Topaz (1969)

Genres - Spy Film  |   Sub-Genres - Political Thriller  |   Release Date - Dec 19, 1969 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 127 min.  |   Countries - United Kingdom, United States  |   MPAA Rating - PG
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Review by Patrick Legare

Upon its release, Alfred Hitchcock's Topaz was savaged by critics and failed miserably at the box office. In retrospect, the film is not a complete disaster, and has some entertaining sequences, but it's rather bland and forgettable. By this point in the director's career, he had lost some creative control over his pictures and worse yet, Topaz was beset by script problems. The result is a sloppy film that never sustains tension. Set just prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis, Topaz centers on a French secret agent (Frederick Stafford) who puts his career and life on the line to help an American counterpart (John Forsythe). The story globe trots from Russia to America to Cuba to France, and while the locales are great to look at, the pace slows considerably. The little-known actors do their best with the material, but their performances lack the electricity needed to carry the film. Of particular comic value is John Vernon, who is miscast as a Cuban rebel who murders Stafford's sexy mistress (Karin Dor) out of jealousy. The most chilling scene is a shocking shot of Dor's fellow rebels after they've been tortured in prison. The film's ending -- in which the French double agent commits suicide -- was also a source of conflict. Hitchcock shot two additional endings, both of which can be seen on the out-of-print laserdisc: one in which the double agent is killed in a shoot-out, and another in which he escapes back to Russia. The director originally planned to use the latter one, but the French government complained and Universal went with the suicide version. Hitchcock's cameo comes about 28 minutes into the film; he can be seen being pushed in a wheelchair, from which he jumps up and greets a friend.