Miles Kendig knows too much. One of the CIA?s top international operatives, he suddenly finds himself relegated to a desk job in an agency power play. Unwilling to go quietly, Kendig, with the aid of a chic Viennese widow,... more » puts himself back in the game by writing a memoir exposing the innermost secrets of every major intelligence agency in the world. The CIA wants Kendig dead, but he refuses to cooperate?he?s having too much fun. Based on Brian Garfield?s best-selling novel, and starring the inimitable comic team of Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson, Ronald Neame?s Hopscotch is a smart and stylish tale of international intrigue and a cat-and-mouse comedy.« less
Lewis P. (Turfseer) from NEW YORK, NY Reviewed on 8/12/2010...
Tale of Matthau's rogue CIA agent is a rather dull and boring affair
*** This review contains spoilers ***
You'll probably love 'Hopscotch' if you love Walter Matthau. It's really a one man show with the supporting cast playing second fiddle all the way to the late, great thespian. The film dates back to 1980 during the height of the Cold War. Matthau plays Miles Kendig, a veteran CIA agent who takes down a Soviet spy ring but declines to eliminate the leader of the operation, his KGB nemesis, Yaskov. Kendig has been friends with Yaskov for years and when his new boss at CIA headquarters, Myerson (played by an unpleasant Ned Beatty who continually employs the "F" word throughout the movie), is angered by Kendig's refusal to eliminate Yaskov, he transfers the veteran operative to the file room.
Kendig then destroys his own file and takes off without telling anyone at the CIA where he is off to. He then meets with Yaskov who offers him a job as a double agent but Kendig regretfully declines. Yaskov then asks Kendig what he'll do with the rest of his life and when Kendig replies that he's uncertain, Yaskov suggests that he write his memoirs. This is the impetus for the second act of 'Hopscotch' in which Kendig decides to take his revenge on his former employer by sending the first chapter of his memoirs to various spy agencies around the world including the CIA. The memoirs chronicle a long history of CIA 'dirty tricks' in which Myerson had a big hand. Myerson is bent on eliminating Kendig in order to prevent the big expose.
The rest of Hopscotch involves a cat and mouse game where Myerson, along with the operative who replaced Kendig, Cutter (ably played by a young Sam Waterson), attempt to discover Kendig's whereabouts before he finishes his manuscript and has it published. Kendig ends up globe trotting including a trip to Myerson's house in Georgia where he places firecrackers inside the living room and then phones the CIA from Myerson's home phone. The FBI joins the CIA and they end up shooting up the house as the firecrackers go off. Kendig escapes by taking one of Myerson's bumbling operatives hostage, driving off in a small truck (since this is supposed to be a comedy, no one ever tries to jump Kendig while he brandishes a gun, knowing full well that he would never shoot anyone!).
Nothing much else happens until the climax when Kendig rigs an old bi-plane to fly via remote control. As Myerson chases the bi-plane in a helicopter, Kendig pushes a button and the plane explodes, leading the CIA to believe that Kendig is no more (it's not clear how Kendig makes it look like he never got into the plane). With the CIA no longer chasing him, Kendig's memoirs becomes a best-seller and he walks off into the sunset with his old flame, Isobel, played by the now retired Glenda Jackson.
We first meet Isobel at the beginning of the film where Kendig rekindles his old relationship with her in Austria. Unfortunately, the chemistry between the two actors fizzles, since they are never seen face to face until the end of the movie (they communicate constantly via telephone). The same goes for all the other principals (including Beatty and Waterston) who have virtually no screen time face to face with Matthau (there's a rather flat scene where Kendig ties Cutter up in a hotel room).
If you're looking for many twists and turns, you will not find it here in 'Hopscotch'. The whole thing is a rather pedestrian affair, adapted from a popular novel whose screenplay did not translate very well into the intended visual tour de force. Hopscotch is also supposed to be witty and amusing but is undercut by the one-note, nasty image of the CIA, represented by the aforementioned unpleasant Myerson, bent on taking down a rogue agent at any cost. The CIA's attempt to eliminate Kendig (instead of capturing him), ruins the otherwise whimsical tone of the film's narrative. On the other hand, Waterson's 'Cutter' and Herbert Lom's 'Yaskov' are too warm-hearted to have much effect on the proceedings, as the story simply plods along.
My late father, a big classical music aficionado, was a big fan of this movie and with a plethora of all that Mozart constituting the film's soundtrack, I can understand why. Despite the endearing musical score, Hopscotch's plot is a big dud as its protagonist's machinations do not prove to be very clever. If you're willing to give Hopscotch a 'pass' based on your love for Walter Matthau (as Roger Ebert did in his 1980 review), then you might deceive yourself into believing this is a well-written movie. It's not and in reality it's a rather dull and boring affair!
