Topaz

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
Topaz Movie Poster Image
'60s Hitchcock spy movie has constant peril, violence.
  • PG
  • 1969
  • 143 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Allegiance to one's country is important but so is allegiance to one's principles.

Positive Role Models & Representations

A French operative helps the Americans when he realizes that secrets he's been reporting to high French officials are getting back to Russian intelligence. This leads the French agent to find the mole in his government.

Violence

A man is seen dead on the roof of a car, presumably thrown there by assassins. A man betrays his country and spies for the Russians. A woman who has been tortured can barely speak. A woman is shot dead at close range, but the gun is off camera. Constant threat of nuclear war.

Sex

A married woman goes to a man's house and kisses him, saying she is a free woman. Presumably they are having an affair. A man is having an affair with a woman. She is in a negligee and he's shirtless. They kiss.

Language

"Hell."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Topaz is the fictionalized behind-the-scenes story about the espionage and diplomacy before and during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when the U.S. nearly bombed Cuba to destroy nuclear weapons that Communist Russia was placing there to threaten America. The potential violence of a nuclear war is at the heart of the action but, apart from a few gunshots and a dead man on the roof of a car, there's little to frighten kids here. "Hell" is as far as the language goes. Sexual innuendo is clear but adults are only seen kissing. Adults also smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol. Teen Hitchcock fans may be interested, but the movie isn't intended for kids.

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What's the story?

Based on Leon Uris' novel of the same name, TOPAZ is set in Cold War 1962 when, in real life, Soviets had placed nuclear weapons in Cuba, just 70 miles off the coast of Florida, and America threatened to bomb the Soviet installations, supposedly to prevent a larger war. As depicted here, the Cuban Missile Crisis doesn't escalate into nuclear war because of behind-the-scenes maneuverings and weapons information gleaned from a defecting top Soviet official. He also confirms that Soviet spies have infiltrated top levels of the French government. Washington-based French operative Andre Devereaux (Frederick Stafford) agrees to secretly photograph Cuban-Russian plans for Michael Nordstrom (John Forsythe), an American intelligence agent. Staples of the spy world are on display, including microfilm, cameras hidden in sandwiches, torture, smuggling, and high-pressure interrogations. Bad people get killed but the free world is saved from Soviet plotting, at least temporarily.

Is it any good?

This is a well-made, old-fashioned spy procedural that meticulously takes us through the processes of international espionage and diplomacy. Topaz wasn't a hit when it came out, probably owing partly to routine storytelling techniques, many of which director Alfred Hitchcock had himself pioneered. This is far from Hitchcock's best film, but it still shows his masterly handling of a complex story with his characteristic intelligence and clarity. A strict adherence to gentlemanly propriety also means there are no overt references to sex, although it's clear which men and women have been lovers, and language goes no further than "hell." Even the violence is mostly implied. People are seen after they've been thrown out the window or shot.

So although the movie is about keeping the world from the brink of nuclear annihilation courtesy of two rival superpowers, there's nothing really scary here. Young students of film may be interested in seeing how Hitchcock, a master of suspense, uses editing, camera angles, and music to effectively create cinematic tension.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what nuclear weapons are. Why are they more dangerous than other kinds of weapons? How could you learn more about the Cuban Missile Crisis?

  • Does Topaz do a good job explaining what kind of work spies do? How could you learn more about spies?

  • Can you name some ways in which movies look and sound different now than they did in 1969?

Movie details

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