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Hopscotch: The Criterion Collection

Miles Kendig (Walter Matthau) has been working as CIA field officer in Europe longer than most of his superiors have even been with The Company — so long, in fact, that he's developed a friendly rivalry with the continent's KGB chief Yaskov (Herbert Lom), a chirpy Russian who enjoys playing the greatest game as much as Kendig does. But when Kendig's new boss Myerson (Ned Beatty) thinks the American spy and his Soviet counterpart have become too familiar with each other, he re-assigns the elderly operative to a desk job at CIA HQ. Wrong decision. Kendig, unwilling to accept being put out to pasture until he gets his pension, secretly shreds his personnel files and goes into hiding, shacking up with former spy, and former love interest, Isobel von Schonenberg (Glenda Jackson) in Salzburg. Once there, he whimsically decides to write his memoirs, which will detail a variety of CIA operations that inevitably will cause the agency a great deal of embarrassment in the wake of Watergate and the Pentagon Papers. "You're mad! Gone!" insists Isobel — but Kendig's plan is marvelously simple, at least to him: "I'll just stay one step ahead of them," he claims, and then proceeds to mail chapters of his book to major embassies while criss-crossing the globe. Directed by Ronald Neame (The Horse's Mouth) from a script by Neame and Bryan Garfield (who wrote the source novel), 1980's Hopscotch is a lighthearted slice of comic fun that will doubtless please fans of the inimitable Walter Matthau. Garfield had been planning to adapt his book to the screen for some time, working on various screenplay drafts, and at one point Warren Beatty was planned for the role of Kendig. Scheduling conflicts prevented that interesting bit of casting, but replacing Beatty with Matthau was an inspired choice. After all, CIA operatives don't drink martinis and play baccarat in swank casinos like James Bond — to be successful, they must be competent, low-profile folks who can blend in with a crowd. And despite being a frothy comedy, the disheveled, hangdog Matthau is believable in Hopscotch as Kendig, who is never given to losing his cool, but doesn't like being pushed around either. Glenda Jackson joined the film thanks to Matthau's presence, which only adds to the fun — they always make for a delightful screen-couple. As Myerson, Ned Beatty gets to be an officious, self-important prick, which gives him a juicy role (enlivened by having him crassly bark the ol' F-word in every single sentence he utters). Sam Waterston turns up as an agent who joins in the hunt for Kendig, but clearly admires the old man's gumption. And Matthau apparently liked the film so much he convinced Neame to cast his son David Matthau and stepdaughter Lucy Saroyan in supporting roles as a CIA agent and a seaplane pilot, respectively. Criterion's DVD release of Hopscotch, long out-of-print on home video before this edition, delivers a strong anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) from a clean source print, with audio in the original mono (DD 1.0). Supplements include a 22-minute retrospective featuring comments from director Neame and writer Garfield, the theatrical and teaser trailers, and the TV-edited audio on a separate track (which mostly eliminates Beatty's funny Anglo-Saxon epithets). Keep-case.

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