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Film / Topaze

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Topaze is a 1933 film starring John Barrymore and Myrna Loy. Barrymore is Professor Topaze, a chemist who is making a rather poor living as a schoolteacher in France. Topaze is fired when he gives bad grades to a rotten little brat named Charlemagne de La Tour-La Tour, the snotty son of rich mineral water manufacturer Baron de La Tour-La Tour. However, he immediately gets a job working for the Baron, as a chemist charged with creating healthy, invigorating mineral water. What the professor does not know is that he is an unwitting pawn in a marketing scam. Instead of selling the excellent water that Topaze is creating, the Baron is selling tap water that "teems with microbes". The other thing that Topaze does not know is that Coco (Loy), the attractive woman who brought Topaze to the Baron and assists him in the laboratory, is actually the Baron's mistress. When Topaze finds out that he has been duped, he is crushed—but he gathers himself, and winds up getting his revenge.

Topaze is a notable film from The Pre-Code Era, in which adultery is casually accepted, evil is not really punished, and the good guy turns bad (sort of). The National Board of Review proclaimed it the best film of 1933. Three years later, after The Hays Code began to be strictly enforced, this film was denied a re-release.


  • Ash Face: A live-action example of this usually animated trope when one of Topaze's beakers blows up on him.
  • Blackmail: Dr. Bomb, the Baron's first partner in crime, threatens to expose him unless the Baron forks over 100,000 francs. The Baron however knows about Dr. Bomb's criminal past, so that fails. However, Topaze is successful when he threatens to reveal the Baron's affair with Coco, gaining a third of the Baron's company.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Topaze is surprised when Madame de La Tour-La Tour, who got him canned from the school, does not recognize him when they meet again.
  • Character Title
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The Baron is this, as he knowingly sells water that not only isn't purified but is actually unhealthy as pure, healthy water. In what is another example of an unusual pre-Code story, Topaze becomes this at the end, when he forces the Baron to give him a chunk of the company.
  • Driving a Desk: Results in a pretty bad goof. Topaze and Coco are riding through the streets of Paris when, presumably due to a poor splice, the cars behind them disappear.
  • High-Class Glass: The Baron wears a monocle everywhere.
  • Important Haircut: The very first thing that Topaze does after telling Coco that That Man Is Dead is to ask for a barber to shave his beard. It's part of his transformation into a badass.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Topaze hands the Baron incriminating documents and says "Here, as they say in melodrama, are the papers."
  • The Mistress: Coco is the Baron's. She even says straight out that she's his lover, something that wouldn't be allowed in any movie after the Code became enforced.
  • One-Gender School: Topaze teaches at a boy's primary school.
  • Shout-Out: The film that Topaze and Coco go to at the end, Man, Woman, and Sin, is obviously a winking joke meant to let the viewer know that they are now lovers, but it was also a real film, a 1927 silent starring John Gilbert and Jeanne Eagels.
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: Played with. Topaze, who has become rich and well known due to his involvement with "Sparkling Topaze" mineral water, is invited back to his school, where he is asked to give the award for best student to the dumb, bratty Charlemagne. He refuses to do so, and gives the award to all the kids. Then he tells them that the world is a hard place where liars and wicked people often win—but that they should remember their school, and that day, as one time when virtue was rewarded.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Very cynical, and another example of how movies were different before The Hays Code. Topaze is an honest man who was duped and humiliated. He responds by taking a level in badass and blackmailing the Baron into handing over a chunk of the company. He also takes Coco, the Baron's mistress. The film ends with Topaze apparently perfectly willing to keep selling crappy water while living the good life. This is leavened somewhat by his final advice to the students, to remember that sometimes goodness and honesty do win.
  • Spoiled Brat: Charlemagne is a horrible little twerp who gets in fights with his fellow students and blows a kazoo to distract Prof. Topaze during class.
  • Technicolor Science: It's a black-and-white movie, but in every other respect Topaze's lab fits this trope, with lots of bubbling, smoking liquids, and a bunch of exotic flasks and beakers.
  • That Man Is Dead: Topaze returns after finding out the humiliating truth. Coco consoles him, telling him that he was a great man before and will be again. Topaze responds by saying "I am not Topaze. Topaze lies dead in an alley." He then sets about getting back at the Baron.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Meek, mild-mannered Prof. Topaze winds up blackmailing his boss and becoming filthy rich.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Topaze is this in spades, believing that the honest and virtuous are rewarded while liars and the wicked are punished. He takes it hard when he finds out the truth.