Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film: HOPSCOTCH (1980) starring Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson

I don't know how I missed this little gem the first time around, but I'm so glad I finally saw it this past week. I love Walter Matthau (even with his hairy ears), most especially when he plays the smartest person in the room with that sly twinkle in his eye.

HOPSCOTCH (1980) is a film directed by Ronald Neame, written by Brian Garfield (based on his book) and Bryan Forbes and starring not only Walter Matthau but the wonderful (not to mention, brilliant) Glenda Jackson and co-starring Sam Waterston, Ned Beatty and Herbert Lom. (Not bad - huh?) I am slowly beginning to think that the 80's spawned some pretty terrific movies. Even if the fashions were awful - though not as godawful as the 70's which were the bottom of an abyss as far as fashions go. But I digress.

Herbert Lom and Walter Matthau fellow spies, pragmatic and wise to the games governments play.

Think of HOPSCOTCH as a geriatric Jason Bourne spy thriller without the memory loss, the physical beauty and super-human prowess, the shooting and killing and strangling, the electronic gadgetry and the lightning quick editing. So, what's left?

Ned Beatty trying to look tall.

Oh, just Walter Matthau as CIA agent Miles Kendig and that's more than enough.

The Plot: 

Upon his return to Washington from his most recent spy sojourn overseas, Kendig is demoted to a filing desk job by Myerson (Ned Beatty), his spiteful/hateful/incompetent boss who is also, as Kendig never tires of reminding him - short.

Sam Waterston, not as schmoey as he would appear in this scene.

Not only that but Kendig's assistant, Cutter (Sam Waterston), will now head the Overseas Section.

The boss doesn't like that Kendig allowed the head of the KGB (Yaskov, an old friend - Herbert Lom) to get away after Yaskov failed in his mission to steal a certain microfilm. Kendig explains that if he'd captured Yaskov, the KGB would only assign someone else. Someone new. Someone whom he might not know as well as he knows the current chief. "I know how he thinks," says Kendig. But Myerson is immune to intelligent subtlety.

Kendig will spend the rest of his tenure as a filing clerk.

So the first thing he does is nonchalantly stroll down to records and shred his entire personnel file. Then, rather than report to his new desk job, Kendig goes off to Salzburg to spend a little quality time with a widow lady.

Matthau and Glenda Jackson who can do nothing wrong in my book.

Kendig then decides, in a stroke of genius, to write his memoirs and reveal all the dirty secrets Washington (and Myerson, not to mention, the Russians and everyone else in authority) wants kept hidden.

In this endeavor, Kendig unites with Isobel (Glenda Jackson in a fetching short haircut) - a widow who lives in Salzburg and is used to Kendig's hijinks - she is ex-agency as well. She will help him in his plans to screw the CIA and live to tell about it though, admittedly, she thinks he's crazy.

A writer's work is never done.

It is obvious from the getgo that Kendig IS the smartest person in the room (and the best secret agent) at any given moment and knows it. After years of towing the official line (though in his own admittedly eccentric way), he is ready to pull off the biggest caper of his spying career. It's all revenge fantasy, but Kendig is just the guy to carry it off. You never doubt him even when things don't go completely as planned.

Once he begins writing the book he starts sending each finished chapter to Myerson in Washington and to the Russians and several other significant persons of interest.

Myerson wants Kendig stopped or (preferably) taken out but Cutter (Sam Waterston) appears unconcerned. He realizes that Kendig is playing a game and that eventually he'll call it off. Cutter likes and admires Kendig, but still, at the end of the day he has a job to do.

The chase is on from Washington to Salzburg to London to Washington again, to Savannah, Georgia (in one of the funniest sequences in the movie) to Bermuda, to England again with Kendig always one step ahead of his former cohorts.

Oh what a wonderful cat and mouse game. The screenplay is not only funny but intelligent and witty with nary any of the regular spy movie cliches we've come to expect. The soundtrack is mostly Mozart with some Puccini and Giacomo Rossini thrown in for good measure.

One of my favorite scenes: Kendig crossing the border into Germany while singing (?) along (at the top of his lungs) to an aria from The Barber of Seville. The crossing guard is left shaking his head (crazy Americans) and no wonder.

If you love spy movies but not necessarily the lethal blood and guts that usually accompany them (believe me you won't miss it) and you love a great story with an intelligent cast of actors doing what they do best, line up HOPSCOTCH on your Netflix queue because it's currently available for streaming. Hooray!

The interesting thing is that none of what Kendig gets away with would likely be possible today because of all the electronic tracking paraphernalia we are so accustomed to. But that's neither here not there, the movie takes place way back when and it works splendidly.

Oh, meant to mention that there's also a Doberman Pinscher featured prominently in some scenes. A dog after my own heart.

It's Tuesday and of course, it's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film day - the weekly meme hosted by Todd Mason at his blog Sweet Freedom. So don't forget to check in and see what other movies other bloggers are reminding us of today.


  1. They were perfect together. Miss them both.

  2. I saw this in the theater when I was 12, and have never forgotten it. So good.

  3. Saw this one when it came out and have loved it ever since - I'm a sucker for such agreeable fare, with a clever plot logically and entertainingly worked - great choice Yvette. As a kid I remember being really impressed by the trick involving the plug and the paper clip - today it should probably come with a health warning!

