Hitchcock’s stature and expertise, built up over the decades, makes his failures more interesting than some other directors’ facile successes. Topaz was a failure both critically and commercially; it has a dull central performance and a meandering narrative, based on the ephemeral best-seller – another Cold War spy story – by Leon Uris. No fewer than three different endings were shot. Yet it has some wonderful moments.
For the finest of Hitchcock critics, Robin Wood, Topaz was “one of the most uneven films in the history of the cinema”, the high points being a poignant death scene, and many absorbing passages based on point of view, appropriate to the spy theme. In his own cameo appearance, rising from a wheelchair, Hitchcock seems to assure us that he is by no means past it – as Frenzy would soon confirm.
This film is screening as part of The Genius of Hitchcock: Part Three (February 2nd – 27th), which is part of a complete retrospective of the filmmaker’s work running until March 2013.