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Alfred Hitchcock: Masterpiece Edition Vol. 13: There is perhaps a bit of fun to be had with this spy game, but not much....
Universal / 143 Minutes / 1969 / Unrated / Street Date: October 30, 2012
[As preparation for our comprehensive review of Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection, we're investing each of that massive Blu-ray sets films one by one chronologically. If you missed them, check out our reviews of Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, Rear Window, The Trouble With Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho. The Birds, Marnie, and Torn Curtain.]
Hitchcock attempts an espionage thriller? Yes, I was a bit surprised when I threw this disc in. I had heard of Topaz, but as with many of Hitch's films, I didn't exactly know what I was getting into. Topaz is one of Hitch's more maligned productions, and after viewing the movie on Blu-ray Disc, I can sort of understand why. I have a solid attention span (i.e., if the films long and drawn out I can usually get through it) but the first twenty minutes of this film were difficult even for me.
In the tradition of many of Hitchcock films, Topaz's plot is a bit complicated, and is based upon the cold war novel of the same name by Leon Uris. When Michael Nordstrom (John Forsythe), the head of intelligence in the United States, helps a deputy chief of the KGB defect to the U.S., he stumbles upon information regarding Russia's movements in Cuba. Unfortunately, he doesn't have all of the information. Rico Perra (John Vernon), one of Castro's generals visiting New York, has much of the plan's information with him. Nordstrom isn't able to gain access to Perra, but he might be able to gain access through Perra's aide.
What follows is a robust latticework of double- and triple-crosses, of allegiances severed and re-established, of spies getting their man and coming in from the cold. If that particular sentiment seems vague and unconvincing, it's intentional - just as Topaz is. Hitchcock movies - especially those from his later period - are typically given a blanket pass, but as much as I love the guy and his work, films like Topaz simply aren't all that good.
So we can unfortunately come to the conclusion that Topaz's inclusion on The Masterpiece Collection is a case of wasted real estate. All films from distinguished filmmakers deserve high-def treatments, but Topaz is one of those movies you'll watch once and not come back to again. The master was definitely going for something unique here, but even Hitchcock swung and missed a couple times.