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Film / Hopscotch

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The most dangerous man in the world.

"He actually has the balls to hide out in my house!"

A 1980 adaptation of the Brian Garfield novel of the same name, co-written by the original author and directed by Ronald Neame.

This Cold War-era espionage comedy stars Walter Matthau as Miles Kendig, a CIA field agent who is Kicked Upstairs after refusing to terminate his KGB counterpart, an affable operator named Yaskov (Herbert Lom). His boss, Myerson (Ned Beatty), is the immature bureaucrat who does the kicking and screaming.

Rather than ride a desk for the next few years, Kendig decides to write and publish his memoirs, including thirty years' worth of embarrassing state secrets. Aided by his lover Isobel (Glenda Jackson) and hunted by his protégé Joe Cutter (Sam Waterston), Kendig skips around the globe as both the CIA and KGB race to apprehend him... or kill him.

Tropes used include:

  • Adaptation Distillation: The novel was a drama written as a counterpoint to the flashy James Bond stereotypes of espionage. This film is a comedy, although still a counterpoint to flashy James Bond stereotypes.
  • Affectionate Gesture to the Head: Kendig ruffles Joe Cutter's hair while tying him to a chair.
  • Angry Guard Dog: Isobel's dog, which she says is provoked by the smell of stupidity. She later uses the dog to box in Follett while she makes her escape.
  • Anti-Hero: Kendig is extremely selfish and reckless, but he's such a Magnificent Bastard, and Myerson is such a Jerkass, that the audience ends up on his side.
  • Author Appeal: Walter Matthau was a big fan of opera and helped select some of the pieces used in the film.
  • Bad Boss: Myerson. At the start, he summons Kendig to his office and then calls Mrs. Myerson to discuss a trivial matter when Kendig tries to explain why he didn't arrest Yaskov, before brushing off the (actually rather sensible from a long-term counterintelligence perspective) explanation and then transferring him to records. When Kendig starts sending chapters out, Myerson immediately decides to have him killed rather than simply arrest him.
  • Bang, Bang, BANG: The FBI agents think that a string of firecrackers sounds like a machine gun. They return fire.
  • Brandishment Bluff:
    • Kendig sneaks up on Ross and pokes his finger into his back to take him hostage, taking Ross's actual gun to keep it up.
    • Later, he holds up Joe Cutter with Cutter's own gun, which is unloaded. Joe knows he would never have used it anyway, and lets Kendig tie him up.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Myerson interrupts his rousting of Kendig to talk to his wife on the phone about renting out his summer house. Kending makes a point of hiding out there to write his book.
  • Cowboy Cop: Kendig's reputation at the CIA, but Myerson isn't impressed.
  • Crazy-Prepared: When Kendig leaves Myerson's office after being Reassigned to Antarctica, he takes less than 5 seconds to form his exit strategy, which involves swapping the contents of his file with the contents of an alphabetically-adjacent person's file whose name he clearly had already memorized in case such need ever arose.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Myerson drops them, at least by 1980 standards.
  • Creepy Changing Painting: Played for Laughs with a photograph of Myerson changing from a smile to a frown as Kendig types out his expose in Myerson's house.
  • Da Chief: Myerson so desperately wants to come across as this, but he's just a blustery bully who nobody really respects or likes.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Isobel is delightfully sarcastic. "No. This is a recording of a person asleep."
  • Deadly Euphemism: "What did you want me to do, terminate him?"
  • Deceptive Disciple: Joe Cutter, quite against his will.
  • Does Not Like Guns: Kendig hasn't carried a gun for years. Joe Cutter, his protege, carries an unloaded one.
    "No bullets. I'm proud of you, Joe."
  • Failed a Spot Check: Follet tries to get Kendig's whereabouts out of Isobel by claiming he needs to tell Kendig that his mother's just died. Isobel informs him that Mrs. Kendig died years ago, and that Follet's stupidity is upsetting her dog.
  • Faking the Dead: Kendig crashes a small plane by remote control when he's had enough of being chased around by Myerson.
  • Friendly Enemy: Kendig and Yaskov. Kendig very amiably convinces Yaskov to give up a roll of film at the start of the movie and they later share some vodka.
  • Interservice Rivalry: The FBI man at Myerson's house makes a point to remind Myerson and his CIA people that the FBI is running the show. Later, Myerson says that FBI must stand for "fucking ball-busting imbeciles."
  • Large Ham: Kendig singing opera while crossing European borders.
  • Lighter and Softer: After objecting to how violent the film version of his novel Death Wish turned out, Brian Garfield wrote Hopscotch as an attempt to do a story with a lot of action where no one was killed or harmed.
  • MacGyvering: A minor instance when Kendig is held up by some good-natured British coppers. He puts together a small device that blows a fuse in the station when he plugs it in.
  • The Men in Black: Kendig references it, referring to the CIA agents who will question the pilot as "guys with little plastic ID cards."