He's about to expose the CIA, the FBI, the KGB...and himself
cookieman108 | Inside the jar... | 07/15/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Off the top of your head, how many funny spy films can you think of? The James Colburn `Flint' films of the 60's? The Austin Powers movies perhaps? Or that incredibly lame Leslie Nielsen film...Spy Hard (1996)? Over-the-top silliness seems to be a common theme in these films, but Hopscotch (1980), based on a book written by Brian Garfield, also a comedy involving spies, manages to rise above, avoiding the slapsticky and crude humor, rather providing a charming and intelligent story that entertains throughout. Directed by Ronald Neame (Prudence and the Pill, The Poseidon Adventure, The Odessa File), the film stars a wonderful and accomplished cast of actors including Walter Matthau, Glenda Jackson, Sam Waterston, Herbert Lom, and Ned Beatty.Matthau plays Miles Kendig, one of the CIA's top field agents who suddenly finds himself relegated to a desk job after control of the department he works for is taken over by a petty, vindictive, and less than capable man named Myerson (Beatty) who seems to harbor a personal grudge against Kendig. Unable to deal with riding his career out behind a desk, Kendig leaves the agency, and, after much thought, decides to write his memoirs, detailing all kinds of juicy, sensitive stuff about not only his own agency, but also intelligence agencies throughout the world. After being in the biz for thirty years, he certainly has the inside scoop on all kinds of things, causing his former boss to put out the order for his termination, elimination, liquidation, extermination, what have you...with the aid of a wealthy widow and love interest named Isobel who was also once in the game, played by Jackson, Kendig begins leading his former colleagues on a chase that spans halfway around the globe, always managing to stay one or two steps ahead. Will he be able to finish his book before his old agency or that of a foreign power catches up to him? Even if he does, will he live to see his work published?Hopscotch is a wonderfully witty, light comedy with a dash of sophistication that nearly everyone can enjoy. Matthau plays his role so perfectly that after seeing the film, you could imagine no one else in the part. He's certainly got that whole irascible charm thing down, and it fits with the character very well here. I loved how his character never seemed to lose his calm composure, constantly outwitting and outsmarting his former co-workers in leisure like fashion, given that he probably wrote the book and trained half the men now chasing him. The element of Kendig using the notion of a book for revenge at first, but then once removed from the work he participated in for so long and seeing just how nasty it is from an outside perspective decides to follow through with his initial threat of finishing the book and getting it published. Jackson plays so very well off Matthau, and they create a level of chemistry that's pretty rare, in my opinion, between on screen couples. They just seem to fit so naturally together, creating a level of believability to counteract the somewhat unrealistic element that the CIA are a mostly a bunch of bumbling buffoons. Did anyone else think her hair was a bit too short, giving her the appearance of a young boy? Maybe it was just me... I really enjoyed a young looking Waterston (Law and Order) as Cutter, Kendig's competent and intelligent protégé now responsible for finding and eliminating his former mentor. I read that he'd actually come into shooting late due to the film he was working on prior, Heaven's Gate (1980) ran past its' shooting schedule, and is the reason why Waterston looks so very tired in some of the scenes in Hopscotch. Herbert Lom is also very good as a Soviet agent named Yaskov, one "who's seen Casablanca one too many times", although I felt he deserved a bit more screen time. Ned (Squeal like a pig for me, boy) Beatty is a riot as Myerson, constantly exasperated by his group's futile attempts to put a lid on the loose cannon he himself let loose due to his own petty dislikes for Kendig. Imagine someone you work with that no one likes, and then that person finally getting a little bit of power, lording over certain individuals, power tripping here and there, but mostly tripping over his own feet, and you basically have Myerson. The direction by Neame was most excellent, keeping the viewer (me) engaged throughout, with a smooth, steady pace as the story unfolded, which is a bit light in some parts, but did nothing to reduce my enjoyment of this charming, funny film.Criterion provides a superior high-definition digital transfer here in wide screen format and a cleaned up soundtrack. The quality of the picture is really fabulous, especially when compared to my old VHS copy. As far as special features are concerned, there's not as much as I would have thought from a Criterion release, but what's here is very worthy. There's liner notes on the insert inside the DVD case by Bruce Eder, a video introduction by writer Brian Garfield and director Roland Neame along with interviews, a separate audio track, a clean version created for television broadcast along with the original version (there's very little profanity in the film, but what this is comes from Ned Beatty's character Myerson) and an original theatrical trailer along with a teaser trailer for the film. If you're looking for a smartly funny engaging comedy that only gets better after repeated viewings, then Hopscotch is for you.Cookieman108"
Smart, Stylish Comedy
