Topaz (1969 film)

Last updated
Topaz movieposter.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced byAlfred Hitchcock
Screenplay by Samuel A. Taylor
Based on Topaz
1967 novel
by Leon Uris
Music by Maurice Jarre
Cinematography Jack Hildyard
Edited by William H. Ziegler
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • December 19, 1969 (1969-12-19)(US)
Running time
127 minutes
(theatrical cut)
143 minutes
(Extended DVD cut)
CountryUnited States
Budget$6 million [1]
Box office$6 million [2]
Theatrical trailer.

Topaz is a 1969 American espionage thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Based on the 1967 Cold War novel Topaz by Leon Uris, the film is about a French intelligence agent who becomes entangled in the Cold War politics of before the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and then the breakup of an international Soviet spy ring in France. The story is loosely based on the 1962 Sapphire Affair, [3] which involved the head of France's SDECE in the United States, the spy Philippe Thyraud de Vosjoli, a friend of Uris, [3] who played an important role in "helping the U.S. discover the presence of Russian offensive missiles in Cuba." [3]


The film stars Frederick Stafford, Dany Robin, John Vernon, Karin Dor, Claude Jade, Michel Subor, Michel Piccoli, Philippe Noiret, and John Forsythe.


In Copenhagen in 1962, a high-ranking Soviet intelligence officer, Boris Kusenov (Per-Axel Arosenius), defects to the West. During debriefing, CIA agent Mike Nordstrom (John Forsythe) learns that Soviet missiles with nuclear warheads will be placed in Cuba.

Needing physical evidence, Nordstrom discloses Kusenov's name to French agent André Devereaux (Frederick Stafford) and asks him to bribe Luis Uribe (Donald Randolph), a member of Cuba's UN delegation, to provide photographs of documents that confirm the missile bases in Cuba. Devereaux decides to accompany his daughter, Michèle (Claude Jade), on her honeymoon to New York City with his son-in-law, François Picard (Michel Subor).

In New York City, a French-Martinican agent, Philippe Dubois (Roscoe Lee Browne), is to contact Uribe, who is the secretary to Cuban official Rico Parra (John Vernon), who is staying at the Hotel Theresa in Harlem to show solidarity with the black community.

Dubois sneaks into the hotel and bribes Uribe to take the documents from Parra's office to photograph. Parra catches Dubois photographing the documents. Chased and shot at by Cuban revolutionaries, Dubois purposefully knocks into Devereaux, who is watching events from the other side of the street, and slips him the camera. A red-headed Cuban guard helps Devereaux to get up but lets him go. Dubois escapes into the crowd around the hotel.

Dubois's photos confirm that the Soviets are placing missiles in Cuba. Devereaux, despite his wife's accusations of infidelity, flies to Cuba. His mistress, Juanita de Cordoba (Karin Dor), was the widow of a "hero of the Revolution," which enables her to work undercover in the resistance. Upon his arrival, Devereaux finds Parra, another of her lovers, leaving Juanita's mansion. Devereaux asks Juanita to take photographs of the missiles. Juanita's loyal domestic staff, Carlotta and Pablo Mendoza, pose as picnickers and photograph the missiles. Pursued, the two hide the incriminating film before they are captured.

During a mass rally and a lengthy speech by the líder máximo, the red-headed Cuban guard recognises Devereaux's face from the New York City incident.

Parra has heard from the tortured Carlotta Mendoza that Juanita is their leader. He embraces her and shoots her dead to save her from extreme torture.

At the Havana airport, the Cuban authorities fail to find the microfilms that Deveraux has. He returns to find that his wife has left him. Devereaux is to be recalled to Paris. Kusenov tells him about the existence of a Soviet spy organisation, "Topaz," within the French intelligence service. He is given the name of NATO official Henri Jarré (Philippe Noiret), who leaked documents to the KGB.

In Paris, he is picked up at the airport by his daughter and his son-in-law. Michèle brings to a cocktail Jacques Granville (Michel Piccoli), an old friend of André. Michèle hopes that her parents will get along, but Nicole cannot forgive André's affair with Juanita. André and Michèle stay alone, and Jacques complains the agent Martin (John van Dreelen) that Nicole married Andre.

