Hopscotch (film)

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Directed by Ronald Neame
Produced by Edie Landau
Ely A. Landau
Written by Bryan Forbes
Brian Garfield
Story by Brian Garfield
Starring Walter Matthau
Glenda Jackson
Sam Waterston
Ned Beatty
Herbert Lom
Music by Ian Fraser
Cinematography Arthur Ibbetson
Brian W. Roy
Distributed by AVCO Embassy Pictures
Release dates
  • September 26, 1980 (1980-09-26)
Running time
104 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Hopscotch is a 1980 American film directed by Ronald Neame and produced by Edie Landau and Ely A. Landau. It was written by Bryan Forbes and Brian Garfield, based on Garfield's novel of the same name.

The film is a comedy starring Walter Matthau as Miles Kendig, a renegade CIA agent intent on publishing a memoir exposing the inner workings of the CIA and the KGB. Sam Waterston and Ned Beatty play Cutter and Myerson, Kendig's protégé and his obnoxious, incompetent, and profane former boss, respectively, and are repeatedly foiled in their attempts to capture him and stop the publication of the damaging memoir. Herbert Lom is Yaskov, the sympathetic KGB agent with an equal interest in his capture. Glenda Jackson plays Isobel von Schoenenberg, his Austrian love interest who helps him stay one step ahead of his captors.

Matthau and Jackson previously appeared together in the 1978 film House Calls. Matthau's son David plays Ross, a bumbling junior CIA agent. Matthau's step-daughter Lucy Saroyan plays the pilot, Carla Fleming.

The film was received in a lukewarm manner by critics and was a moderate financial success during its release.[citation needed] Matthau received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. The Criterion Collection released the film to DVD in 2002.


The movie opens at Munich's Oktoberfest. Kendig and his team foil a microfilm transfer to an East German spy. However, they purposely do not apprehend Yaskov. Kendig is summoned to Washington, where his supervisor, Myerson (Beatty), is forcing Kendig into semi-retirement and a desk job because Kendig didn't arrest the Russian. Kendig resists, claiming to be "a field man", and, on his own initiative, takes leave, shredding his file en route. It is days before that is discovered. He goes to Salzburg, Austria to "hear some Mozart" and visit an old friend, Isobel Von Schoenenberg (Jackson). It is here that he seizes on the idea of writing a book exposing all the 'dirty tricks' of the CIA, KGB and other 'spy agencies'. Isobel is horrified to read the first chapter and tells Kendig that they'll all come after him to kill him. Nevertheless, he mails copies of the chapters to the various spy chiefs in the US, Russia, China, France and Great Britain. Soon enough, Myerson and Yaskov are after him, just as he wanted.

Kendig baits his pursuers by periodically informing them of his location while nevertheless staying one step ahead. Leaving Europe, he rents Myerson's own Georgia country house, and writes a few more chapters. The CIA trace him there, but the FBI shows up as well, and hearing the firecrackers Kendig sets up to go off, start blasting away at the house with rifles in front of the frantic Myerson, who goes in to a fit of apoplexy as his house is destroyed by the FBI shooters. This scene is accompanied by the aria "Un bel Dì", the suicide scene from Madama Butterfly (Puccini).

Kendig flies to Bermuda by seaplane (piloted by a woman portrayed by Matthau's stepdaughter, Lucy Saroyan), then to London, to meet with his publisher (George Baker) to give him the last chapter of the book. Yaskov tells Cutter (Waterston), a former protégé of Kendig's and friend who has been tasked to pursue him, finding out that he is in London. Cutter and Myerson threaten Kendig's publisher but he rebuffs their attempts at intimidation.

Both the Soviets and the Americans go to Kendig's hotel room, where he has left a tape recording telling them he has finished the book and that he will be leaving Britain, but not by any conventional routes. He leaves a copy of the last chapter and bids them farewell. Later, Kendig ambushes Cutter in his hotel room and, after tying up and gagging Cutter, tells him the location of the airfield from which he plans to make his escape.

In the meantime, Kendig has contacted Isobel, who is under surveillance in Austria by the CIA. She cleverly escapes her watchers and goes to England by hovercraft. Kendig has also contracted with an engineer for a specialized electronic device for the airplane of unknown purpose.

