Topaz (1969)


Introduction

Topaz is a 1969 American espionage thriller film 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 before the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and then the breakup of an international Soviet spy ring in France.

The story is loosely based on the 1962 Sapphire Affair, which involved the head of France’s SDECE in the United States, the spy Philippe Thyraud de Vosjoli, a friend of Uris, who played an important role in “helping the U.S. discover the presence of Russian offensive missiles in Cuba.”

Also known as Alfred Hitchcock’s Topaz.

Outline

In Copenhagen in 1962, a high-ranking Soviet intelligence officer, Boris Kusenov (Per-Axel Arosenius), defects to the West. During debriefing, CIA agent Mike Nordstrom (John Forsythe) learns that Soviet missiles with nuclear warheads will be placed in Cuba.

Needing physical evidence, Nordstrom discloses Kusenov’s name to French agent André Devereaux (Frederick Stafford) and asks him to bribe Luis Uribe (Donald Randolph), a member of Cuba’s UN delegation, to provide photographs of documents that confirm the missile bases in Cuba. Devereaux decides to accompany his daughter, Michèle (Claude Jade), on her honeymoon to New York City with his son-in-law, François Picard (Michel Subor).

In New York City, a French-Martinican agent, Philippe Dubois (Roscoe Lee Browne), is to contact Uribe, who is the secretary to Cuban official Rico Parra (John Vernon), who is staying at the Hotel Theresa in Harlem to show solidarity with the black community.

Dubois sneaks into the hotel and bribes Uribe to take the documents from Parra’s office to photograph. Parra catches Dubois photographing the documents. Chased and shot at by Cuban revolutionaries, Dubois purposefully knocks into Devereaux, who is watching events from the other side of the street, and slips him the camera. A red-headed Cuban guard helps Devereaux to get up but lets him go. Dubois escapes into the crowd around the hotel.

Dubois’s photos confirm that the Soviets are placing missiles in Cuba. Devereaux, despite his wife’s accusations of infidelity, flies to Cuba. His mistress, Juanita de Cordoba (Karin Dor), was the widow of a “hero of the Revolution,” which enables her to work undercover in the resistance. Upon his arrival, Devereaux finds Parra, another of her lovers, leaving Juanita’s mansion. Devereaux asks Juanita to take photographs of the missiles. Juanita’s loyal domestic staff, Carlotta and Pablo Mendoza, pose as picnickers and photograph the missiles. Pursued, the two hide the incriminating film before they are captured.

During a mass rally and a lengthy speech by the líder máximo, the red-headed Cuban guard recognises Devereaux’s face from the New York City incident.

Parra has heard from the tortured Carlotta Mendoza that Juanita is their leader. He embraces her and shoots her dead to save her from extreme torture.

At the Havana airport, the Cuban authorities fail to find the microfilms that Deveraux has. He returns to find that his wife has left him. Devereaux is to be recalled to Paris. Kusenov tells him about the existence of a Soviet spy organisation, “Topaz,” within the French intelligence service. He is given the name of NATO official Henri Jarré (Philippe Noiret), who leaked documents to the KGB.

In Paris, he is picked up at the airport by his daughter and his son-in-law. Michèle brings to a cocktail Jacques Granville (Michel Piccoli), an old friend of André. Michèle hopes that her parents will get along, but Nicole cannot forgive André’s affair with Juanita. André and Michèle stay alone, and Jacques complains the agent Martin (John van Dreelen) that Nicole married Andre.

Devereaux researches the leak and invites some of his old friends and colleagues, including Jarré, to a lunch at a fine Paris restaurant under the pretext of helping Devereaux prepare for his inquiry. Devereaux tells the others about Topaz to provoke some reaction. Jarré claims that it is misinformation and that Kusenov died a year ago.

Jarré starts to panic and visits the leader of the spy ring, Jacques Granville. Devereaux, Nicole, and Granville were close friends from their days together during the French Resistance. Granville tells Jarré that it was a mistake to say Kusenov was dead since the Americans will easily discover that Jarré lied. As Jarré leaves Granville’s house, Devereaux’s wife arrives to meet Granville, her lover.

Devereaux sends his son-in-law, François, to interview Jarré. Devereaux and Michèle rush to Jarré’s flat and find Jarré dead, which is a staged suicide, and François has disappeared. After being clubbed and kidnapped, François managed to escape from his captors’ car with an overheard phone number.