  • Mr. Smith: Myerson introduces himself and Joe as Smith and Jones while trying to bully Kendig's publisher. The publisher dryly says, "From my reading of the manuscript, you have to be Myerson," in response.
  • The Napoleon: Kendig references this by continually calling attention to Myerson's being shorter than him.
  • Never My Fault: Kendig, talking to the photo, opines that Myerson is not likely to have had any flashes of remorse and probably sees himself as an innocent victim betrayed.
  • The Nondescript: More of a characteristic of double agents, according to Yaskov, but Kendig (as played by Matthau) is an ordinary-looking man you'd pass in the street. He gives himself distinguishing characteristics when he wants to be spotted, like when he loudly sings opera while crossing the Swiss border.
  • Not Quite Dead: Kendig fakes his death in a (remote controlled) airplane crash.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Kendig and Yaskov share some vodka after Kendig is fired, and Follett is there to take pictures. (They notice him, but Kendig brushes it off.) Myerson thinks it means that Kendig is defecting—which is what Yaskov is offering, but Cutter says Kendig would never do so, and he's right.
  • Oil Slick: Of course the barrel of oil in his truck is for the driveway he's building at the house he is renting...
  • Phone-Trace Race: Subverted. Kendig teases the tracing technicians until they discover that he is living in their boss's summer house. Which he then tricks the FBI into destroying as a practical joke.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: Most of the background music was composed by Mozart, though operas by Rossini and Puccini are represented briefly.
  • Puppy-Dog Eyes: Kendig gives Isobel a truly impressive hangdog look to guilt her into helping him.
  • Quick Nip: After his wife serves tea, Myerson pours it in the sink and refills the cup with scotch.
  • Refuge in Audacity: The whole bit where Kendig rents Myerson's summer house to do some writing in it, and then tricks the FBI agents into shooting it to pieces.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Kending is assigned to a desk job. Becomes a Reassignment Backfire because it gives him the opportunity to collect information for his book.
    Isobel: Myerson is furious. He keeps talking about Cuba. He's talking about sending you to Cuba."
  • Retired Badass:
    • Kendig. The entire movie is his demonstration of how forcing a badass into retirement can backfire.
    • Isobel, who left the CIA some years ago when the work got dirty. She's eminently capable of predicting their tricks and fending them off.
  • Running Gag: Kendig and Isobel joke about Follett's sexuality, as he monitors and attempts to trace their calls.
  • Shame If Something Happened: Myerson tries to threaten the British publisher this way. The publisher is unfazed, having already made plans to ensure the safety of the manuscript and the publishing process.
  • Shout-Out: Cutter, about to meet with Yaskov:
    "He must have seen Casablanca ten times."
    • When Yaskov suggests he might run off instead of handing over what The Mole gave him, Kendig says they'd look ridiculous chasing each other like Laurel and Hardy.
    • The character Follett is a good-natured jab at fellow author Ken Follett.
      Kendig: That's Follett, he's an idiot. Probably no film in the camera.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Myerson is very foul-mouthed. (This results in a lot of Bowdlerizing of his dialogue when the movie is shown on television and, unusually, available as an alternate audio track on the DVD)
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Myerson, who places far more value on "dirty tricks" like assassination than careful footwork and long-term planning.
  • Spy Speak: When calling Isobel from a diner, Kendig refers to "the folks from home" being surprised to see him.
  • Suicide by Cop: Myerson's theory of Kendig's plan.
    Myerson: It's his fucking suicide note. The bastard wants to go down in flames, and he wants us to put him out of his misery.
  • That Reminds Me of a Song: For no reason whatsoever, a latter-days-of-disco lounge band with a singer who, let's face it, is not Donna Summer.
  • Threat Backfire: Kendig's publisher (accurately) believes that any threats made on him, and Kendig's disappearance, will be an enormous boon to the book's publicity.
  • The Un-Reveal: It's never revealed what crime or blunder Kendig exposes about Myerson in the final chapter of his memoirs, but everyone who reads it is stunned. Kendig's best friend tells him it was going too far, and Myerson tries to personally shoot Kendig afterward.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: No mention is made of what happened to Yaskov and Myerson after the book is published and all their embarrassing secrets get out.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Kendig's affected Southern accent while he's working out of Myerson's summer house. One man he deals with tells him he can stop because it's so terrible.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: At the end, Kendig starts affecting disguises—we see him as an Indian—to go into stores and talk about his book, until Isobel verbally dopeslaps him for taking such risks.
  • Worthy Opponent: Yaskov likes Kendig and calls him the CIA's best operative. He has much more respect for Kendig than Kendig's actual boss.
    Yaskov: I quite like him, you know. One can't help it.
    Myerson: [looks uncomfortable and presses the elevator button]