The most important part of any film is the end; That's where the filmmaker gets to reveal why they set out to tell that particular story in the first place. The very best endings, like those in Casablanca or The Godfather comment so sharply on the characters and their lives that they give the viewer a strong sense of closure. An ending like Night of the Living Dead can recontextualize everything that came before and suggest that the film was actually far deeper than it originally seemed. Even an ending like American Psycho that leaves the viewer with more questions than answers can be an unsettling, and yet still satisfying, experience.
The flip-side, of course, is the bad ending. A bad ending can easily kill a good movie, proving that it indeed was about LESS than it appeared. The ending of Boogie Nights, for example, was a direct rip off of Raging Bull, revealing that it was nothing more than a shallow exercise in image thievery.
Alfred Hitchcock always played fast and loose with the rules of ending his films (Just see North By Northwest for a strange and brave finale). By the time he reached the Sixties (his fifth decade of filmmaking), however, he was no longer quite on top of his game, and the ending of Topaz (1969), based on Leon Uris' best-seller, shows a filmmaker running out of ideas. Although the film itself, a complex and subtle journey through the international politics of the Cold War, is quite rewarding, the ending is so weak and lacking in any sort of excitement that it derails the film.That is a real shame given the dense web Hitchcock weaves up until that point: Spies and traitors make up the cast in a story that travels to Russia, Copenhagen, Washington, New York, Cuba, and Paris. A mission to photograph some secret Cuban-Russian documents in a Harlem hotel finds Hitchcock staging some of his most audacious scenes. He uses silence on a crowded street, forcing the viewer to figure out what is going on based on visuals alone (shades of Rear Window, but still thrillingly original). Another memorable scene comes in Cuba when Castro's right hand man discovers the leader of the underground movement, who also happens to be his lover. Hitchcock cuts to a gorgeous overhead shot at just the right moment and creates one of the most memorable images of his career.
And yet it all leads up to that damn ending. A film that covers a lot of interesting territory ends up being about absolutely nothing. You get the sense that the ending is severely compromised (and a look at the supplements proves that). Topaz is certainly worth a look, especially for Hitchcock fans, and it contains some absolutely classic moments, but the bewildering ending, which David Letterman might describe as "a long, long walk to find out the store's closed," marks this film as a lesser effort from a master director.
A trailer is included, as are still screens containing bios, production notes, storyboards, and production photos.
Jamaica Inn / Rich and Strange
The Trouble with Harry
Alfred Hitchcock Presents Vol. 2
Alfred Hitchcock Presents Vol. 3
Alfred Hitchcock Presents Vol. 4
Gil Jawetz is a graphic designer, video director, and t-shirt designer. He lives in Brooklyn.E-mail Gil at [email protected]