Devereaux researches the leak and invites some of his old friends and colleagues, including Jarré, to a lunch at a fine Paris restaurant under the pretext of helping Devereaux prepare for his inquiry. Devereaux tells the others about Topaz to provoke some reaction. Jarré claims that it is misinformation and that Kusenov died a year ago.

Jarré starts to panic and visits the leader of the spy ring, Jacques Granville. Devereaux, Nicole, and Granville were close friends from their days together during the French Resistance. Granville tells Jarré that it was a mistake to say Kusenov was dead since the Americans will easily discover that Jarré lied. As Jarré leaves Granville's house, Devereaux's wife arrives to meet Granville, her lover.

Devereaux sends his son-in-law, François, to interview Jarré. Devereaux and Michèle rush to Jarré's flat and find Jarré dead, which is a staged suicide, and François has disappeared. After being clubbed and kidnapped, François managed to escape from his captors' car with an overheard phone number.

Nicole tells her family with tearful eyes that since the phone number is Granville's, he must be the leader of Topaz. Granville, exposed, commits suicide (in the American and the French versions) or flees to the Soviet Union (in the British version).




Alfred Hitchcock first hired Leon Uris to adapt his own novel for the screen. Reportedly, they differed on aspects of character development, with Hitchcock claiming that Uris had not humanised the villains of the story. Uris also did not appreciate Hitchcock's insistence on adding black humour. After a portion of the draft had been written, Uris left the film. Hitchcock attempted to hire Arthur Laurents to complete the work on the screenplay, but he refused, leaving an unfinished draft while the shooting schedule was rapidly approaching. Ultimately, Samuel A. Taylor, cowriter of Vertigo , was hired, but the film began without a completed screenplay. Some scenes were filmed only hours after they had been written. [4]

Hitchcock changed the script shortly before the beginning of filming, and the distributor, Universal, forced an ending that was different from the one that was preferred by Hitchcock. [5] For Topaz, Hitchcock engaged the 19-year-old French actress Claude Jade from Truffaut's Stolen Kisses . She and Dany Robin, who was cast as her mother, would provide the glamour in the story. "Jade is a rather quiet young lady," Hitchcock later said, "but I wouldn't guarantee [that] about her behaviour in a taxi."


Like his previous films Rope and The Trouble with Harry , Hitchcock intended the film to be an experiment for whether colours, predominantly red, yellow and white, could be used to reveal and to influence the plot. He later admitted that it did not work out. [4]

Portions of Topaz were filmed on location in Copenhagen; Wiesbaden, West Germany; Virginia, Paris, New York City, and Washington, DC. [6] The remainder of the film was shot at Universal Studios Hollywood and in and around Los Angeles.[ citation needed ]

Prior to Hitchcock's decision to hire Maurice Jarre to compose the score, other composers who were interested in offering their services included Michel Legrand, Richard Rodney Bennett, and Ravi Shankar. [7]

Hitchcock cameo

Hitchcock's signature cameo appearance occurs around 28 minutes into the film. At the airport, he is seated in a wheelchair as he is being pushed by a nurse. She stops, and he nonchalantly stands and greets a man and proceeds to walk off screen with him.

Alternate versions and endings

The original cut of the film ended with a duel between André and Jacques in a French football stadium. It was shot by associate producer Herbert Coleman when Hitchcock had to return to the United States for a family emergency. Audiences panned the ending during test screenings. They also said the film was far too long.

Under pressure from the studio, Hitchcock shot a second ending that he actually liked better, with Jacques escaping on an Aeroflot flight to the Soviet Union as André and Nicole board their adjacent Pan American flight back to the United States. However, the ending apparently confused audiences. Also, screenwriter Samuel Taylor objected to the villain escaping unpunished, and there were fears that the ending would offend the French government. [8]

As a compromise, Hitchcock used existing footage to create a third ending in which Granville is exposed and expelled from a NATO meeting. Over a shot of the exterior of his apartment, the sound of a gunshot tells that he commits suicide behind his drawn curtains since no footage of his suicide existed. [9]

The film was released with this third ending and was also edited down by nearly 20 minutes to a final length of 127 minutes. The "airport ending" briefly appeared on British prints of the film by mistake, but those prints were soon altered to match the version that was released elsewhere. [10]

The 143-minute cut of the film was released for the first time by Universal on DVD in 1999; it used the second ending in which Jacques escapes. All three endings appear as extras on the DVD, together with an "Appreciation" by Leonard Maltin in which Maltin discusses the deleted scenes and the alternate endings.

