewing it every 10 years or so in the hope that I will find some redeeming qualities, but alas, these still elude me.

Based on a Leon Uris novel set during the Cuban missile crisis, it is a prestige production with various location footage as the plot moves from Moscow to Copenhagen to Washington to New York to Cuba to Paris without particularly involving the viewer in its convoluted intrigue. Part of the problem is the international cast, all of whom speak English with "funny" accents, even when English is their native tongue, such as Canadian-born John Vernon playing an extremely unlikely Castro-ite revolutionary. The leading man, Frederick Stafford, despite his name is Austrian-born and playing French here in what was meant to be a break-out role after appearing as a variety of Bond-light heroes in continental films. However he is as wooden as can be. Superior French actors Michel Piccoli and Philippe Noiret are more or less wasted when the action moves to Paris and the female leads, French-born Dany Robin and German-born Karin Dor only add their good looks to the mix. The one American in the cast is John Forsythe who can not turn this strange combination of actors into an appealing star production. Still it is always fun to see Roscoe Lee Browne, here playing a Caribbean florist.

The plot stems from a Russian analyst defecting with his family to the U.S. and the repercussions of Forsythe's trying to get him to divulge his secrets. For a defector, he is as "bolshie" as they come and the plot evolves ever so slowly. The term "pot-boiler" may be over-used in film criticism, but it is the relevant one here; there is little of the style or humour that one expects from Hitchcock.
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