Topaz: Hitchcock fumbles
Sometimes, even the great ones misfire: this would be Hitchcock’s turn. There are essentially three problems with Topaz: the casting, the script, and the length of the damn thing. The plot revolves around André Devereaux (Frederick Stafford), a French spy who is roped in by the Americans to identify the members of Topaz, a group of top French government officials working for the Soviets. Or, at least, that’s the plot as it seems to boil down. In reality, the film is two hours and twenty minutes of meandering, plodding flimflam that gradually makes its way towards a thoroughly anticlimactic conclusion.
It starts out well enough, with a tense and reasonably effective defection by a top KGB official and his family, while on holiday in Denmark. Had the entire film been like this, I would have been rapt. Sadly, this soon gives way to a whole lot of uninvolving nonsense as the bland Stafford travels first to Harlem, then to Havana, and then finally to Paris. The actor is miscast, and the character is uninteresting. Indeed, the most engaging aspect of the material in Havana is that his lover, resistance leader Juanita de Cordoba (Karin Dor), looks quite a lot like giallo scream queen Edwige Fenech. Maurice Jarre’s score, meanwhile, is somewhat forgettable and, even worse, at times highly inappropriate - witness, for example, a late scene in which, believing that his son-in-law has fallen to his death, Devereaux and his daughter Michèle (Claude Jade) rush down the stars to music that wouldn’t seem out of place in a madcap comedy.
Still, at the end of the day, it’s Hitchcock, and as such, even in its worst moments it’s technically solid. It also has its brief moments of genius - the aforementioned introductory scenes in Denmark are gripping, as is a lengthy sequence in which Devereaux’s associate, Philippe Dubois (an underused Roscoe Lee Browne), distracts Cuban leader Rico Parra (John Vernon) while his secretary makes off with a suitcase. The death of Juanita is also masterfully handled, with, as Mike Sutton points out in his review, her dress spreading out like the petals of a flower as she sinks to the ground. Even at his weakest, Hitchcock always manages to inject a moment or two of delight into his films. Topaz has its fair share, but, for the most part, it’s simply too plodding, too overwrought, too downright inconsequential for it to sit in the same company as classics like The Birds and North by Northwest, or even later gems like Frenzy.
5/10 - for completists only.