|Directed by||Ronald Neame|
|Produced by||Edie Landau|
Ely A. Landau
|Written by||Bryan Forbes|
|Story by||Brian Garfield|
|Music by||Ian Fraser|
Brian W. Roy
|Distributed by||AVCO Embassy Pictures|
Hopscotch is a 1980 American cold war comedy-drama film, produced by Edie Landau and Ely A. Landau, directed by Ronald Neame, that stars Walter Matthau, Glenda Jackson, Sam Waterston, Ned Beatty, and Herbert Lom. The screenplay was written by Bryan Forbes and Brian Garfield, based on Garfield's novel of the same name.
Former CIA field officer Miles Kendig is intent on publishing an explosive memoir that will also expose the dirty tricks of Myerson, his obnoxious, incompetent, and profane former boss. Myerson and Kendig's protégé Joe Cutter are repeatedly foiled in their attempts to capture the former agent and stop the publication of his memoir. He cleverly stays one step ahead of his pursuers as the chase hopscotches around America and western Europe.
At Munich's Oktoberfest, veteran CIA field agent Miles Kendig (Matthau) and his team foil a microfilm transfer. Upon Kendig's return to Washington, his boss, Myerson (Beatty), reassigns him to a desk job because Kendig did not arrest Yaskov, the head of the KGB in Europe. Kendig explains to Myerson that he knows how Yaskov thinks, and it would take time and resources to identify and learn about a new replacement. Kendig's good friend and protege, Joe Cutter (Waterston), is nevertheless assigned to take over his mentor's old job.
Instead of accepting this situation, Kendig takes action. He shreds his personnel file and flies to Salzburg, Austria, to visit former lover Isobel Von Schoenenberg (Jackson), whom he has not seen in a while. Yaskov, guessing what has happened, meets Kendig and invites him to defect to the KGB; when Kendig refuses, Yaskov asks sarcastically if Kendig will be retiring and writing his memoirs.
On the spot, Kendig decides to do exactly that: to write and publish a memoir exposing the dirty tricks and general incompetence of Myerson's CIA. Isobel is horrified, saying that Myerson will send agents to kill him. She nevertheless helps by mailing copies of Kendig's first chapter to spy chiefs in the U.S., Russia, China, France, Italy, and Great Britain. Myerson assigns Cutter to stop Kendig, and Yaskov, not wanting his own agency's follies exposed, also pursues his old adversary.
Kendig baits his pursuers by sending them explosive chapters and by periodically informing them of his location. Leaving Europe, he returns to the U.S., cheerfully renting Myerson's own unoccupied Georgia family home, where he writes more chapters. After purposely leaking his address, Kendig maneuvers the FBI (which has jurisdiction) into shooting up Myerson's home with both bullets and tear gas.
Kendig flies to Bermuda by chartered seaplane, then on to London to present his publisher with the final chapter. Yaskov informs Cutter that one of his agents has spotted Kendig in London by chance. Kendig purchases a vintage biplane--a Stampe version of the Tiger Moth--and hires an engineer to custom-modify it for a specific task. Myerson meets Kendig's publisher, who rebuffs his threatening bluster and then tells them where Kendig's hotel room is. At the vacated room, all the pursuers read copies of the final chapter he has left for them.
Kendig later ambushes Cutter in his hotel room, ties him up and gags him, and informs Cutter that he will be flying across the English Channel from a small airfield near Beachy Head. Meanwhile, Isobel gives her CIA minders the slip, and crosses the Channel by hovercraft to rendezvous early the next morning with Kendig. While everyone converges on the airfield, Kendig suffers a flat tire on his way and is taken by the local police to their station. When a policeman recognizes him from a posted fugitive bulletin, Kendig escapes by short-circuiting an electrical socket and stealing a police car.
He reaches the airfield, and the Americans and Yaskov arrive by helicopter soon after. Kendig's biplane takes off and is pursued by Myerson in the helicopter. He evades Myerson's gunfire for a while, but the plane is finally hit and suddenly explodes over the English Channel. Myerson assumes that Kendig is finally dead. Cutter, however, remarks wryly that he "better stay dead".
