Topaz (1969 film)

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Topaz
Topaz movieposter.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Alfred Hitchcock (uncredited)
Screenplay by Samuel A. Taylor
Based on Topaz 
by Leon Uris
Starring
Music by Maurice Jarre
Cinematography Jack Hildyard
Edited by William H. Ziegler
Production
company
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • December 19, 1969 (1969-12-19) (USA)
Running time 143 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $4 million
Box office $6,000,000[1]

Topaz is a 1969 American espionage thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Based on the 1967 Cold War novel Topaz by Leon Uris, the film is about a French intelligence agent who becomes entangled in the Cold War politics of the events leading up to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and later the breakup of an international Russian spy ring in France. The story is closely based on the 1962 Sapphire Affair,[2] which involved the head of French Intelligence SDECE in the United States, and spy Philippe Thyraud de Vosjoli—a friend of Leon Uris[2]—who played an important role in "helping the U.S. discover the presence of Russian offensive missiles in Cuba".[2] The film stars Frederick Stafford, Dany Robin, John Vernon, Karin Dor, Michel Piccoli, Philippe Noiret, Claude Jade, Michel Subor and John Forsythe.

Plot[edit]

In Copenhagen in 1962, a high-ranking Soviet intelligence officer, Boris Kusenov (Per-Axel Arosenius), defects to the West with his wife and daughter. CIA agent Mike Nordstrom (John Forsythe) debriefs him and learns that Russian ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads are to be placed in Cuba. French agent André Devereaux (Frederick Stafford) after dinner in his house in Georgetown asks Nordstrom about a Russian defector. Nordstrom discloses Kusenov's name to Devereaux, encouraging him to accompany his daughter Michèle (Claude Jade) on her honeymoon with journalist François Picard (Michel Subor) as a premise to get him to New York City. Devereaux accepts, but his wife Nicole (Dany Robin) is worried for him.

In New York City, Devereaux entrusts a familiar contact, Philippe Dubois (Roscoe Lee Browne) to get hold of some seriously damaging papers concerning Soviet plans in Cuba from the visiting Cuban official Rico Parra (John Vernon). Parra is in New York to appear at the United Nations and stays at the Hotel Theresa in Harlem to show solidarity with the African American community, which the Cuban Communists and their Soviet masters frequently propagandize as "the masses". Dubois, taking the identity of a black journalist from Ebony magazine, sneaks into the hotel, which is seething with visitors and surrounded by an enthusiastic mob. He bribes Parra's secretary into taking the documents from Parra's office to photograph, but Parra realizes the plans are gone and catches Dubois photographing the documents. While being chased by and shot at by Cuban revolutionaries, Dubois purposefully bumps into Devereaux—who was watching events from the other side of the street—and slips the camera into his hand. A Cuban guard helps Devereaux to get up, stares at him, and lets him go.

Dubois' photos confirm that the Soviets are secretly transporting and placing missiles in Cuba. Devereaux, ignoring his wife's fear and accusations of infidelity, jets off to Cuba to find out more details. He catches up with his mistress, Juanita de Cordoba (Karin Dor), who is a widow to a wealthy "hero of the Revolution". As leader of the local underground resistance network, Juanita works undercover to collect information as Parra's lover. Upon his arrival, Devereaux finds Parra leaving Juanita's mansion, and Parra indicated he was just in New York City, but the visit was routine and uneventful. During a scene of intimacy in the mansion, Devereaux asks Juanita to take photos of the missiles as they are unloaded from Russian boats at the harbor.

Juanita instructs her loyal domestic staff to help take the photos. Carlotta and Pablo Mendoza pose as picnickers on a hill overlooking the harbor and photograph the unloading of Soviet missiles. They are discovered when hungry seagulls descend upon their lunch and give their position away. The two are able to hide the incriminating film in the railing of a bridge. Soon after, Parra's man, during a mass rally and lengthy speech by the "líder máximo", recognizes Devereaux's face from the incident in front of the hotel. Parra, who has heard from the maimed and tortured Carlotta Mendoza, the female underground member, that Juanita is their leader, confronts Juanita and, hugging her in his arms, shoots her to save her from being tortured to death. Her dress spreads beneath her collapsing body like a purple bloodstain on the black-and-white pavement tiles.

