October 30, 2012 is when Universal is releasing the 'Alfred Hitchcock: Masterpiece Collection' containing fifteen of the director's seminal works. In an effort to bring you the most in-depth coverage on this set we are going through each included movie to give you the most thorough review we can. Feel free to visit the 'Alfred Hitchcock: Masterpiece Collection' hub page. There you will find links to the other movies in this set and everything you'd want to know about the set's technical specifics and its packaging.
'Topaz' feels like Hitchcock's answer to James Bond. The entire movie, from its globe-hopping escapades to its varied clandestine activities, feels like an old-school Bond flick. There isn't a character as notable as Bond in the movie, but the entire thing has that aura of Cold War espionage.
There's a lot going on in 'Topaz.' Along the lines with the Bond parallels, 'Topaz' also feels like a spy thriller that John Le Carre would pen. It's convoluted, filled with shadowy double agents double-crossing their friends and countrymen for their own personal gain. It's also a topical film, taking in context the threat of the Soviet Union, revolution in Cuba, and the looming Cuban Missile Crisis.
Michael Nordstrom (John Forsythe) is a U.S. intelligence agent who has just taken a high-ranking Soviet official into custody. The official is willing to defect to the United States as long as they can protect him from people that will want him dead. Nordstrom is determined to get as much information from the defector as possible, which reveals a top-secret group of rogue agents in France operating under the code name Topaz.
Nordstrom contacts his friend, Andre Devereaux (Frederick Stafford), a French intelligence agent. The movie feels like it is split into two halves. One half is dedicated to Nordstrom, while the other half is focused on Deveraux's mission in Cuba, trying to uncover more of the mystery surrounding Topaz.
There are a number of things about 'Topaz' that make it feel very much like a lesser Hitchcock film. The leading ladies don't have much leading lady stature. There are a couple women, Nicole Devereaux (Dany Robin) and Juanita de Cordoba (Karin Dor), but they don't figure in as main characters. They're side characters who form a complicated love triangle around Andre. While they influence the plot, they don't factor into the screenplay as major players. They're sexy and tough, yet they appear to be put on the backburner.
'Topaz,' clocking in at almost two and a half hours, is dreadfully overlong. There are moments of spine-tingling suspense, such as the sequence in New York where Andre and a colleague try to recover classified documents from high-ranking Cuban leaders at a hotel. However, with such a long running time, even Hitchcock finds it hard to maintain constant tautness in the movie's pacing. There are quite a few lags here and there as 'Topaz' figures to be the longest movie in the entire set.
The movie feels more by-the-numbers than many of Hitchcock's previous films. It's a decent tale of espionage and spying, but it feels very similar to the defector story that we saw in 'Torn Curtain.'
What's worse is that during some of the movie's more intense scenes, composer Maurice Jarre has provided a light-hearted score that, at times, seems oddly out of place. So often in Hitchcock's movies he teamed up with Bernard Hermann. The two thought alike and created scores that added much-needed emotion to certain scenes. Jarre's score during the scene where Andre races to find out if his brother-in-law is okay features music that would be better suited for a quirky episode of 'Agatha Christie's Poirot.' Here the score feels like it extricates any suspense that the movie had built up for that scene.
I hate to say it, but most of 'Topaz' feels like Hitchcock on cruise control. It is Hitchcock, however, which means that it'll still end up besting many other thrillers that are out there.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Check the main hub page for the complete detail of the packaging of this set. Everything about it can be found there. For fun we've posted a picture of the section in the set created for 'Topaz' so you can see what it looks like.
I was quite impressed with the quality of 'Topaz' both in clarity and color resolution. There are numerous times where the 1080p transfer resembles the near-perfect transfer of 'The Trouble with Harry.' Detail is sharp, textures are spot on, and grain structure is intact and consistent.
This is a very well-rendered transfer. One of the only transfers in the set that have enough clarity that you'll be able to make out not only age lines but also pores and small individual hairs. Edges have a noticeable sharpness that has lacked in other transfers like 'Marnie' and 'Torn Curtain.' Here colors don't bleed. Edges are distinct and resolute.
There are a few discrepancies that must be noted. There's a minor bluish fade in the middle of the frame during the beginning of the film when the Russian official and his family are trying to elude capture. It's only momentary and then it's gone. The stock footage at the beginning of the Russian armies marching through the city is obviously culled from a completely different source. Pock marks and specks are ever-present during the opening of the film. Color fluctuation is also apparent when considering the stock footage. Long-range cityscape shots, along with the last third of the film in particular, also harbor their fair share of source noise. These flecks and specks aren't seen much at all in the rest of the film though.
Colors are wonderfully bold. Primaries are vibrant while earth tones really shine. Skin tones are always natural looking. Shadows are near perfect in their resolution. Nighttime scenes are full of inky blacks that offer perfection when it comes to picturesque depth.
'Topaz' may not be the greatest film in the set, but its transfer is really well done. From clarity to colors this is a great looking Blu-ray.
'Topaz' is another DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono track which provides another solid audio presentation. Dialogue and the movie's score sound perfectly clear here.
Dialogue is always depicted with precise clarity. Never does hissing or any other technical anomaly crop up. The dialogue is prioritized well with Jarre's score. At times Jarre's score provides the right mix of doom and gloom. Other times his score feels wildly out of place creating up-beat emotions for scenes that are anything but up-beat.
Sound effects are well rounded and are produced with some weighty resolution. Gunshots never sound hollow or phony. They have a nice low-end boom to them. No they aren't the same kind of gunshots you'll hear in a war movie, but with the way this mix is put together they come across as effective as possible. Fidelity and dynamics are produced with care. It's a nice-sounding track and adds to the long list of strong lossless mixes included in this set.
'Topaz' feels much too long. Its convoluted plot is fun to try and untangle though. However, there are many times where 'Topaz' doesn't feel much like a Hitchcock film. There are no big name stars and no Hitchcockian ladies to keep our attention. 'Topaz' is probably my least favorite movie in the set because it feels far too by-the-numbers for such a great director.