Topaz has a lot to work with. Based on the real-life Martel affair, in which a Soviet defection triggered a crisis in American-French relations, it has a good spy story, believable characters and exotic locations.
Alfred Hitchcock does a competent job weaving it all together, but the end result somehow lacks momentum.
The story sounds exciting on paper. A high KGB official defects to the United States and reveals the presence of nuclear missiles on Cuba. The CIA recruit a French secret agent, André Devereaux (Frederick Stafford), to get proof from a member of the Cuban delegation — who would not cooperate with an American — that is visiting New York for the United Nations.
The subsequent scene, filmed in Harlem, is expertly done, if a little hard to believe. The Cuban official can be persuaded to risk his life for a man he has only just met with an envelop of cash? If spying were that easy!
Devereaux next flies to Cuba, where he works with a leader of the resistance, Juanita de Cordoba (Karin Dor) — who is also his lover — to get photographs of the missiles.
Having completed his mission, Devereaux is recalled to Paris for an inquiry. Before he leaves, the Soviet defector tells him that a Soviet spy ring called “Topaz” is active in the French secret service. Devereaux learns the name of one traitor and must now find their leader.
Over two hours long, Topaz is long and slow. It’s hard to point out any specific scenes that could have been cut. It’s rather that the whole plot unfolds slowly.
There are some clichés that haven’t aged well. All the minority characters end up dead or injured while the white hero Devereaux get off scot-free. His wife, Nicole (Dany Robin), is constantly on the verge of tears.
Hitchcock shot two endings. Neither is satisfactory. The whole movie feels like it could have been done better.