At the Havana airport, Devereaux is searched thoroughly at the departure gate, but the Cuban authorities are unable to find the carefully hidden microfilms, which provide crucial information for the CIA about Soviet activities in Cuba. When Devereaux arrives back in Washington, DC, he finds his home empty: his wife deserted him due to his Cuban love affair and returned to Paris. Devereaux is also recalled to Paris, but before he leaves, he is informed by Kusonov (in Nordstrom's protection) about the existence of a Soviet spy organization called "Topaz" within the French intelligence service. He is given the name of one certain member, NATO official Henri Jarré (Philippe Noiret), who leaked documents to the KGB.

When he arrives in Paris, Devereaux attempts to get to the bottom of the leak, while his daughter Michèle wants to reconcile her parents. He invites some of his old friends and colleagues, including Jarré, to a lunch at a fine restaurant under the auspices of helping Devereaux prepare for his inquiry. While Jarré eats, Devereaux tells the others about Topaz in order to provoke some reaction. Jarré answers that all this is a piece of misinformation, since he knows that Kusenov, the Russian official, in fact died a year ago.

Soon after, Jarré begins to panic, and visits the man who is the leader of the spy ring, Jacques Granville (Michel Piccoli), who answers the door in his night gown, "waiting for somebody." Granville tells Jarré that it was a mistake to say that Kusenov was dead, as the Americans will just check and realize that Jarré is lying. As Jarré is leaving Granville's house, Devereaux's wife arrives to meet Granville. As they kiss, we see a photo on a stand of Devereaux, Nicole, and Granville, who were old friends from their days together in the French Resistance.

Devereaux sends his son-in-law, François, to interview and extract information from Jarré. François calls Devereaux from Jarré's home, but the call is cut short. Devereaux and Michèle rush together to Jarré's flat and find him dead, a staged suicide as if Jarré had jumped out of the window; François has disappeared. Devereaux and Michèle return to Nicole's, and a short time later François arrives. After being clubbed and kidnapped, he recovered and managed to escape from his captors' car. He has overheard a phone number and shows a sketch of Jarré. Nicole, who was staring at the window then turns around and tells her family, with tearful eyes, that the phone number is Granville's, so he must be the leader of the Topaz organization. Granville is exposed and then commits suicide (in the USA and French versions) or flees to the Soviet Union (in the British version).

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Screenplay[edit]

Alfred Hitchcock first hired Leon Uris to adapt his own novel for the screen. Reportedly, the two differed on aspects of character development, with Hitchcock claiming that Uris hadn't humanised the villains of the story. Uris also did not appreciate Hitchcock's insistence of adding black humour. After a portion of the draft had been written, Uris left the film. Hitchcock attempted to hire Arthur Laurents to complete work on the screenplay, but he refused, leaving an unfinished draft and the shooting schedule rapidly approaching. Ultimately, Samuel A. Taylor, co-writer of Vertigo was hired, but the film began without a completed screenplay. Some scenes were filmed just hours after they had been written.[3]

Cinematography[edit]

Like his previous films Rope and The Trouble with Harry, Hitchcock intended the film to be an experiment for whether colours, predominately red, yellow and white, could be used to reveal and influence the plot. He later admitted that this did not work out.[3]

Alternate endings[edit]

In the original ending, there was a duel between André and Jacques in a French football stadium, shot by associate producer Herbert Coleman when Hitchcock had to return to the U.S. for a family emergency. This ending was panned by audiences during test screenings.

Under pressure from the studio, Hitchcock shot an ending he actually liked better, with Jacques escaping on an Aeroflot flight to the Soviet Union just at the same time as André and Nicole are boarding their Pan Am flight to the States. However, this ending apparently confused audiences.