Dumb Ox | Manassas, VA United States | 11/04/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"We saw this movie back in the early 1980's and loved it, but by the time we tried to get a copy, it had gone out of print. Many thanks to Criterion for releasing it on DVD! This film is superb, well-written and directed, with a cast of very gifted performers. The actors play their roles to the hilt and have a terrific chemistry onscreen.The plot is basic revenge, perpetrated on the CIA by one of its top operatives. Walter Matthau plays the amiable Kendig, a man who's served in the field for decades and is an excellent agent. He's smart yet still down-to-earth; his reputation among the underworld of spydom is the stuff of legends. Kendig is respected even by his enemies for his savvy decisions and sense of fair play, and his reluctance to resort to dirty tricks. His new boss, Meyerson (Ned Beatty) resents his underling's popularity and decides to neutralize Kendig's effectiveness by yanking him from the field and assigning him to a desk job as a file clerk.To say that Kendig despises his new boss would be a gross understatement. A switched file is shredded and Kendig vanishes, fleeing to Austria and his lover Isobel (Glenda Jackson). From there, he nurses his wounds and launches on his vengeance against Meyerson and the CIA by writing a book that reveals the agency's dirty tricks and botched missions. Meyerson is livid and assigns Joe Cutter (Sam Waterston) to put a stop to Kendig by any means necessary, especially assassination. Cutter admires Kendig and is torn by his personal feelings for the man and his desire to serve his country.The story then twists and turns as Kendig leads his former employers on a huge wild goose chase. He calls them from a phone booth right near the CIA headquarters, hides out in Meyerson's southern house---which is later demolished by the feds themselves---, and feeds chapters of the book to Meyerson to whip him into a frenzy of ineffectual rage. He plans on getting the entire book to a publisher, and his means for doing so and ensuring his own protection from future assassination attempts are ingenious.We are very happy that this movie was released to the public once again. Matthau is superb as a real man working in an unreal world of espionage. Herbert Lom is great for the role of his KGB counterpart, and Glenda Jackson is both tart and elegant as the enigmatic Isobel, who frankly adores Kendig. Ned Beatty plays the part of the oafish Meyerson to perfection, making the viewer hate him thoroughly. Waterston is in excellent form as the good-hearted and conflicted Cutter, and shows hints of his mildly acerbic wit that would come to fruition in his later role of McCoy. The supporting players are fine, too, and the plot is well-crafted and believable.The DVD is nicely done. There aren't many extras, but it's beautifully produced and does have a nice feature: an alternate soundtrack that deletes the foul language, so even kids can watch it with their parents. We are pleased with our investment, and highly recommend "Hopscotch" to anyone who enjoys a well-done and stylish comedy. It's also perfect for fans of Walter Matthau!"
A funny look at revenge
Lyle D. Strong | Costa Mesa, CA United States | 10/31/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I hope the studio releases Hopscotch on video or DVD soon. It's one of Walter Matthau's best films, and the rest of the cast (Glenda Jackson, Ned Beatty, Sam Waterston) are all in top form in this story of an ex-CIA agent getting revenge on his boss. This 1980 comedy would be a welcome addition to anyone's collection of spy, Walter Matthau, or comedy video/DVD's. The way Matthau's character uses an old World War One bi-plane to elude his ex-boss (played by Beatty) harkens back to his performance in Charley Varrick (1973)."
Superb, implausible, but real!
Victor A. Vyssotsky | Orleans, MA USA | 02/15/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Hopscotch" is one of my favorite movies. Based on a novel by Brian Garfield (who also worked on the screenplay), it's a perfect vehicle for Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson; I consider it to be Matthau's best performance.Although the plot is totally implausible, it carries the viewer along. I think this is largely because the real world of "intelligence" is sometimes equally implausible; everyone who has had even an indirect connection with the intelligence community can relate true stories just as wacky as the episodes in this movie. Almost all of the movie is pure invention, but Garfield must have known something about the CIA; in particular, one of the characters is an extremely unflattering takeoff on Richard Bissell, including a reference to one of Bissell's worst ideas.Unfortunately, a copy of this video is hard to find for sale. But many video rental stores have a copy for rent. I wish the copyright holders would allow it to be re-released on video; perhaps some day they will. Meanwhile, if you can locate a copy, buy it; if not, rent it!"
A Cold War Comedy Classic
Thomas Snyder | Vallejo, CA USA | 02/10/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is an "era movie", complete with the necessary visual cliches (spy taking spy pictures from between the legs of a statue, our spies meeting their spies on bridges to exchange things) and verbal cliches ("there are Russian missiles 90 miles off the coast of Florida!", "on a need to know basis").Matthau and Glenda Jackson work a special chemistry as old CIA operatives shacking up ("do you like antiques?"), conspiring to reveal Agency secrets ("the cigar bomb sent to Castro", etc.)And the bonus is lovely Salzburg scenery, spiced with lots of Mozart.Please, PLEASE re-release this video, on DVD!"