Nicole tells her family with tearful eyes that since the phone number is Granville’s, he must be the leader of Topaz. Granville, exposed, commits suicide (in the American and the French versions) or flees to the Soviet Union (in the British version).

Cast

  • Frederick Stafford as André Devereaux.
  • Dany Robin as Nicole Devereaux.
  • Karin Dor as Juanita de Cordoba.
  • John Vernon as Rico Parra.
  • Claude Jade as Michèle Picard.
  • Michel Subor as François Picard.
  • Michel Piccoli as Jacques Granville.
  • Philippe Noiret as Henri Jarré.
  • Roscoe Lee Browne as Philippe Dubois.
  • Per-Axel Arosenius as Boris Kusenov.
  • John Forsythe as Michael Nordstrom.
  • Edmon Ryan as McKittreck.
  • Sonja Kolthoff as Mrs. Kusenov.
  • Tina Hedström as Tamara Kusenov (as Tina Hedstrom).
  • John Van Dreelen as Claude Martin.
  • Donald Randolph as Luis Uribe (as Don Randolph).
  • Roberto Contreras as Muñoz.
  • Carlos Rivas as Hernandez.
  • Roger Til as Jean Chabrier.
  • Lewis Charles as Pablo Mendoza.
  • Sándor Szabó as Emile Redon (as Sandor Szabo).
  • Anna Navarro as Carlotta Mendoza.
  • Lew Brown as American Official.
  • John Roper as Thomas.
  • George Skaff as René d’Arcy.
  • Ann Doran as Mrs Foryth (uncredited).
  • Eva Wilma as Rosita Gomez (uncredited).

Production

Screenplay

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

Hitchcock changed the script shortly before the beginning of filming, and the distributor, Universal, forced an ending that was different from the one that was preferred by Hitchcock. For Topaz, Hitchcock engaged the 19-year-old French actress Claude Jade from Truffaut’s Stolen Kisses. She and Dany Robin, who was cast as her mother, would provide the glamour in the story. “Jade is a rather quiet young lady,” Hitchcock later said, “but I wouldn’t guarantee [that] about her behaviour in a taxi.”

Production

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

Portions of Topaz were filmed on location in Copenhagen; Wiesbaden, West Germany; Virginia, Paris, New York City, and Washington, D.C. The remainder of the film was shot at Universal Studios Hollywood and in and around Los Angeles.

Prior to Hitchcock’s decision to hire Maurice Jarre to compose the score, other composers who were interested in offering their services included Michel Legrand, Richard Rodney Bennett, and Ravi Shankar.

Hitchcock Cameo

Hitchcock’s signature cameo appearance occurs around 28 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 and proceeds to walk off screen with him.

Alternative Versions and Endings

The original cut of the film ended with a duel between André and Jacques in a French football stadium. It was shot by associate producer Herbert Coleman when Hitchcock had to return to the United States for a family emergency. Audiences panned the ending during test screenings. They also said the film was far too long.

Under pressure from the studio, Hitchcock shot a second ending that he actually liked better, with Jacques escaping on an Aeroflot flight to the Soviet Union as André and Nicole board their adjacent Pan American flight back to the United States. However, the ending apparently confused audiences. Also, screenwriter Samuel Taylor objected to the villain escaping unpunished, and there were fears that the ending would offend the French government.

As a compromise, Hitchcock used existing footage to create a third ending in which Granville is exposed and expelled from a NATO meeting. Over a shot of the exterior of his apartment, the sound of a gunshot tells that he commits suicide behind his drawn curtains since no footage of his suicide existed.

The film was released with this third ending and was also edited down by nearly 20 minutes to a final length of 127 minutes. The “airport ending” briefly appeared on British prints of the film by mistake, but those prints were soon altered to match the version that was released elsewhere.

The 143-minute cut of the film was released for the first time by Universal on DVD in 1999; it used the second 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 the alternate endings.

The longer version of the film has been released numerous times on DVD and Blu-ray in the US and in many other markets. However some markets, like Germany, Japan and Scandinavia, continue to have the shorter theatrical cut on DVD and Blu-ray.

Release

The film was not particularly well-received or successful at the box-office, reviews were mixed to negative and usually faulted the film for lacking excitement.

