DVD Talk
Release List Reviews Shop Newsletter Forum DVD Giveaways Blu-Ray Advertise
Reviews & Columns
Reviews
DVD
TV on DVD
Blu-ray
4K UHD
International DVDs
Theatrical
Video Games

Features
Collector Series DVDs
Easter Egg Database
Interviews
DVD Talk Radio
Feature Articles

Columns
Anime Talk
DVD Stalk
DVD Savant
High-Def Revolution
Silent DVD

discussion forum
DVD Talk Forum
Resources
DVD Price Search
Customer Service #'s
RCE Info
Links

DVDTalk Info
Review Staff
About DVD Talk
Advertise
Newsletter Subscribe
Join DVD Talk Forum
DVD Talk Feeds


Sponsored Links

Search: For:
Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Topaz
Topaz
Universal // PG // June 20, 2006
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Phil Bacharach | posted July 11, 2006 | E-mail the Author
Buy from Amazon.com
C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Recommended
E - M A I L
this review to a friend
P R I N T
Printer Friendly
The Movie:

Cinephiles know that the late 1960s marked something of a downslide for Alfred Hitchcock. There is speculation about what prompted the string of disappointments. Perhaps the slow demise of the studio system left the master of suspense rudderless. Hitchcock scholar Donald Spoto contended in his 1983 biography, The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock, that the director grew despondent and sloppy in his work after his sexual advances were spurned by actress Tippi Hedren. Whatever the reason, the trio of films that followed 1963's The Birds -- Marnie (1964), Torn Curtain (1966) and Topaz (1969) -- were critical and commercial flops.

Of the three, Topaz is the most derided, and understandably so. While even substandard Hitchcock is better than a lot of what passed for thrillers at the time, the movie can be a bit of a chore. It is long, muddling and often cumbersome. And yet, for all its clunky elements, Topaz carries the unmistakable imprint of Hitchcock.

Based on the best seller by Leon Uris, the tale of international intrigue unfolds in the weeks preceding the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The hero, Andre Devereaux (Frederick Stafford), is a French intelligence agent who is stationed in Washington, D.C., and cozier with American intelligence operatives than his supervisors would like. At the urging of CIA agent and friend Mike Nordstram (John Forsythe), Andre sets out to learn more about Russian missiles that are being strategically positioned around Cuba.

Andre's mission takes him to Harlem's Hotel Theresa, where he conspires to view top-secret files in the possession of Cuban revolutionary Rico Parra (John Vernon, sporting a Castro beard). After one of Andre's associates (Roscoe Lee Browne) successfully snaps photos of the documents, Andre travels to Cuba for a firsthand look. There, he hooks up with Juanita de Cordoba (Karen Dor), an underground resistance leader who also happens to be Andre's extramarital squeeze as well as Rico's occasional concubine. Girlfriend gets around.

Complications arise for Andre. He learns that an unnamed French intelligence officer known only as "Topaz" is funneling NATO secrets back to Moscow. While giving the Americans vital information on Cuban missiles, Andre must also contend with a leak within his own ranks.

Hitchcock accepted the movie project but soon discovered it beset with challenges, not the least of them being that Leon Uris' dense screenplay proved too unwieldy for the big screen. The director brought in a longtime collaborator, screenwriter Samuel Taylor, to rework the script. Results were mixed. Topaz remains lumbering and slow-paced. Despite what should have been a tantalizing slew of globetrotting locations -- New York, Paris, Copenhagen, Cuba, etc. -- the film is saddled with too many ideas for its own good.

Stafford is another problem. He gives a competent but bloodless performance in a film that desperately needed actors with some charisma (Evidently Hitch originally wanted Sean Connery to play Devereaux). Only John Vernon seems to have fun with his part.

Although hamstrung with a difficult script, lackluster cast and some dicey production values -- the movie's rear-screen projection is risibly awful -- Hitchcock still managed to sink his choppers into a few tasty set pieces. The opening sequence, in which a defecting Russian intelligence officer and his family are trailed by KGB agents in Copenhagen, boasts the director's typically artful skills.

But Hitchcock is at the top of his game once Topaz settles in Cuba for a spell. In one of the most startling images in Hitchcock's canon, a woman collapses on a white tiled floor after being shot. Her violet dress billows out from under like a swelling pool of blood. The shot is pure genius. If only the rest of Topaz had been so inspired.

The DVD

The Video:

Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the DVD boasts decent picture quality. A few scenes have very mild grain, slight edge enhancement and the occasional scratch or two. None of the defects are particularly distracting, and colors are generally bright and vivid.

The Audio:

The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track is adequate, if unremarkable. The sound mix is often flat, and Maurice Jarre's lush musical score can sound a trifle tinny. Subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French.

Extras:

Topaz's ending proved particularly nettlesome for Hitchcock -- so much so that he actually shot three alternative endings, all of which are included here. "The Duel" (3:43) was the movie's original conclusion, but test audiences ripped it so mercilessly that Hitchcock was forced to shoot "The Suicide" (56 seconds) before eventually settling for the decidedly tepid "Airport" conclusion that wraps up the feature.

The Laurent Bouzereau-directed featurette is Topaz: An Appreciation by Film Critic/Historian Leonard Maltin, and it's exactly as advertised. The high-profile movie scholar doesn't praise Topaz as classic Hitchcock, although he does point out that, as he puts it, "second-tier Hitchcock is almost better than first tier by anyone else." Clocking in at 29 minutes, the piece is engaging. It is especially interesting to learn just how brutal Topaz's test audiences were; the deluge of negative reactions sent Hitchcock and Universal studio honchos scurrying for a quick fix.

Storyboards: The Mendozas is a panel-by-panel presentation of how Hitchcock storyboarded a pivotal suspense scene involving spies in the Cuban underground. Revealing the director's meticulousness, the storyboards are actually more interesting than what ultimately appeared on screen.

Rounding out the extras are production photographs, production notes and a theatrical trailer.

Final Thoughts:

Topaz is hardly essential Hitchcock, but students of film will have a great time dissecting the director's more inventive touches. This print transfer is an improvement over the previous DVD incarnation, but I can't say it is necessarily worth purchasing the upgrade.

Popular Reviews
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
2. The Adventures of Hajji Baba
3. Andrei Rublev: Criterion Collection
4. Creepshow
5. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies
6. Superman: The Movie
7. The Big Lebowski 20th Anniversary Gift Set
8. The Princess Bride
9. Windtalkers: Two-Disc Ultimate Edition
10. Community - The Complete Series - Blu-ray


Sponsored Links
DVD Blowouts
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
Alien [Blu-ray]
Buy: $19.99 $9.99
8.
9.
10.
Sponsored Links
Release List Reviews Shop Newsletter Forum DVD Giveaways Blu-Ray Advertise
Copyright 2018 MH Sub I, LLC dba Internet Brands. All Rights Reserved. Legal Info, Privacy Policy, Terms of Use