Film / Topaz

Topaz is a 1969 spy film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, adapted from the 1967 novel by Leon Uris. Loosely based on the events leading to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

The year is 1962. In Copenhagen, a high-ranking Soviet intelligence officer defects to the West with his wife and daughter. He informs the CIA that the Soviets are positioning missiles in Cuba. (In real life, they were intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles with the ability to strike most of the continental United States). André Devereaux (Frederick Stafford), a French agent, is assigned to further investigate the matter. He first has to get to New York City and inflitrate the local Cuban embassy.

Fortunately, his daughter Michelle Devereaux (Claude Jade) has just married journalist Francois Picard (Michel Subor). They are going to New York for their honeymoon and André joins them without drawing suspicion to himself. The embassy is in Harlem and André is unable to pass as a local. He is apparently too white for that. Philippe Dubois (Roscoe Lee Browne), a black agent, is the one to infiltrate the embassy and take photos of significant documents. With the documents at hand, Deveraux next flies to Cuba, getting in touch with his local mistress Juanita de Cordoba (Karin Dor).

Juanita happens to be the leader of the local underground resistance network. She attempts to have her network photograph the missiles. It results in her people getting arrested and tortured, with Juanita herself executed. Deveraux escapes with his life. He returns to find two important events. First, the information about his movements was leaked by "Topaz", a Soviet spy ring called within the French intelligence service. He has to help expose the spy ring. Second, his wife Nicole (Dany Robin) has found out about his relationship with Juanita and left him. Michelle is determined to get them back together.

The film was released with two alternate endings. The one involving a suicide was released in the United States and France, the other involving an airport was released in England. The film was a modest box office hit, but is generally considered to be one of Hitch's weaker, dare we say, more boring films. One of its most memorable features is the lack of Hollywood actors. Hitchcock mostly cast then-famous European actors. Frederick Stafford had rose to fame for portraying agent OSS 117 in two films. Dany Robin had rose to fame in the 1950s and co-starred in The Waltz of the Toreadors. Her career was fading by the time she played in Topaz, and it was to be her last film. Karin Dor had rose to fame by starring in film adaptations of the works of Edgar Wallace and Karl May. She had also played Dark Chick Helga Brandt in You Only Live Twice. Claude Jade was the protagonist of the hit Stolen Kisses (1968) by François Truffaut and was at the beginning of a lengthy career. Finally, Michel Subor had gained his fame for playing in films such as Please, Not Now! (1961), The Little Soldier (1963) and What's New Pussycat? (1965).

This film provides examples of:

  • Draco in Leather Pants: invoked The hero's daughter admits that "the Cubans are wild" in their guerilla briefs at the UN Meeting.
  • Cold War: Right in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • The Empire: The Soviet Union as depicted here.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: The Cuban Communists are depicted to be firmly anti-racist and Roscoe Lee Browne who plays an African-American journalist in Harlem gets an interview with them by invoking a PR opportunity for them to show their revolutionary cred.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: The book is supposedly based on real events, but both Fidel Castro and Charles De Gaulle were replaced by lookalikes.
  • La Résistance: Juanita's network.
  • Switching P.O.V.: The film has a main protagonist and antagonist but thanks to its vignette style, it often feels like multiple short-segments with different characters, all of them based on Cold War archetypes.