The French Disconnection

Although dismissed by both critics and audiences, Topaz’s debut in 1969 gave the film contemporary legitimacy. Anxieties lingering after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Topaz drew a direct link to historical fact, as seen through the eyes of a French special agent. Now, it’s an interesting historical artifact and rare misfire in Hitchock’s career.

Hitchcock chose Frederick Stafford as his leading man, playing Andre Devereaux. That’s not who he wanted. Seeking a plausible James Bond-like thriller, he pursued Sean Connery, but that plan failed. Instead, he went with Stafford, who looks as close to former Hitchcock leading man Carey Grant as possible without being Carey Grant.

The issue with Topaz is a lack of any personality

There’s a behind-the-scenes struggle that led to Topaz too, beginning with novel author Leon Uris who failed to connect with Hitchcock’s personality, and the script then went through phases, sometimes on the day of each shoot. It feels as such, as trying to connect the numerous moving parts tells an intriguing spy story, but one haphazardly told in cinematic form.

Topaz lacks the Hitchcock signatures, and that’s fine – directors should explore the medium as they see fit. The issue with Topaz is a lack of any personality, existing as cold, distant document to time. Attempts to use color as mise en scene fail until repeat viewings make it obvious, then reducing the plot to a series of cues. Devereaux’s only unique characteristic is his dedication to the job, and a brief romantic affair that lacks nuance.

Depending on which country Topaz was screened, it either ended in a shootout, unnerving anti-climax, or mixture of both. As it stands in America, it’s the anti-climax, with a solution that’s unsatisfying, if taken as win is taken as-is. So it was with Topaz.

It’s fun to watch today as the various dated spy tricks appear quaint in modern context, the inability to deliver a simple message potentially sabotaging the mission. Topaz sets up suspense in this way (such as Devereaux’s hurried departure from Cuba) then fails to capitalize on the exposition. The aim is greater drama among the bit players in this story, which while visually striking (including one of Hitchcock’s most beautiful on-screen murders), fails to lock in an audience. Those characters are just a means to an end, and feel thrown away. Without a notable leading man, Topaz just withers aside from those with a vested interest in Kennedy era spy programs.

Video

A hefty grain structure features throughout Topaz, which can lead to some small chroma noise, notable mostly in backgrounds. Overall, the true 4K scan makes a definite impression, razor sharp and brilliantly defined. Texture swells, with spectacular close-ups and fetching location exteriors. The sharpness is impeccable and impressive, even this deep into UHD’s life. Note a scene around 35-minutes appears to come from a different generation print, but this passes quickly. In Cuba, a hazy filter adds an aesthetic touch, limiting fidelity by design.

Quite prominent, HDR adds a heavy contrast to the film, emboldening the visuals greatly. It’s borderline too much, but no less attractive, and when combined with the pure, dense black levels, produce a sensationally deep image.

At times dazzling with color, Topaz can glow at the best times. Natural flesh tones serve as a strong baseline, but primaries pop where possible. Sunsets, clothing, flags, and more all excel, the vividness often striking. This disc gives Topaz new visual life.

Audio

Opening with a bold military march, Topaz brings with it a DTS-HD mono mix with excellent overall clarity. Highs resolve wonderfully, and bring a slight bump in the low-end. Released in 1969, Topaz reveals age in its audio via the faded and coarse dialog, lacking precision and some clarity, but entirely due to time, not the mastering. The restoration is beautiful, considering.

Extras

Alternate endings, an appreciation penned by Leonard Maltin, storyboards, production stills, and a trailer make up the bonuses.

Topaz
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
3

Movie

A convoluted and even experimental mess, Topaz is among Hitchcock’s least accessible works for a wide audience.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 46 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD:


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