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Topaz (1969)

 
Hitchcock takes you behind the actual headlines to expose the most explosive spy scandal of the century!
 
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director Alfred Hitchcock
producer Herbert Coleman
writer Samuel A. Taylor
story by Leon Uris (original novel)
starring John Forsythe
Dany Robin
Karin Dor
Frederick Stafford
Claude Jade
original music Maurice Jarre
cinematographer Jack Hildyard
editor William H. Ziegler
 
running time 127 minutes (theatrical version)
colour colour (Technicolor)
sound mix mono (Westrex Recording System)
aspect ratio 1.85:1
studio Universal Pictures
availability DVD & Blu-ray
 

Synopsis

A high ranking Russian official defects to the United States, where he is interviewed by US agent Michael Nordstrom. The defector reveals that a French spy ring codenamed "Topaz" has been passing NATO secrets to the Russians. Michael calls in his French friend and counterpart Andre Devereaux to expose the spies.

Production

Following the critical and commercial failure of Torn Curtain, Hitchcock initially spent over a year developing ideas for what was titled variously as Kaleidoscope or Frenzy.[1] Several writers worked on the project, including Benn Levy, Howard Fast and novelist Hugh Wheeler before Universal's Lew Wasserman persuaded Hitchcock to put it to one side in favour of something more commercial.[2]

After browsing through the studio's available properties, Hitchcock eventually settled on Leon Uris' 1967 Cold War thriller "Topaz".

Universal were keen to develop a blockbuster film with an international cast and they set a budget of $4,000,000 — the largest budget for any Hitchcock film.

Pre-Production

Screenplay

Hitchcock and Claude Jade

Hitchcock initially approached Uris to develop the screenplay and they met for the first time towards the end of January 1968 before beginning regular script meetings in late April. However, it soon became apparent that the partnership lacked the necessary spark and, following a number of disagreements, Uris left in July after delivering an initial draft.[3]

On July 21st, Hitchcock, along with Herbert Coleman and Doc Erickson, flew from the US to England, to begin location scouting around Europe before returning to Los Angeles in early August.[4]

Topaz storyboard

With Universal pushing for filming to start in September, Samuel Taylor was quickly hired to write a new script from scratch after Arthur Laurents turned down an offer to do it. Unusually for a Hitchcock film, as the director's time was now tied up with the other aspects of pre-production, face-to-face script meetings with Taylor happened only infrequently. Struggling with converting the complexities of the novel, Taylor was unable to deliver a completed screenplay prior to the start of filming.[5]

Shortly before principal photography began, the French Government withdrew permission to film in Paris, citing concerns about the film's premise that Soviet symphatisers had infiltrated the French intelligence agencies. The U.S. Ambassador to France intervened and assured the authorities that their concerns would be taken on-board by Hitchcock. As a result, the script was amended to ensure that the traitor Granville was suitably punished at the end of the film.[6]

Casting

The failure of Torn Curtain, for which a sizeable proportion of the budget was spent on securing Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, and the need for a large cast resulted in Hitchcock selecting less well-known actors for Topaz.

Principal Photography

filming on location

Filming commenced in September, with scenes shot in Copenhagen and Paris, before returning to the Universal sound stages in October. With Taylor still working on the script, pages were often being revised right up until they were shot.[7]

By all accounts, filming suffered from the rushed pre-production process and, burdened with the stress of a complex and troubled film, Hitchcock lacked his usual spark. John Forsythe, who had worked with the director previously, recalled that Hitchcock "would go away for fifteen or twenty minutes and lie down if he could, and it was sad to see."[8]

The studio-based filming was completed in March 1969 and Hitchcock took a short break before returning to Paris in mid-April to shoot the film's ending — an old-fashioned pistol duel between Granville and Devereaux, which ends with former being shot by a Russian sniper.[9]

Partway through the weeklong shoot in Paris, Hitchcock received word from Los Angeles that Alma had been suddenly hospitalised. Distraught, he flew back to America leaving Herbert Coleman to complete filming the scene.[10]

Post-Production

The initial test screening in San Francisco during the summer of 1969 proved problematic. According to Bill Krohn, the preview audience was mostly made up of fans of the Leon Uris book and their "outrage was in the majority". In particular, the duel ending (which didn't appear in the book) was greeted with derisive laughter.[11]

The Alternative Endings

the duel ending

Under pressure from Universal to change the ending, Hitchcock returned to France and filmed an alternative ending at Orly Airport — Devereaux is seen boarding a plane to Washington D.C. at the same time as Granville boards one to Moscow.

After viewing the new "airport ending", Samuel Taylor raised objections to the traitor being allowed to escape without punishment. Taylor's concerns, and the risk of further objections from the French Government to the revised ending, persuaded Hitchcock to devise a further ending using existing footage.

