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  Topaz I Spy You Die
Year: 1969
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Frederick Stafford, Dany Robin, John Vernon, Karin Dor, Michel Piccoli, Philippe Noiret, Claude Jade, Michel Subor, Per-Axel Arosenius, Roscoe Lee Browne, Edmond Ryan, Sonja Kolthoff, Tina Hedström, John Van Dreelen, Donald Randolph, John Forsythe
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: The year is nineteen hundred and sixty-two and the Cuban Missile Crisis is brewing, but in the background is a defection by a top Soviet agent, who wishes to reach the United States and has arranged to meet with American agents while on holiday in Copenhagen. He is Boris Kusenov (Per-Axel Arosenius), and wants his wife and daughter to accompany him, so on arriving at a workshop creating ornaments the plans are put into action and they evade the KGB men who are following them. It's a close run thing but U.S. agent Michael Nordstrom (John Forsythe) manages to spirit them away to Washington D.C....

By all accounts Alfred Hitchcock's work on Topaz was not a happy experience; some say he never wanted to film Leon Uris's novel at all, and it's true that they did not see eye to eye when scripting it, resulting in Uris leaving the project and Hitchcock's enthusiasm waning drastically, all of which you can see on the screen. Compare it to the full-blooded propaganda of Foreign Correspondent of around thirty years before and you could see this was a pale rendition of a different kind of spy game, the Cold War not bringing out quite the same excitement in the director others in that vein had done.

But he was contracted to the picture, so occasionally you see Hitch making the best of it as the odd setpiece springs to life in one blossom of image or suspense sequence, but overall there were pretty slender opportunities for either his sense of dark humour or indeed any edge of the seat tension. As for the plot, such were the rewrites, offered up within hours of some scenes being filmed reputedly, that it was far too difficult to get a handle on, so much so that you could be forgiven for going in one end and emerging out the other side none the wiser about what you had just watched: little wonder that it was Hitchcock's biggest flop when not only were you not able to untangle the narrative, but nothing about it made you want to bother.

A lot of the blame did not go on the studio matching the wrong material to the wrong director, but to star Frederick Stafford, a European actor who had made a minor name for himself there chiefly thanks to a couple of O.S.S. 117 movies, so evidently in this casting there was a nod to the more popular spy flick that was beginning to be on the way out as the sixties drew to an end. Poor old Frederick was judged not to be up to the task of carrying a Hollywood movie, in spite of him doing a perfectly serviceable job in diminished circumstances as the character who, after a lot of pussyfooting around, who turns out to be the closest thing to a lead the story has, a French agent who finds himself suspicious of the whole defection set up.

He ties it in with the upcoming situation in Cuba, and John Vernon turns up as a Fidel Castro substitute whose private papers contain some very important information or other, leading Stafford's Devereaux to send Roscoe Lee Browne after it while posing as a reporter when the Cuban military man arrives in New York for a publicity drive. Browne livened things up a little as you could tell his good humour in dangerous circumstances was the type Hitch could respond to, but mere minutes after making a favourable impression he's out of the picture for the duration. Add in a sequence in Cuba where Devereaux rekindles an old romance with double agent Karin Dor which feels like it hails from another film entirely, and we were back to discover there was a Soviet plot in the ranks of the French Secret Service. Why this was significant would likely be lost on you, particularly in lght of there being no less than three endings to the film released at various stages in its life, and none of them satisfactory, much like the rest of it. Music by Maurice Jarre.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Alfred Hitchcock  (1899 - 1980)

Hugely influential British director, renowned as "The Master of Suspense" for his way with thrillers. His first recognisably Hitchcockian film was The Lodger, but it was only until Blackmail (the first British sound film) that he found his calling. His other 1930s films included a few classics: Number Seventeen, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, Secret Agent, Sabotage, The Lady Vanishes, Young and Innocent and Jamaica Inn.

Producer David O. Selznick gave Hitchcock his break in Hollywood directing Rebecca, and he never looked back. In the forties were Suspicion, thinly veiled propaganda Foreign Correspondent, the single set Lifeboat, Saboteur, Notorious, Spellbound (with the Salvador Dali dream sequence), Shadow of a Doubt (his personal favourite) and technician's nightmare Rope.

In the fifties were darkly amusing Strangers on a Train, I Confess, Dial M for Murder (in 3-D), rare comedy The Trouble with Harry, Rear Window, a remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, To Catch a Thief, the uncharacteristic in style The Wrong Man, the sickly Vertigo, and his quintessential chase movie, North By Northwest. He also had a successful television series around this time, which he introduced, making his distinctive face and voice as recognisable as his name.

The sixties started strongly with groundbreaking horror Psycho, and The Birds was just as successful, but then Hitchcock went into decline with uninspired thrillers like Marnie, Torn Curtain and Topaz. The seventies saw a return to form with Frenzy, but his last film Family Plot was disappointing. Still, a great career, and his mixture of romance, black comedy, thrills and elaborate set pieces will always entertain. Watch out for his cameo appearances in most of his films.

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