Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writer: Samuel A. Taylor; based on Topaz (1967) by Leon Uris
Cinematographer: Jack Hildyard
Producer: Alfred Hitchcock
by Jon Cvack
After watching Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Saboteur (1942), I was ready to go headlong into revisiting the entire Hitchcock Masterpiece DVD Collection (I’m currently waiting for the Bluray version I just ordered), but with knowing that his last four films (Topaz, Torn Curtain (1966), Marnie (1964), and Family Plot (1976)) are his worst (post-silent era), I figured I’d dig into those first; starting with Topaz. Each disc in the collection comes with a special feature, and I was surprised to see that on Topaz, it was a thirty minute documentary hosted by Leonard Maltin who breaks down the film and defends it as good, not great Hitchcock; placing it into the second tier. Although I haven’t gotten to the other films, I’m pretty sure I found this the worst of Hitchcock’s color pictures, and more along the lines of third tier; one level above the silent films.
For those who don’t know or remember, this is Hitchcock’s closest thing to doing a spy drama per the likes of Melville; the type of film where someone would watch it and then get the idea for James Bond. The plot is far from clear to me, and at just under two and a half hours, I couldn’t tell you much more than it involves a British Spy, some double agents, and tangents the Bay of Pigs as Russia moves in to help arm Cuba.
Maltin says it’s Hitchcock’s most experimental movie and I might agree in that Hitchcock nearly abandons his use of camera to create tension and tell a story through images, instead opting to show nearly nonstop dialogues between the characters; failing to compose images that are pretty enough to look at (such as Melville) or to at least make the listening experience enjoyable. As a result of telling and not showing, with so many details ranting on, it’s near impossible to figure it out; playing like a John Le Carre novel without the excitement.
In saying that, I had nearly forgotten that it includes one of my favorite shots in all of Hitchcock, as a woman in purple dress is killed, falls upon the ground, the purple fabric flows out like blood. I’m not joking when I say that literally no other shot sticks in mind from the movie; making me suspect it might’ve been all the more impressive simply because the first two hours were so boring.
Malton gave the film three out of four stars, and I just don’t know how he gets there. There over twenty other Hitchcock films I’d watch before this; a number so high I can’t even think of another director who’d come close to matching that level of quality. It’s not a bad movie, it’s just boring, and what it offers can be found in so many far better films from the period.
BELOW: Only cool scene from the movie; one of Hitch's best shots
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