In 1969, Hitchcock won the Best Director Award for Topaz from the National Board of Review.

The movie earned $3,839,363 in North American rentals in 1970. Topaz had its American network television premiere on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies on 29 January 1972.

Trivia

  • According to Sir Alfred Hitchcock, this was another of his experimental movies.
    • In addition to the dialogue, the plot is revealed through the use of colours, predominantly red, yellow, and white. He admits that this did not work out.
  • This was reportedly one of Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s unhappiest directing jobs.
  • Knowing that he had no ear for music, Sir Alfred Hitchcock didn’t even bother listening to Maurice Jarre’s completed score for this movie, slotting it onto the images without a quibble.
  • An early scene is portrayed in a department store “Den Permanente”.
    • In Torn Curtain (1966), there is a poster for this same store, displayed when Julie Andrews climbs to the top of the stairs to enter the bookstore.
  • Leon Uris wrote the first draft of the screenplay, but Sir Alfred Hitchcock declared it unshootable at the last minute, and called in Samuel A. Taylor (writer of Vertigo (1958)) to re-write it from scratch.
    • Some scenes were written just a few hours before they were shot.
  • Philippe Noiret had a horse accident just before the shooting of the film began.
    • That’s why he uses a crutch to walk.
    • Alfred Hitchcock preferred this solution instead of replacing him at the last minute.
  • The opening credits lists the most comprehensive cast, all twenty-five members.
    • The end credits list only eleven of those members with character names.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s):
    • Alfred Hitchcock.
  • Producer(s):
    • Alfred Hitchcock … producer (uncredited).
    • Herbert Coleman … associate producer.
  • Writer(s):
    • Leon Uris … (from the novel by).
    • Samuel A. Taylor … (screenplay) (as Samuel Taylor).
  • Music:
    • Maurice Jarre.
  • Cinematography:
    • Jack Hildyard.
  • Editor(s):
    • William H. Ziegler.
  • Production:
    • Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions.
  • Distribution:
    • Universal Pictures (1969) (USA) (theatrical) (An MCA Company).
    • Acme Films (1969) (Philippines) (theatrical).
    • Empire Universal Films (1969) (Canada) (theatrical).
    • Universal Film (1969) (Sweden) (theatrical).
    • Rank Film Distributors (1970) (UK) (theatrical).
    • Universal International Pictures (UI) (1970) (Netherlands) (theatrical).
    • Société Anonyme Universal-Film (1970) (France) (theatrical).
    • Universal Film (1970) (Norway) (theatrical).
    • Universal Filmverleih (1970) (West Germany) (theatrical).
    • Väinän Filmi (1970) (Finland) (theatrical).
    • National Broadcasting Company (NBC) (1972) (USA) (TV).
    • United International Pictures (UIP) (1984) (Finland) (theatrical).
    • MCA Home Video (1985) (USA) (VHS).
    • Universal Films of India (1970) (India) (theatrical).
    • CIC Video (Finland) (VHS).
    • CIC Video (Netherlands) (VHS).
    • Esselte Video (Finland) (VHS).
    • Iris (2016) (Italy) (TV).
    • MCA/Universal Home Video (USA) (VHS).
    • MCA/Universal Home Video (USA) (all media) (laserdisc).
    • TV3 (1989) (Finland) (TV).
    • Universal Home Video (2003) (Brazil) (DVD).
    • Universal Pictures Finland (2002) (Finland) (DVD).
    • Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (UPHE) (2006) (USA) (DVD).
    • Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (1999) (Germany) (VHS).
    • Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (2001) (Germany) (DVD).
    • Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (2014) (Germany) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
    • Universal Pictures (2001) (Germany) (DVD).
    • Universal Pictures (2014) (Germany) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
    • Universal Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Nordic (2013) (Finland) (Blu-ray).
    • Universal Studios Home Video (2001) (Canada) (DVD).
    • Universal Studios Home Video (2006) (Canada) (DVD).
    • Universal Studios Home Video (2001) (USA) (DVD).
    • Yleisradio (YLE) (1997) (Finland) (TV).
  • Release Date: 17 December 1969 (Sweden), 19 December 1969 (US), and 11 January 1970 (UK).
  • Running time: 127 minutes (theatrical cut) and 143 minutes (extended DVD cut).
  • Country: United States.
  • Language: English.

YouTube Link

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.