Follow TV Tropes


Film / Topaz

Go To

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

The year is 1962. In Copenhagen, high-ranking KGB officer Boris Kusenov (Per-Axel Arosenius) defects to the United States with his wife and daughter, assisted by American intelligence bigwig Michael Nordstrom (John Forsythe). Kusenov 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). Nordstrom asks André Devereaux (Frederick Stafford), a French agent, to go to New York City and inflitrate Cuba's United Nations delegation.

Fortunately, he has an excuse to be in New York: his daughter Michelle Devereaux (Claude Jade) has just married journalist Francois Picard (Michel Subor), and they happen to be honeymooning there. The Cubans are staying at a hotel in Harlem and André is too white to pass as a local, so he drafts a black Deep Cover Agent, Philippe Dubois (Roscoe Lee Browne), to help out. Dubois manages to slip under the nose of Cuban revolutionary Rico Parra (John Vernon) and get photos of significant documents. With the documents in hand, Devereaux 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. After escaping Cuba with his life, Devereaux learns of two important events. First, information about his movements was leaked by a Soviet spy ring within the French intelligence service called "Topaz". Second, his wife Nicole (Dany Robin) has found out about his relationship with Juanita and left him. Devereaux must now figure out which of his colleagues are Double Agents, and save his marriage.

Notable for having three vastly different endings filmed. The one involving a suicide was the compromise ending between Universal and Hitchcock after the first two endings were rejected. Another one, involving an airport, was released in England by accident in the original run. 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 its lack of big name Hollywood stars. Instead, Hitchcock assembled an Ensemble Cast of mostly 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 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).

"Col. Kusenov, does the word 'Trope' mean anything to you?":

  • 20 Minutes into the Past: A 1969 film set in 1962.
  • Adaptation Name Change: The novel's Boris Kuznetov gets the much smoother-sounding surname Kusenov in the film.
  • And Starring: John Forsythe, the only real notable Hollywood actor in the cast, gets this credit.
  • As Himself: The Cuban rally sequence uses actual documentary footage of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.
  • Bookcase Passage: In the pantry at Juanita's house.
  • Call-Back: Having one of the US intelligence leaders named McKittrick might seem like a Shout-Out to Vertigo, which had a prominent scene set at the McKittrick Hotel, but it's the character's name in the novel as well.
  • Cold War: NATO versus the Cuban/USSR alliance during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • Creator Cameo: One of Hitchcock's more amusing cameos, as a man in a wheelchair at an airport, who suddenly stands up, shakes someone's hand, then walks away.
  • Creepy Blue Eyes: Rico Parra's eyes become more conspicuous once he starts focusing on being the Villain part of his Tragic Villain character.
  • Deadly Hug: After finding out that the woman he loves is a double agent, Rico Parra takes her in his arms and shoots her in order to spare her from torture/interrogation.
  • Deep Cover Agent: Philippe Dubois, who works as a florist.
  • Draco in Leather Pants: invoked The hero's daughter admits that "the Cubans are wild" in their guerilla briefs at the UN Meeting.
  • 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. Truth in Television, as Fidel Castro made some big public gestures in support of the Civil Rights Movement in America around that time.
  • Fiery Redhead: Hernandez, Parra's assistant (and trigger man).
  • Graceful Ladies Like Purple: Juanita wears an elegant, billowing purple dress in her final scene, and Hitchcock climaxes the scene with an overhead shot of her falling to the floor that makes the dress look like a spreading pool of blood.
  • Idiot Ball: Much of the second act depends on Rico Parra being a bit dense. Doesn't it seem unusual to him that a reporter for an African-American magazine has a French accent? Or that the reporter insists on taking his own pictures, with a small snapshot camera? Shouldn't it occur to him that firing a gun out onto a busy New York street is a good way to get unwanted attention from American intelligence? And shortly after Cuba starts putting Russian missiles into place, a French agent just happens to show up out of nowhere, but he seems to just take it in stride. Justified a bit, since he's shown to be driven by a big ego and a My Country, Right or Wrong attitude.
  • In the Style of: Based on a best-selling novel? Check. A novel that was Ripped from the Headlines? Check. An unknown in the lead role, in an attempt to catapult them into stardom? Check. This feels much more like an Otto Preminger film than a Hitchcock film.
  • Just a Stupid Accent: The Cubans, who are mostly played by North American actors, are the main culprits of this here.
  • Love Triangle: André/Juanita/Rico, and, as revealed late in the story, André/Nicole/Granville.
  • Mercy Kill: In the film's most emotional scene, Rico murders Juanita to save her from the torture she's about to go through.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Juanita de Cordoba is based on Juanita Castro, Fidel's sister, who objected to the post-revolutionary turn toward Soviet-influenced Communism and started collaborating with the CIA. Unlike her fictional counterpart, she got out of Cuba and settled in Miami.
  • Oh, Crap!: Granville's expression when he realizes the CIA has learned that he's the leader of Topaz.
  • Plot-Based Voice Cancellation: Used when Dubois invites Devereaux into the walk-in cooler at the flower shop and closes the door, since Devereaux's explaining to him what we already know about the missiles in Cuba and Uribe needing to be bribed by a non-American for access to the documents.
  • Re-Cut: In 1999, Universal released a new cut that replaced the "suicide" ending with the "airport" ending, and extended the film from 127 to 143 minutes (making it surpass North By Northwest as Hitchcock's longest film). That's generally the version in circulation now, though some countries (and the US television version) stick with the original cut.
  • Revised Ending: As originally released, Granville is Driven to Suicide after Devereaux exposes him, and Devereaux reflects on the various deaths that had to happen to help resolve the Missile Crisis. The original ending, Granville challenges Devereaux to a Duel to the Death at a stadium, but a Russian agent kills Granville before he can fire, was rejected by test-screening audiences. The first revised ending, Devereaux sees Granville at the airport as Granville defects to the USSR, and announces "That's the end of Topaz," was Hitchcock's preferred ending, but there were concerns over the Big Bad being a Karma Houdini. That ending was mistakenly included in the original UK prints of the film, but they were quickly replaced.
  • La Résistance:
    • Juanita's network.
    • The novel goes into much more detail about it, but André, Nicole and Granville all worked together in the French Resistance during World War II.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The story is built around a Roman à Clef account of "the Martel affair", which became a major scandal that hurt US/French relations and briefly imperiled NATO. In real life, the spy ring was called "Sapphire". Leon Uris was a friend of Philippe Thyraud de Vosjoli, the Devereaux figure in the actual events, but for the novel he played up the Cuban Missile Crisis angle, which was only a minor subplot in real life.note 
  • Silence Is Golden: Most of the Harlem sequence plays silently. We can see Dubois talking and can surmise what he's saying, but can't hear him since the shots are from the POV of Devereaux across the street.
  • 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.
  • Wicked Cultured: Granville, who even wears an ascot in his key scene.