Kendig sneaks away from a deteriorating building on the edge of the airfield, using a barrel of rainwater to dispose of the remote control he had used to fly and destroy the biplane. He and Isobel set out for a few weeks in the south of France.
Months later, Kendig's explosive memoir (also titled Hopscotch) has become an international bestseller. Disguised as a Sikh and speaking with a British accent, Kendig buys a copy of his own book in a local bookstore, much to Isobel's complete exasperation with his disguises.
The film features many pieces by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Notable examples include the aria "Non Più Andrai" from the opera The Marriage of Figaro, the andante movement from Eine kleine Nachtmusik, the first movement of Mozart's Piano Sonata No.11, K331 (best known for the third movement, the Rondo alla turca), the Posthorn Serenade, K320 and a Rondo in D, K382. In the Hopscotch - Criterion Collection DVD special feature "Introduction by Neame & Garfield", director Neame stated that Matthau's agent made the suggestion that they put in some Mozart because this would greatly please Matthau. As they looked into this, they realized that it would enhance the movie if Kendig loved Mozart. Ian Fraser was the arranger and found many sections of Mozart that fit the movie, but they could not find anything to go with Kendig typing. They asked Matthau; he brought in some Mozart that went perfectly with it.
Hermann Prey's singing of "Non Più Andrai" highlights the antics of the old biplane as Myerson is shooting at it. The song tells how Cherubino ("little baby"), going into the army, will no longer be a dainty favorite, just as 5-foot-7 Myerson is going to lose his power at the CIA. Also, the song describes bullets flying and even bombs exploding.
There is also the aria "Largo al Factotum" from the opera The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini. Matthau sings this as he passes a border checkpoint. The words to the aria explain how everyone is looking for the barber, and he moves fast like lightning.
Kendig has the aria "Un Bel Dì Vedremo" ("One Beautiful Day") from Madame Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini playing loudly on the stereo as the FBI and CIA shoot up Myerson's wife's house. The operatic contrapunto adds a surreal air of ironic justice to the events as Madame Butterfly sings how she will hide from her husband.
The credits also list "Once a Night" written by Jackie English and Beverly Bremers. This is the blaring song playing at the bar "The Other End" where Matthau goes to arrange his flight from Georgia.
According to Neame in the special feature "Introduction by Neame & Garfield", the Jewish Matthau refused to film on location in Germany, as he had lost many relatives in the Holocaust. However, he wanted to have Neame cast his son David and later his stepdaughter Lucy Saroyan, so Matthau gave in. David Matthau played the CIA agent Kendig takes prisoner after leaving Myerson's house and Saroyan the pilot who takes Kendig to Bermuda.
According to Neame, he did not think they could get Glenda Jackson, but she and Matthau had previously worked together in the 1978 film House Calls, and she was delighted with the prospect of reteaming with him.
IFI and the Landaus raised money from cinema chains, which later caused problems with distribution for the film. IFI wanted Goldcrest Films to invest, as they had on The Howling and Escape from New York but David Puttnam persuaded the Goldcrest board otherwise. The film earned $20 million, including $9 million in rentals. Jack Eberts claimed IFI did not make money on the film.
There are a number of small but notable differences between the novel and the film. Most significant are the endings; in the novel, Kendig fakes his own death using a recovered body from a Paris street and includes all copies of his expose's manuscript, ensuring it will never actually be published. In the film his escape airplane explodes in mid-air just as it heads over the English Channel and no body is recovered, and his expose is successfully published to great success. Both works include a knowing nod by Cutter that Kendig is alive but will hopefully stay dead. The von Schoenenberg character provides a romantic interest/old flame for Kendig in the film, while in the novel, he has feelings for a hired pilot, which proves to him that he will find a new life outside of spycraft.
Critic Roger Ebert described the movie as "a shaggy-dog thriller that never really thrills us very much, but leaves a nice feeling when it's over." He felt that "the movie is good primarily because of the presence of Matthau", and most of the other actors, including Jackson, do not "have much to do".