Kendig suffers a flat tire on the way to the airfield. He is assisted by the local police, who cordially invite him to wait in the station until the morning. When one policeman recognizes him from a bulletin, Kendig escapes by short-circuiting an electrical socket and stealing a police car.

He reaches the airfield in the morning, but the Americans and Russians are hovering overhead in a helicopter. He takes off in his vintage biplane and is pursued by Myerson in the helicopter. He performs intricate loops in the plane evading the pistol shots from Myerson.

It is then revealed that the electronic device that Kendig had had built is a specialized remote control device. Kendig is actually still on the ground, controlling the plane from the near-ruinous former control building nearby. Once the plane has cleared the cliffs and is over the English Channel, he presses a button, exploding it, timed just as Myerson has fired at the biplane one more time. The Americans and Russians rush to the cliff, see the wreckage floating in the sea, and conclude that Kendig is dead – except Cutter, who sees through the plan and realizes that Kendig did not die in the plane ("He better stay dead") but decides to keep this insight to himself.

Kendig meanwhile returns to meet Von Schoenenberg and they set off for the south of France. Months later, the book has become a bestseller. Kendig is in a bookstore in disguise as a Sikh to purchase a copy. He learns from the clerk that the book is very good and that there is a rumor that Kendig is still alive in Australia. Von Schoenenberg pulls him aside and scolds him for taking too many risks.



  • Edie Landau - producer
  • Ely A. Landau - producer
  • Otto Plaschkes - executive producer
  • Ronald Neame - director
  • Bryan Forbes - screenplay
  • Brian Garfield - screenplay and novel



The music includes many pieces by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Notable examples include the aria "Non Più Andrai" from the opera The Marriage of Figaro, the andante movement from Eine kleine Nachtmusik, the first movement of Mozart's Piano Sonata No.11, K331 (best known for the third movement, the Rondo alla turca), the Posthorn Serenade, K320 and a Rondo in D, K382.

Hermann Prey's singing of "Non Più Andrai" highlights the antics of the old biplane as Myerson is shooting at it. The song tells how Cherubino ("little baby"), going into the army, will no longer be a dainty favorite, just as 5-foot-7 Myerson is going to lose his power at the CIA. Also, the song describes bullets flying and even bombs exploding.

There is also the aria "Largo al Factotum" from the opera The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini. Matthau sings this as he passes a border checkpoint. The words to the aria explain how everyone is looking for the barber, and he moves fast like lightning.

Kendig has the aria "Un Bel Dì Vedremo" ("One Beautiful Day") from Madame Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini playing loudly on the stereo as the FBI and CIA shoot up Myerson's wife's house. The operatic contrapunto adds a surreal air of ironic justice to the events as Madame Butterfly sings how she will hide from her husband.

Matthau, who had a personal fondness for opera, is said to have selected the soundtrack himself. The director said however that conductor Ian Frasier found many of the Mozart pieces that fit the movie.[1]

The credits also list "Once a Night" written by Jackie English and Beverly Bremers. This is the blaring song playing at the bar "The Other End" where Matthau goes to arrange his flight from Georgia.

Differences Between Novel and Film[edit]

There are a number of small but notable differences between the novel and the film. Most significant are the endings; in the novel, Kendig fakes his own death using a recovered body from a Paris street and includes all copies of the manuscript of the book, ensuring it will never actually be published. In the film, the plane explodes in mid-air and no body is recovered, and the novel is successfully published. (Both works include a knowing nod by Cutter that Kendig is likely alive but will stay apparently dead). The character of Von Schoenenberg is added in the film, while in the novel, Kendig has feelings for a hired pilot, which proves to him that he will find a new life outside of spycraft.


  1. ^ In Hopscotch - Criterion Collection DVD, special feature "Introduction by Neame & Garfield", director Neame stated that Matthau's agent made the suggestion that they ought to put in some Mozart because this would greatly please Matthau. As they looked into this they realized that it would much enhance the movie if Kendig loved Mozart. Ian Fraser was the arranger and found many sections of Mozart that fit the movie, but they couldn't find anything to go with Kendig typing. They asked Walter and he brought in some Mozart that went perfectly with it.

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