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The Moviegoer Topaz at the Harvard Square through tomorrow

By Mike Prokosch

YOU'RE sitting in the Harvard Square watching the newest Hitchcock and this dreadful Cold War rhetoric begins falling on you from the screen. Fine, you think, I'm on top of it: Hitchcock is senile so the spirit of Leon Uris is shining through. But all manner of neat details begin to make themselves felt. The movie gets to the defector's new house in Alexandria and suddenly all the CIA men are obnoxious boors, the Russian has thrice their intelligence and cock has departed from the heavy-handed moralism of the script to work ironically against it.

Relying more than ever on his instincts, Hitchocock takes what he wants from Topaz's script and undercuts the rest. What he wants seems to be situations; the rest, sentiments expressed in the dialogue. Topaz has more existential variety and less emotional intensity than any of his previous films. New people and places follow each other, evoking scant reaction from the hero and his closest associates. The film has at least four beginnings and endings, but its characters do not change in the slightest. Hitchcock does not even motivate their actions.

From a director who always built his films about the moral progress of their heroes, this comes as a surprise. So does Hitchcock's indirect use of the script, spreading it to the point of incoherence instead of building its climaxes for all they are worth. Bchind this anti-melodrama lies an anti-hero. Andre Deveraux maintains with almost catatonic consistency his impassivity toward tortures and murders for which he is responsible.

Though this makes him Hitchcock's most amoral hero, Devereaux is not overtly evil. In his first scene he seems likeable and intelligent, in his fourth rather passive but still pleasant enough, and by the end irrelevant to the serious events the film shows. It is, however, this irrelevance that puts him beyond hope of improvement. Nothing affects him; he seems attached to nobody. The disjointed, loosely shot times and places through which the film wanders represent his mode of experiencing.

In this Washington bureaucrat Hitchcock has created, at whatever cost to the tightness of his film, the figure we know is blindly implementing policies of worldwide domination. To condemn this professional for his complicity requires of an audience the same sort of moral overview, which recognizes the effect of governmental policies on other people, that the man lacks. So far few reviewers and audiences have shown their ability to connect Devereux's schizophrenie shallowness to the political murders he indirectly commits. Whatever powers Hitchcock at seventy may have lost, his view of America's moral illness remains correct.

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