  4. Yvette, I was delighted to hear you were covering HOPSCOTCH on today's "Tuesday's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film" today! It was one of my favorites from the very first time I saw it as a pre-teen in its original theatrical release when I saw it with my mom, who'd already made me a fan of both Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson separately with the original film version of HOUSE CALLS. I loved them even more in HOPSCOTCH! Don't you just love it when you see actual grownups being smart, witty, sexy and playful, without getting stark-naked or beaten to a pulp? (Not that there isn't a time and place for such things if the story truly needs it, of course! :-))

    While I like a good pulse-pounding thriller as much as anyone, I've always felt a big part of HOPSCOTCH's charm is its nimble, witty mind games. And what a supporting cast, with Team Bartilucci faves like Herbert Lom, Sam Waterston, and height-deficient foil Ned Beatty! Wonderful post, my friend; thanks for the memories! (Sorry to blather on, but you brought back so many happy memories!)

    P.S.: HOPSCOTCH is so good, I can even overlook the 1980s fashions! :-) Like my old friend Anna says, you can't fault people for NOT being ahead of their time - even when it comes to fashion! :-)

  5. Me too, Patti. Have you ever seen Glenda Jackson in her definitive role as Elizabeth I?

    Still ranks in my mind as one of the best performances I've ever seen.

  6. Somehow I missed it first time around, Peter. But I've made up for lost time. :)

  7. Sergio, it appears that everyone has seen this movie except me. Where have I been?

    Oh well, at least I got a chance to see it now. Better late than never. :)

    What a fun movie.

  8. Dear Dorian, feel free to 'blather' away any time you choose. That's what the comments section is for, after all. At least in my view. :)

    Plus, you know I love to 'blather' away on your blog. Ha.

    'Nimble mind games' - yes. Exactly. Why couldn't I think of that?

    LOVED this movie and I'm glad it brought back pleasant memories for you, m'dear.

    Speaking of the supporting cast, even the minor parts were excellently filled. The guy who makes the plane do its tricks is the same guy who played Sid Halley in the Dick Francis series on Brit. TV.

  9. I saw this movie for the first time sometime in the last year or so. I liked it a lot too, and your post reminded me. I think it has been long enough since that watching that I have forgotten most of what happened... and I could re-watch it.

  10. Thanks for this reminder for me to rewatch this fun film with such good actors in it.

    Will put it on my To Be Seen list.

    I haven't seen it in years, and since my memory is flawed (aging gray matter), it'll be like a new movie.

  11. Great review of a delightful film! I watched HOPSCOTCH again last year and enjoyed it more than the first time I saw it (long ago). Matthau and Jackson were a great pair.

  12. Kendig: Are you some sort of wine salesperson. . .?

    Isobel: No, I am an ordinary person. . . .

    Oh kiss me, you old goat!



    That's Follett -- he's an idiot. Probably no film in the camera. . . .

    I've loved that movie from the day it was released in the US.

    And Matthau and Jackson are so plainly and joyously playing.

  13. Tracy, I'll be re-watching it too at some point. This film is a definite keeper. I might even add it to my own DVD collection. That's how much I enjoyed it.

  14. That's the good part of getting old, Kathy. Everything seems new. HA!

  15. I agree, Rick. They were obviously enjoying each other's company. I love when that happens in a movie. :)

    Matthau had one of the best movie faces ever. :)

  16. Mister M, the second line you quoted, especially, made me howl with laughter. I love when that happens. :)

  17. Yvette, Walter Matthau is one of my all-time favourite actors and it bugs me that I didn't even know about this film until now; at least I don't think I did. I like Ned Beatty too though he can be quite obnoxious at times. I'm not sure who Herbert Lom is though he might look familiar if I see his face. I'm definitely looking up this film.

  18. Prashant, it's a gem. You'll love it, I'm sure. Let us know if you find it. :)

  19. I just got Hopscotch on dvd from the library, and feel like a kid in a candy store.

    Since I barely remember it (it was released 33 years ago), it'll be a new film to me.

    However, I just love the Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson pairing.

  20. I just saw Hopscotch and loved it!

    I don't think I saw it years ago. It is such a hilarious cat-and-mouse game. And could anyone outdo Walter Matthau in this role, outsmarting the rather intellectually inferior CIA bureaucrats.

    Now is there anything out there I can watch now that's this good?

  21. I saw Hopscotch on the weekend, thanks to this great post.

    I loved it! I hadn't remembered how terrific this movie is.

    Walter Matthau is just superb, outwitting those CIA agents, and Glenda Jackson is just perfect in her role.

    I'm now checking the library's catalogue to see what other Matthau and Jackson films are available.

  22. You're most welcome, Kathy. I'm so glad you enjoyed the movie. I loved it too.

    I'm going to rewatch it in the near future. Such fun. :)

  23. I've put House Calls on library reserve and A Touch of Class, too. More Walter Matthau, more Glenda Jackson -- not the drama, but the fun.

    I may even resee The Odd Couple. What's not to like? I'll laugh.


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