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Posted by Cantankerous Panda on May 29, 2010

Before I start, just going to say RIP Dennis Hopper. All of you people should see Blue Velvet immediately to honor his memory (or Easy Rider, but I still haven’t seen that and it’s on my list).


A lesser-known Walter Matthau film! Walter Matthau is probably best known to you whippersnappers as one of the ‘Grumpy Old Men’, along with Jack Lemmon. That pairing was actually made famous in the film adaptation of the Neil Simon play “The Odd Couple”.  Both had extensive movie careers and were widely respected and adored by filmgoers everywhere. I just want to hug Walter Matthau when I see him onscreen. Oh, and he was quite a lot of fun in Charade (recommended).

Hopscotch is a comedy about a rogue CIA agent who essentially engages in a worldwide game of cat and mouse with his former employer and colleagues. Matthau stars as Miles Kendig, an extremely smart and seasoned CIA field agent whose new boss, Myerson (Ned Beatty of Deliverance), decides to punish his latest antics by relegating him to a desk job in the filing room. Kendig, a man of superior wit and whimsy, immediately goes to work on a scheme to deliver the biggest, most embarrassing, and costly “Screw you” to the CIA, and specifically Kendig himself. How does he go about doing this? By leading the CIA on a wild goose chase all over the world in an attempt to find him and stop him from writing a tell-all memoir about his experiences at the CIA– a memoir he is sending out, chapter by chapter, to all major national intelligence agencies worldwide… including the Soviets.

Dear Myerson, Italy is beautiful. Go fuck yourself.

Is this incredibly dangerous? Of course it is. Kendig is told, over and over, that the CIA is going to hunt him down. He is warned about his safety. Surely this is a death wish! One cannot possibly expect to write a tell-all about supersecret CIA operations and live to see it published! Oh, but none of that bothers Kendig. He proceeds to openly taunt the CIA agents who are so desperately trying to get to him, starting with his “Look, I’m in France!” re-emergence after he disappears from the United States promptly following his demotion.

Kendig even meets with his Soviet spy friend in public to mock the CIA.

His Soviet friend, Yaskov (Herbert Lom, from a number of Pink Panther films) even tries to recruit him to the KGB, illustrating how they both have admiration for one another’s talents. Kendig isn’t looking to betray his country, but does want to embarrass it a little. He, of course, has a number of resources at his disposal, friends and contacts in numerous parts of the world, and all of the knowledge of the typical CIA playbook. Kendig isn’t alone in all his shenangigans–his love interest, Isobel (Glenda Jackson, Oscar-winning actress from A Touch of Class), is somewhat begrudgingly dragged into Kendig’s plot.

You're so cute when you ask me not to invite the wrath of the CIA.

Kendig also takes exceptional pleasure in toying with Myerson as much as possible, which involves him hiding away on a piece of property that Myerson owns while Myerson is ripping his hair out trying to stop Kendig from writing any more chapters.

Here's to you, asshole.

This film is simply a romp–it’s all about the brilliant hilarity of each and every step Kendig takes, and the completely bumbling actions of the CIA agents. The only agent who Kendig treats with any modicum of respect is his young protege, Agent Cutter (Sam Waterston, best known to most people as Assistant D.A. Jack McCoy from Law & Order).

The amount of respect is proportional to the difficulty of the knots tied.

This film is lighthearted fare, but that’s not to say that it lacks substance. The screenplay, written by Brian Garfield and Bryan Forbes and based off Garfield’s novel, is cleverly-written and executed. The characters don’t really feel like caricatures– each CIA agent has his own brand of idiocy, some of which comes from a misguided allegiance to Myerson’s overly-aggressive tactics. There’s also the issue of ego, which gets in the way of nearly all of the CIA agents’ brilliant plans to nab Kendig.

This CIA agent clearly doesn't grasp the concept of inconspicuousness while tailing Isobel.

Myerson himself is hilarious as the CIA director who lacks competency as a field agent and swears like a sailor, and is the perfect villain to Kendig’s lovably cocky hero. This film is all about fun–there’s no way you are going to root against Kendig, and it’s just a blast to watch this elaborate game unfold. Director Ronald Neames even manages to keep some elements of a spy story film incorporated in this lighter fare, and he clearly knew how to utilize the comedic genius of Walter Matthau.

So adorably hilarious.

Do I recommend this film? Yes. It’s fun, it’s an easy watch, and it’s witty and well-paced. It’s a great showcase piece for Walter Matthau, who is ridiculously enjoyable to watch in this film. Sure, the film isn’t incredibly deep or even one of the best comedies of all time, but when it comes to a spy caper comedy, this is probably among the better executed. The film has a particularly satisfying ‘sticking it to the man who brought you down’ plot, and the schadenfreude felt by watching Kendig get the best of Myerson is totally delicious.


One Response to “Hopscotch”

  1. […] Spoon-Fed Updates Through The RSS Feed! Toy Story 3Taking WoodstockThe French ConnectionHopscotchThe RunawaysIron Man 2A Nightmare On Elm StreetKick-AssThe […]

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