Friday, 15 February 2008

Topaz

I’m a long-time Alfred Hitchcock fan, and I’ve started filling a few gaps in my education by watching some of his movies which had previously escaped my attention. I posted a while back about the impressive Lifeboat, and I was looking forward to seeing Topaz.

I didn’t know much about the movie, other than that it is based on a novel by Leon Uris, whose work I’m not familiar with. The film dates back to 1969, past the Master’s peak, but pre-dating the enjoyable and under-estimated Family Plot (taken from a book by the prolific but now largely forgotten Victor Canning.) The cast doesn’t include big, bankable Hollywood names, but that didn’t put me off.

However, the funereal pace of the story did. I was startled that a director of genius, as I believe Hitchcock to be, could have come up with something so pedestrian. The story begins with the defection of a senior Russian official, and there’s plenty of fuss about a spy ring in Cuba, but I lost interest even before the characters appeared to lose the plot.

Another disappointment was the lack of a strong central character I could identify with and root for from the outset. Think Cary Grant in North By North West, James Stewart in The Man Who Knew Too Much, Robert Donat in The 39 Steps. There’s nobody like that in Topaz, and frankly I’m not sure what attracted Hitchcock to such a tediously meandering story. Yet I’m sure there must be keen Topaz fans out there. What was I missing?

7 comments:

Kerrie said...

Leon Uris was an author that I had an addiction for about 30 years ago Martin. EXODUS, MILA 18, and QB VII are the ones I remember. There is a list at http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/u/leon-uris/

Xavier said...

What was I missing?

Nothing. This is one of Hitch's dreariest offerings. I am of the opinion that Hitch definetely lost his grip after The Birds: both old age and megalomania fueled by French New Wave's hyperbolic praise slowly but surely turned his genius into a parody of itself.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Those last movies are a real comedown, aren't they? I like his fifties/early sixties films the best-Vertigo, Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Psycho. He's somewhat fallen out of favor lately. Some say his films are overly deliberate and drained of life. But Rear Window is one all time favorite films

john morris said...

One more on Hitchcock: For me, his films stand or fall on the quality of the acting, toward which he was notoriously indifferent. When he used brilliant people like Cary Grant and Tony Perkins...great films emerged. But Tippi What'shername, Doris Day, James Stewart (sorry Vertigo fans)... unwatchable. (Actually, I'm NOT sorry, Vertigo fans. That's got to be the most overpraised movie ever made. That corny "down-the-stairs vertigo shot"...please.)

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for these comments. I'm glad I wasn't overlooking anything with Topaz! The only suspense lay in whether any redeeming feature would emerge, and for me, it did't.
Ed Gorman blogs today about that quirky film Family Plot, and I share his appreciation of it.

Mike Grost said...

Topaz has always been one of Hitchcock's most controversial works. It fascinates some and bores others. I love it - but can't explain why. It is one of Hitch's most political films. It is also full of character actors who are big names in French cinema.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Mike - do have a stab at explaining why you like it! I'm sure there must be something there, but it eluded me completely!