The first time I saw Alfred Hitchcock's Topaz, I had much more interest in film and film history than in Cuban history.
I was in the middle of writing a final paper on Hitchcock for a class when the film was shown in a local “repertoire” theatre. Topaz was the only post-1936 film by the master that I’d not seen, and it reconfirmed the thesis of my paper, that Hitchcock had made his best work in the 10-year period that began in 1951.
This was not my favorite Hitchcock film, and I had trouble caring about the main character, a French agent who goes to Cuba on a mission for the Americans. Hitchcock had all his masterpieces behind him when he made Topaz in 1969. His two previous films, Torn Curtain (1966) and Marnie (1964), were commercial bombs.
Last night I saw Topaz again for the first time since that first viewing decades ago, and I enjoyed it much more than the first time, although it’s still a minor film in Hitchcock’s filmography.
The film hurts from a lack of stars: no Cary Grant, no James Stewart, no James Mason. But it displays some of the Hitchcock style and visual panache, such as when the beautiful Cuban woman is murdered by the nasty bearded communist.
The story moves through Russia, Copenhagen, Washington, New York, Cuba and Paris. The scenes in Cuba portray stereotypes with the subtle gusto and brutality that we’ve come to expect from movie “bad guys.” There are no imitation-landmarks, as in Havana (with Robert Redford and Lena Olin) and Cuba (with Sean Connery and Brooke Adams), as most of the outdoor scenes are in the countryside. But just like in those two other movies, the beautiful Cuban woman falls for the brave Anglo male. The Cuban men are again portrayed as antagonistic and selfish. (It must be ok to starve these guys in order to change their government.)
Perhaps what I enjoyed the most about this film is precisely what makes it typically out-of-genre; no explosions or long action/chase scenes, and a thicker-than-usual plot. Still, if you’re not a fan of Alfred Hitchcock, and/or a fan of cold war movies, I’m not sure this will work for you.
From this portrayal of the revolution, it’s not difficult to see where Hitchcock’s politics may have been. Peace.