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Alfred Hitchcock
John Forsythe, Frederick Stafford, Dany Robin
Writing Credits:
Samuel A. Taylor

A French Intelligence Agent becomes embroiled in the Cold War politics first with uncovering the events leading up to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and then back to France to break up an international Russian spy ring.

Rated PG.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA Mono
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 142 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 9/3/13

• “An Appreciation” Documentary
• Alternate Endings
• Storyboards
• Production Photographs
• Trailer


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-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwoofer


Topaz [Blu-Ray] (1969)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 14, 2020)

As Alfred Hitchcock’s career pushed toward its end, the results became less and less pretty. 1964’s Marnie seemed only sporadically interesting, while 1966’s Torn Curtain felt terribly dull. That left me with a feeling of trepidation as I went into 1969’s Topaz.

Set in 1962, a prologue reveals to us that a Soviet intelligence official (Per-Axel Arosenius) defects to the US while on a family vacation in Denmark. American CIA agent Michael Nordstrom (John Forsythe) facilitates this escape and brings them to Washington. The French find out about this as well, and they assign agent Andre Devereaux (Frederick Stafford) to find out where the Soviet family currently resides.

Through discussions with the defector, the Americans learn of a trade pact between the Soviets and Cuba that seems intended to land weapons on the island. Nordstrom needs to investigate further and he entreats Devereaux to act as an intermediary since the various Cuban contacts don’t care for Americans. We follow Devereaux’s exploits and how they tie into a mysterious operation known as “Topaz”.

If nothing else, Topaz stands out in one way: at 142 minutes, it’s Hitchcock’s longest film. After the disappointments I found with the last few flicks, I fretted that this trivia factoid might be the only notable thing about Topaz, but to my relief, it turns out to be a perfectly serviceable little spy thriller.

“Perfectly serviceable” sounds like faint praise for a filmmaker of Hitchcock’s renown, but I probably sell it short with that description. In no way does it compare to the better works made by the legendary director, so I certainly can’t praise it too highly. However, it manages to create a fairly taut and intriguing tale, factors that give it a serious step up over its two immediate predecessors.

That said, Topaz tends to feel somewhat anonymous, as Hitchcock gives us a good thriller but not one that ever impresses us to a great degree. We enjoy moderate involvement in the tale and want to see where it goes, but that doesn’t seem good enough to me based on Hitchcock’s track record.

I recognize that the director was in a tough position by 1969, as any filmmaker with so many great works behind him would find it difficult to live up to his legend. If a flick doesn’t dazzle, it thus disappoints.

And when compared to classics of earlier decades, Topaz does disappoint. That doesn’t make it a bad film, however, as I think it succeeds in a global sense. Even with its extended running time, we stay involved with it, and it creates decent entertainment.

Again, that still doesn’t seem quite sufficient for something from Hitchcock, and the absence of any real style or flair is what makes it come across as somewhat generic. I’m glad Topaz doesn’t feel like self-parody, at least, as Torn Curtain veered dangerously close to that.

Topaz just doesn’t pack much originality or creativity. I feel like any competent director could’ve made it and it didn’t require someone with the talent of Hitchcock. I like the film but can’t manage much enthusiasm about it.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture C/ Audio B-/ Bonus B-

Topaz appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. A mix of ups and downs, this became an erratic transfer.

For the most part, sharpness seemed good. Some mild softness occasionally interfered, but not with regularity.

No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects materialized, but I noticed moderate edge haloes throughout the flick, and these caused obvious distractions. Even with the haloes, the movie remained fairly well-defined, but the presence of the haloes caused looseness at times.

Through the movie, I noticed examples of small specks. These didn’t become dominant, but they appeared too frequently. Occasional examples of “frozen grain” also created a weird honeycomb effect at times.

Colors turned into a highlight. Even though the film seemed a bit on the brown side – especially related to some skin tones – the movie still manifested some peppy hues, with lively blues, reds and purples.

Blacks appeared pretty deep and dense, while low-light shots presented nice smoothness and clarity. Due to the edge haloes and print flaws, this turned into a “C” image, but at least it came with some positives.

I felt more pleased with the DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack of Topaz, as it held up fairly well. Speech could seem a bit stiff, but the lines always remained intelligible and they showed acceptable warmth.

Music leaned toward high-end but still showed pretty positive reproduction and range, while effects appeared dated but reasonably accurate. No background noise or hiss marred the track. While not a memorable mix, Topax seemed fine for its era.

How does the Blu-ray compare to the prior 2005 DVD? Audio felt more dynamic and natural, while visuals were cleaner, tighter and offered more vivid colors. Even with its flaws, the Blu-ray became the more satisfying rendition of the film.

The Blu-ray replicates most of the extras from the DVD. Instead of the usual “making of” documentary, this one features Topaz: An Appreciation By Film Historian and Critic Leonard Maltin.

It runs 29 minutes, 23 seconds. Maltin looks at Hitchcock’s status as a filmmaker in the 1960s as well as aspects of Topaz and a view of its place in the director’s canon.

It’s unusual for a Hitchcock documentary to stick with only one commentator, but Maltin more than holds up his part of the bargain. He gives us an insightful and dynamic look at the film that throws out a lot of information in its relatively short running time.

It’s too bad Maltin didn’t record a full commentary for the flick, as he proves quite interesting in his recap of Topaz. Add to that cool glimpses of audience rating cards and other archival materials and this becomes a fine program.

Three Alternate Endings appear next. These include “The Duel” (4:05), “The Airport” (1:22) and “The Suicide” (0:78). Apparently “The Duel” was the finale originally intended for the flick until preview audiences hooted it down.

“The Airport” is the same conclusion found on this discs version of the flick, but apparently “The Suicide” is the one that appeared during the film’s original theatrical rendition. None of them are great, to be honest, so I can’t pick one that I prefer.

Next we find Storyboards for “The Mendozas”. This area uses still frames to show the storyboards as well as the relevant shots from the movie.

I like the inclusion of the drawings, but I’d have preferred a split-screen running comparison to this still presentation. In addition, these come with the same scans for the DVD, so they’re fuzzy and far too small in the TV frame.

Some standard features complete the set. Hitchcock often made fun ads for his flicks, but the trailer for Topaz seems ordinary.

In the Production Photographs area, we find 37 stills that cover publicity shots, ads and behind the scenes images. They’re moderately interesting but not great – and as with the storyboards, they suffer from DVD quality.

As Alfred Hitchcock’s career wound to an end, he managed a moderately interesting spy thriller via Topaz. Though the movie seems fairly generic for one of Hitch’s works, at least it creates a reasonably enjoyable tale. The Blu-ray offers erratic picture and era-appropriate sound along with a pretty good collection of supplements. Topaz is lackluster Hitchcock, but that’s enough to make it worth a look.

To rate this film visit the DVD review of TOPAZ

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