As a compromise, Hitchcock used existing footage to create a new ending: Granville is exposed and expelled from a NATO meeting, and commits suicide behind his drawn curtains (since no footage of his doing so existed).[4]

Eventually, the studio decided to release different endings in different countries: the suicide in the U.S. and France, and the airport ending in Britain.[3]

When American Movie Classics aired the film in the 1990s, it included alternative endings filmed by Hitchcock that had been kept in the Universal vaults.[citation needed] The "Masterpiece Collection" DVD released by Universal restores a number of deleted scenes and uses the ending in which Jacques escapes. All three endings appear as extras on the DVD, together with an "Appreciation" by Leonard Maltin in which Maltin discusses the deleted scenes and alternate endings among other things. When Turner Classic Movies broadcasts the film, they show the British version.

Filming locations[edit]

Topaz was filmed on location in West Germany, Copenhagen, Paris, New York City, and Washington, DC.[5]

Hitchcock cameo[edit]

Hitchcock's signature cameo appearance occurs 27 minutes into the film, at the airport: he is seated in a wheelchair as he is being pushed by a nurse. She stops, and he nonchalantly stands and greets a man, proceeding to walk off screen with him.

Reception[edit]

The film was not particularly well-received or successful at the box office. Hitchcock changed the script shortly before the beginning of filming and distributor Universal forced a different ending to the one preferred by Hitchcock.[6] For Topaz, Hitchcock engaged the 19-year-old French actress Claude Jade from Truffaut's Stolen Kisses. She and Dany Robin, cast as her mother, would provide the glamour in the story. "Claude Jade is a rather quiet young lady," Hitchcock said later, "but I wouldn't guarantee [that] about her behavior in a taxi."

Some critics liked Topaz. New York Times critic Vincent Canby in 1969 wrote of Topaz: "Alfred Hitchcock at his best" and put the film on his Top Ten list for 1969. In 1969, Hitchcock won the Best Director Award for Topaz from the National Board of Review.

Some U.S. critics complained that there was no Hollywood star in the movie—no Bergman, no Grant; the cast did however include renowned international film stars (Jade, Piccoli, Noiret), whose previous successes had been primarily in France. Some attribute Hitchcock's casting choices to the negative experience the director had working with Paul Newman on Torn Curtain; however, Hitchcock is said to have approached Sean Connery (who had worked with Hitchcock in Marnie) for Andre, and Catherine Deneuve for his wife.

Some critics[weasel words] have inferred that Hitchcock was hoping to groom the relatively unknown Frederick Stafford as a star of his own making, similar to Tippi Hedren; however, Stafford remained an unknown in Hollywood, though he had a lengthy career in European films.

The movie earned $3,839,363 in North American rentals in 1970.[7]

Real-life influences[edit]

  • The plot is based on the real-life Sapphire Affair of 1962.[2]
  • The film begins with a Russian KGB agent defecting along with his wife and daughter. It was based on that of Anatoliy Golitsyn.[citation needed]
  • André Devereaux was based on French agent Philippe Thyraud de Vosjoli of the SDECE.
  • "Juanita de Cordoba" is loosely based on Castro's sister Juanita Castro who defected to the U.S.[citation needed]
  • The red-haired army captain known as "Hernandez" is based on Manuel Piñeiro.[citation needed]
  • Fidel Castro makes an uncredited appearance in the film along with Che Guevara. While in Cuba, Deveraux attends a Castro rally in order to keep up the appearance of his official cover, that of a French trade attaché. The film spliced in actual footage of a real Castro rally of the era to add to the realism, though Castro himself is not heard speaking.
  • The French title is L'Étau (English: [bench] vice, stranglehold), to avoid any reference to Topaze, a well-known 1951 French opus by Marcel Pagnol starring Fernandel and Yvette Etiévant. In the French script, the topaz gemstone is replaced by "l'opale" (opal).[citation needed]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Topaz, Box Office Information. The Numbers. Retrieved May 26, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d "France: The Sapphire Affair". Time Magazine. April 26, 1968. Retrieved March 8, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c Miller, Frank. "Topaz (1969)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved March 9, 2013. 
  4. ^ Sullivan, Jack. Hitchcock's Music. p. 296. 
  5. ^ "Topaz Notes". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved March 9, 2013. 
  6. ^ "Topaz trio", The Times, 27th January 1970
  7. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1970", Variety, 6 January 1971 p 11.

External links[edit]