At an Oktoberfest celebration in Munich, eyes and ears are everywhere. CIA agent Miles Kendig watches from above, casually whispering and snapping photographs. Once outside, he approaches one of the KGB operatives he and his team have been following. He gets what he wants and then boards a plane back to the States.
Back at headquarters, Kendig (Walter Matthau, Neil Simon adaptation CALIFORNIA SUITE) is in hot water with his boss, Myerson (Ned Beatty, Sidney Lumet’s NETWORK), who wanted the KGB leader (Herbert Lom, perhaps best recognized as Inspector Dreyfus in the PINK PANTHER series) captured, not teased. Facing desk duty over his preferred field work, Kendig bucks orders, shredding his files and heading to Austria, where he meets with past lover Isobel von Schonenberg (Glenda Jackson, 1975’s HEDDA).
In his time there, he begins penning his memoirs. Isobel anticipates some “amusing incidents,” to which Kendig bluntly replies, “And some not so amusing.” As he clicks to the music of Mozart, Isobel wails, suggesting Kendig will be murdered for what he’s written. It seems a fair prediction, as the text aims to shed light on much of the incompetence of his former employer. And so begins the chase, as Kendig hops across countries and continents, maintaining steps ahead of the CIA, whose deepest secrets are now making their way across their own set of borders.
As Kendig, Matthau delivers one of his finest performances. (He earned a seventh Golden Globe nomination, five years after winning for THE SUNSHINE BOYS.) He, like his cinematic counterpart, has complete command, and pulls in the viewer for each of his scenes. Kendig is a clever and determined one, sly and convincing for all the right seasons; and isn’t that like Matthau? The viewer gets the impression that he’s several steps ahead because he’s better at the game, not because the screenplay says so.
The tone here is just right. Director Ronald Neame (whose extensive career also found him doing camerawork for Alfred Hitchcock, producing for David Lean and earning Academy Award nominations for writing and special effects) maintains a light and playful mood, even as the stakes are raised and airplanes and dynamite get involved. Expectations are shunned, and there are moments that are wildly hilarious and some of the funniest comedic set pieces of the era, as when Kendig boobytraps Myerson’s home with firecrackers to mimic guns, luring CIA members to arm and shoot to kill–which they dutifully do, much to their boss’ fury.
Based on Brian Garfield’s 1975 novel (Garfield co-wrote the screenplay with Bryan Forbes), HOPSCOTCH is a lively, entertaining work, just as funny as it is thrilling. Whether viewed as a keen satire or political drama (it’s really both, at the very least), HOPSCOTCH is an immense treat, a wholly enjoyable ride that feels unstoppable as it treks by land, sea and air.
Video: 2.39:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director film scanner from a 35 mm internegative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI Film’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for jitty, flicker, small dirt, grain, and noise management.”
Although there is a clear level of grain in many sequences, purists and fans of HOPSCOTCH will be pleased in the presentation as a whole, which offers fine details, healthy colors and an overall nice image while maintaining the filmic quality.
Audio: English Mono. “The original monaural soundtrack was remastered from the 35 mm magnetic tracks. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX.”
Dialogue, music (predominantly classical) and atmospheric sounds are balanced and come through quite nicely.
Brian Garfield and Ronald Neame (22:00): This 2002 piece features interviews with screenwriter Garfield and director Neame.
Dick Cavett and Walter Matthau (21:44): This 1980 episode of THE DICK CAVETT SHOW features actor Matthau.
Also included with this Criterion Collection release is an essay by critic Glenn Kenny.