Director : Ronald Neame
Screenplay : Brian Garfield and Bryan Forbes (based on the novel by Brian Garfield)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1980
Stars : Walter Matthau (Kendig), Glenda Jackson (Isobel von Schonenberg), Sam Waterston (Cutter), Ned Beatty (Myerson), Herbert Lom (Yaskov), David Matthau (Ross), George Baker (Westlake)
Hopscotch, as its playful name implies, is a light, breezy riff on spy movie conventions. Based on Brian Garfield's 1975 novel, it gestated for several years and went through a number of different hands before being directed by Ronald Neame, whose lengthy career stretched back to work as a cinematographer in the 1930s. Neame had handled both offbeat comedy (he directed Alec Guiness in The Horse's Mouth) and action-adventure (his best known being the prototypical '70s disaster flick The Poisedon Adventure), so he seemed a perfect match for the material, which told a perfectly plausible espionage yarn with a consistent wink-wink.
The movie stars the great hound-dog actor Walter Matthau as Kendig, a veteran agent of the CIA who, after being stuck at a desk job by the new bureaucrat in charge, a weasly little troll named Myerson (Ned Beatty), decides to strike back by going off on his own and writing his memoirs. Of course, being a multi-decade veteran of the CIA (particularly during the Nixon years, which would have certainly been on everyone's mind in 1980), Kendig has a lot of dirt to dish, not only about his own agency and the FBI, but about the Soviet KGB, as well.
The story is structured around a long, slow chase as Myerson and another CIA agent, Cutter (Sam Waterston), who has a great deal of respect for Kendig and what he is doing, track the renegade agent across the world (the movie's impressive list of locations include Salzburg, London, Bermuda, and Versailles). Kendig, of course, always remains a step ahead of his pursuers, stopping along the way to mail out each new chapter of his memoir just to remind his pursuers of the damage he can do. Kendig is aided in his endeavors by Isobel von Schonenberg (Glenda Jackson), a Viennese widow and ex-agent herself who retired years ago. She and Kendig were romantically involved in ages past, and it doesn't take much for the sparks to fly between them again although, like most of the movie, the romance is low-key and relaxed.
In fact, if Hopscotch has a weakness, it is that it is too relaxed. Granted, that is part of its charm and what sets it apart from other spy movies, including spy comedies and satires. But, at the same time, Kendig's flight from his previous employers is so deliberate and slow-paced that at times it begins to resemble one turtle running from another. Part of the movie's basic joke is how inept bureaucrats like Myerson are at dealing with professionals like Kendig, who is so in charge of everything around him that it never even seems like a match. At one point, Kendig rents out Myer's mother-in-law's vacation home in Savannah, Georgia, to hide out in, and then allows himself to be conveniently found so that the police will come along and shoot it up.
While the larger narrative in Hopscotch is often less-than-enthralling (it's a suspense movie with very little suspense), it does offer many small pleasures along the way. The relationship between Kendig and Isobel is genuinely touching, mainly because Matthau and Jackson (an unlikely screen pairing if ever there were one) project warmth and affection for each other, rather than standard-issue movie passion. Matthau maintains his expected slightly oafish demeanor throughout, and amazingly enough it doesn't detract from the idea that his character is, in effect, a superspy who is so confident in what he does that he hasn't felt the need to carry a gun for years. Casting him as a CIA agent may have looked ridiculous on paper (at one point, Warren Beatty was attached to the role), but within the slightly skewed comic universe in which Hopscotch takes place, it just about makes sense.
|Hopscotch Criterion Collection Director-Approved DVD|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection / Home Vision|
|Release Date||August 20, 2002|
| 2.35:1 (Anamorphic)|
The new anamorphic widescreen transfer on this disc was taken from a 35mm interpositive and digitally restored using the MTI Digital Restoration System. The result is a clean, nicely detailed image (you can see virtually every crag in Matthau's wonderfully wrinkled visage) that remains slightly soft, giving it a enjoyably film-like look. Colors are generally good, if a tad faded over more than 20 years.
| English Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural |
The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack, mastered at 24-bit and also digitally restored, is clean and clear. In what is a first for Criterion, the disc also offers the option of the network television soundtrack, which removes all of the profanity for the equivalent of G-rated family-friendly viewing.
| Video introduction: Interviews with director Ronald Neame and screenwriter Brian Garfield|
Running just over 21 minutes, this featurette includes new video interviews with director Ronald Neame and novelist/screenwriter Brian Garfield, who talk nostalgically about how the movie came together after numerous false starts. Garfield emphasizes how he was intent on being involved in the making of the film (he mentions that some of his previous novel-to-film experiences hadn't been pleasant, and we can feel fairly certain he's talking about the adaptation of his novel Death Wish into the 1974 Charles Bronson vehicle). Neame has a good time talking about his experiences working with Matthau and how, because he was a Jew, he almost refused to shoot any of the scenes at the beginning of the movie that take place in Germany. Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1).
Original theatrical trailer and teaser
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick