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Universal Studios Home Video presents
"I've got to see what the Russians are up to in Cuba."
DVD ReviewIf any film director established a brand name for himself and immediately engendered the good will of his audience, it was Alfred Hitchcock—we know what to expect from a Hitchcock picture, and that's why we're there. And it's the frequent lament of artists moving along in their careers that diehard fans don't want them to forge new ground, that they're expected to produce only more of the same. Add to that a reluctance to call out someone for aging—I readily admit not to having the same energy level I did, say, ten years ago—and you've got a handful of reasons to be gentle with Topaz. All that said, however, the sad truth is that this movie isn't really very good. Anybody's suspense picture would suffer in comparison with the best Hitchcock films—that this one is directed by the Master of Suspense himself doesn't make up for the ambling, unfocused nature of the story, and for the sense of bloat that pervades the movie.
Made in 1969, the film situates itself quite specifically seven years earlier, the time of the Cuban missile crisis. The action starts in Copenhagen, with a top Soviet intelligence official, Kusenov, defecting to the West with his wife and daughter—John Forsythe is our man in Denmark, one of the best and brightest dispatched from Foggy Bottom to steer the Kusenovs to safety. But, once he's in a safe house in suburban Washington, Kusenov doesn't much want to play nice—he's deliberately withholding much of what he knows from his interrogators, despite the deal he cut before coming in from the cold.
The story hopscotches around the globe—not just Copenhagen and Washington, but also New York, Paris and Cuba are pivotal locations for the film, and the plot jumps heroes as frequently as it does commuter flights. For a short time we're with Forsythe, but getting more screen time is Frederick Stafford as Devereaux, a French diplomat stationed in Washington, as much a cold warrior as anyone. There's some triangulation—have the French cut a side deal with the Soviets, and not told the Americans?—but you start to get the sense that Hitch thought he could run on style alone, and he can't. The movie is based on a book of the same name by Leon Uris, whose reputation couldn't have been done any favors by this adaptation, which sometimes feels made up as it goes along. Particularly unconvincing are the domestic disputes chez Devereaux, a detour from what plot there is into unearned marital recriminations.
The brightest spots, then, come from actors who aren't asked to shoulder the load in pushing along the clumsy storyline. Roscoe Lee Browne has a winning turn as a nefarious florist, and Philippe Noiret and Michel Piccoli are charming and sly as French intelligence men. But most memorable of all, and only with the benefit of hindsight, is a performance on double secret probation: John Vernon plays Rico Parra, a fatigues-clad Castro protégé, in New York to represent the people of Cuba. You just can't shake the image of the actor as Dean Wormer, and so seeing him in his scraggly beard and chewing on a stogie brings with it unintended comic pleasures. Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.
Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C-
Image Transfer Review: The colors have faded considerably, though the transfer here is a passable one.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: Occasional hiss and buzz; all generally audible.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Alternate Endings
Packaging: Box Set
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsCold War ambiance and a couple of old tricks from Hitchcock aren't enough to put this one over, a comparatively weak late effort from one of the most beloved directors.
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