In this second alternative ending, Granville[12] is shown returning to his house and apparently committing suicide. This is then followed by a montage of the characters who died during the film, along with a newspaper headline about the Cuban missile crisis.[13]

Prior to the film's release, debate continued as to which of the replacement endings to use — Hitchcock's personal preference was for the "airport ending, which is felt was the most true-to-life — before the decision was taken to prepare different edits of the film for different distribution markets.[14]

The "duel ending" was saved from the cutting-room floor by Hitchcock and stored in his garage, where it was discovered after his death and donated to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.[15]

Release & Reception

Japanese poster

According to Variety, the initial UK release print was accidentally based on a rough-cut of the film, using the "airport ending" before it was replaced with the "suicide ending".[16][17] Elsewhere, in America and France, the "suicide ending" and a shorter two-hour cut was used for the release prints.[18]

Reviews of Topaz were mostly negative, with Richard Corliss in Film Quarterly noting "mismatched movements and lighting, clumsily speeded-up motion for no reason except to get a bit of exposition over with more quickly, poor dubbing, peripatetic matte shots, too-long dissolves, unnecessary crescendoes in the score."[19]

Writing in The Times, John Russell Taylor stated that "Hitchcock, like all major film directors, has made his share of bad films. But never, I think, one which was so generally flat, undistinguished, and lacking in any sign of positive interest or involvement on his part."[20]

Despite an extensive publicity campaign, the film failed to recoup its $4,000,000 budget and was never re-released theatrically by Universal.[21]

DVD and Blu-ray Releases

The initial 1999 US DVD release of Topaz was marketed as a "director's cut" and made use of a 142 minute cut of the film with the "airport ending". This version was later released in the UK in 2001, although matted at 1.33:1 ratio instead of widescreen.

The European DVD releases of the film all appear to make use of the shorter two-hour theatrical version of the film with the "suicide ending".

The recent Blu-ray releases of the film continue to use the longer cut for the USA and UK, and the shorter cut for other European releases.

See Also...

For further relevant information about this film, see also...

Notes

  • Two versions of this film have been released on DVD and Blu-ray:
    • 142 minute version with the "airport" ending
    • 126 minute version with the "suicide" ending

Blu-ray Releases

released in 2012

6010.gif Topaz (1969) - Universal (Blu-ray, USA/UK, 2012)
as part of the US and UK box sets
this version has the "airport" ending
6009.gif Topaz (1969) - Universal (Blu-ray, 2012)
as part of the non-US and UK box sets
this version has the "suicide" ending

DVD Releases

released in 2006

6008.gif Topaz (1969) - Universal (USA, 2006)
Amazon (USA)
NTSC 1.85:1 (anamorphic)

released in 2005

6007.gif Topaz (1969) - Universal (UK, 2005)
Amazon (UK)
PAL
6005.gif Topaz (1969) - Universal (USA, 2005) - part of a box set
Amazon (USA)
NTSC 1.85:1 (anamorphic) [02:22:00]

...view older DVD releases

Image Gallery

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Themes

Cast and Crew

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References

  1. Not to be confused with the 1972 film of the same name.
  2. "Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light" - by Patrick McGilligan
  3. "Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light" - by Patrick McGilligan, pages 684-86
  4. "Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light" - by Patrick McGilligan, page 688
  5. "Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light" - by Patrick McGilligan, pages 688-69
  6. "Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light" - by Patrick McGilligan, page 692
  7. "Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light" - by Patrick McGilligan, page 689
  8. "Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light" - by Patrick McGilligan, pages 691-92
  9. "Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light" - by Patrick McGilligan, page 692
  10. "Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light" - by Patrick McGilligan, page 692
  11. "Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light" - by Patrick McGilligan, page 692
  12. According to Thomas M. Leitch, the actor shown entering the house is Philippe Noiret rather than Michel Piccoli
  13. "Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light" - by Patrick McGilligan, page 693
  14. "Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light" - by Patrick McGilligan, page 693
  15. "Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light" - by Patrick McGilligan, pages 693-94
  16. Variety (1969) - International: Hitchcock's London Bow Of Topaz' Exudes More Mystery Than Pic Itself
  17. The Times (27/Jan/1970) - The Times Diary: Topaz trio
  18. "Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light" - by Patrick McGilligan, page 693
  19. Film Quarterly (1970) - Topaz
  20. The Times (06/Nov/1969) - The trouble with Hitchcock
  21. "The Encyclopedia of Alfred Hitchcock" - by Thomas M. Leitch, pages 339-40


Hitchcock's Major Films
1920s The Pleasure Garden · The Mountain Eagle · The Lodger · Downhill · Easy Virtue · The Ring · The Farmer's Wife · Champagne · The Manxman · Blackmail
1930s Juno and the Paycock · Murder! · The Skin Game · Rich and Strange · Number Seventeen · Waltzes from Vienna · The Man Who Knew Too Much · The 39 Steps · Secret Agent · Sabotage · Young and Innocent · The Lady Vanishes · Jamaica Inn
1940s Rebecca · Foreign Correspondent · Mr and Mrs Smith · Suspicion · Saboteur · Shadow of a Doubt · Lifeboat · Spellbound · Notorious · The Paradine Case · Rope · Under Capricorn
1950s Stage Fright · Strangers on a Train · I Confess · Dial M for Murder · Rear Window · To Catch a Thief · The Trouble with Harry · The Man Who Knew Too Much · The Wrong Man · Vertigo · North by Northwest
1960s Psycho · The Birds · Marnie · Torn Curtain · Topaz
1970s Frenzy · Family Plot
( view full filmography )

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