Hopscotch (1980) a (very) belated review

Edward Snowden.  Glen Greenwald.  Julian Assange.  Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning.  Wikileaks.  The NSA…

The names and institutions have been all over the news of late and, unless you’re getting reaaaaally tired of reading and/or seeing stories about leaking of highly confidential government material and are in the mood for a comedy featuring the same concept and some top notch acting talent, you could do far worse than settle in and give Hopscotch a try.

Based on a far more serious thriller written by Brain Garfield (also the author of Death Wish), the theatrical version of Hopscotch deals with Miles Kendrig (Walter Matthau) an older CIA agent whose boss, the crotchety Myerson (Ned Beatty), decides is over the hill and should spend the remainder of his career before retiring working behind a desk.  Lined up to immediately replace him is Cutter (Sam Waterston), Kendrig’s understudy.

Instead of doing as he’s told, Kendrig pulls his personnel file, destroys it, and heads off to Europe and meets up with an old flame, Isobel (Glenda Jackson).  He’s not sure what he’s going to do next and, upon meeting his friendly rival from the other side, Russian agent Yaskov (Herbert Lom), Kendrig comes upon the idea of writing a memoir of his experiences in the spy agency…warts and all.

Once finished with the first chapter of his manuscript, Kendrig sends it out to all the major intelligence agencies of the world with a promise of sending each subsequent chapter to them as it is completed.  Naturally, the revelations within that chapter -and what is to follow- pushes Myerson over the edge and what follows is a manhunt to find -and eliminate- Kendrig before the whole book is completed and all the “dirty tricks” of the agency are exposed.

Though the film implies more than one spy agency (and therefore government) is out to get Kendrig, the focus of the film is on the games played between our renegade agent and the CIA.  Matthau is rock solid in the title role and Ned Beatty is wonderfully vulgar as his ex-boss and nemesis.  I have to give the film a lot of credit in the decision to portray Sam Waterston’s Cutter as a protege that is sympathetic to his elder spymaster.  The character could easily have been presented as a typical “young gun out to get the older gun” but is instead the only person on the side chasing Kendrig down to actually understand what he’s up to and wish he come to no harm.  It is also his character that delivers what is perhaps the film’s biggest laugh at the movie’s climax (It is also his character’s final line).  Glenda Jackson, as Kendrig’s love interest, is a delight, but be warned her appearances alongside Walter Matthau aren’t quite as many as one would have hoped.  In fact, her character’s role is relatively minor when all is said and done.

Hopscotch does show its age and unfolds at a pace that many younger viewers may find too dull.  Having said that, I personally found the film a delight to watch and, if I have any complaint at all, it is that the film could have actually been expanded (again, showing the “other sides” going after Kendrig).  Recommended.

I’ve presented the trailer below but, a warning: Most of the film’s funnier bits are given away here.  Just goes to show how trailers, even trailers to thirty three year old movies, had a tendency sometimes of giving away a little too much.