The longer version of the film has been released numerous times on DVD and Blu-ray in the US and in many other markets. However some markets, like Germany, Japan and Scandinavia, continue to have the shorter theatrical cut on DVD and Blu-ray. [11]


Claude Jade, Michel Subor, and Dany Robin in Topaz Topaz wounded Subor Jade Robin.jpg
Claude Jade, Michel Subor, and Dany Robin in Topaz

The film was not particularly well-received or successful at the box-office.

Some critics, however, liked Topaz. The New York Times critic Vincent Canby put the film on his year-end list of the ten best films of 1969 and declared it a "huge success, a quirky, episodic espionage tale made rich and suspenseful, not through conventional Hitchcockian narrative drive, but through odd, perverse Hitchcockian detail, economy of cinematic gesture, and an over-all point of view that can never for a moment be mistaken as belonging to anyone but Hitchcock." [12] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times also liked the film and wrote that although there was a "loss of momentum" at the climax because of the time taken to resolve the complex plot, the first three quarters of the film were "bravura displays of the fabled Hitchcock technique, replete with dazzling camera movements and acute imagery." Thomas singled out the Harlem sequence as among "the best that Hitchcock has ever done." [13]

Other reviews were mixed to negative and usually faulted the film for lacking excitement. Variety wrote that it "tends to move more solidly and less infectiously than many of the maestro of menace's best remembered pix. Yet Hitchcock has brought in a full quota of twists and tingling moments. It is just that the picture seems to move predictably and lacks the fun and surprise blood curdling moments that can lift his thrillers with breathtaking excitement." [14] The Monthly Film Bulletin in Britain wrote that the film had "intermittent pleasures (the silent conversation behind hotel doors seen from across the street, the long pull back across the conference room and the reverse track forward ending with a zoom on to Piccoli's face), yet we are constantly deprived of the action set pieces which would have given the narrative its much needed boost. It is known that Hitchcock had trouble with the climax (and juggled three different endings); but the one finally chosen for the commercial print here looks as if it could have been devised by anyone." [15] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote, "The film as a whole dies from a lack of humor and animation.... The awful truth is that Hitchcock would probably be better off if he retired. The most one can say for his direction of 'Topaz' is that it's polished: The compositions are symmetrical and the photography is glossy. But if this is all it is, the film might as well be the work of a disinterested computer." [16] Pauline Kael of The New Yorker called it "the same damned spy picture he's been making since the thirties, and it's getting longer, slower, and duller." [17]

Some American critics complained that there was no Hollywood star in the movie such as Ingrid Bergman or Cary Grant although the cast included the renowned international film stars (Claude Jade, Michel Piccoli, and Philippe Noiret), the last of whom had previous successes that had been primarily in France. Some attribute Hitchcock's casting choices to his negative experience of working with Paul Newman on Torn Curtain , but Hitchcock is said to have approached Sean Connery, who had worked with him in Marnie , for André and Catherine Deneuve for his wife. Some critics[ weasel words ] have inferred that Hitchcock was hoping to groom the relatively-unknown Frederick Stafford as a star of his own making, like Tippi Hedren; however, Stafford remained unknown in Hollywood though he had a lengthy career in European films.

In 1969, Hitchcock won the Best Director Award for Topaz from the National Board of Review.

The movie earned $3,839,363 in North American rentals in 1970. [18] Topaz had its American network television premiere on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies on January 29, 1972. Topaz currently holds a 69% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 32 reviews. [19]

See also

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  12. Canby, Vincent (December 28, 1969). "The Ten Best of 1969". The New York Times : D1, D13.
  13. Thomas, Kevin (December 19, 1969). "'Topaz': A Spy Adventure by Hitchcock". Los Angeles Times . Section IV, p. 1, 15.
  14. "Topaz". Variety : 21. November 12, 1969.
  15. "Topaz". The Monthly Film Bulletin . 36 (341): 261. December 1969.
  16. Arnold, Gary (December 28, 1969). "A Suspense Thriller With Neither Suspense Nor Thrills". The Washington Post : G1.
  17. Kael, Pauline (December 27, 1969). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker : 49.
  18. "Big Rental Films of 1970", Variety , 6 January 1971 p 11.
  19. "Topaz" . Retrieved 7 January 2021.