I came to the realization a few years ago that Hopscotch is my favourite movie of all time, I Know Where I'm Going is a close second but this is definitely my favourite. It's hard to pick a favourite movie for anyone, especially for me since I've seen somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1200 movies. Some people find it odd that considering how much I love classic and silent cinema that a little known movie from 1980 is my favourite, but this is one of the few movies that I can watch several times a year and still enjoy it as much as I did the first time that I saw it.
Walter Matthau plays Kendig, a long time field agent for the CIA. He's very good at his job. Unlike most other spy movies, you wouldn't expect him to be a spy since he doesn't look or act like a spy.
Hopscotch also has the best soundtrack ever and it was chosen by Walter Matthau. He also wears most of his own clothes in the film, which adds to the realism.
While finishing up a routine spy job, Kendig gets Yaskov (Herbert Lom) to hand over the important microfilm. Yaskov is the head of the KGB Western Europe section and he and Kendig have been friends for twenty years and they do this sort of thing all the time since they know how each other works and they protect each others jobs since it makes their spy work easier knowing who their counterparts are and now doubt if the situation were reversed, Yaskov would expect Kendig to hand over the microfilm.
Unfortunately when Kendig returns to Washington, he gets chewed out by Ned Beatty as Myerson, the sailor mouthed new head of his section. Myerson used to be the head of the Dirty Tricks section and the only reason why he's been with the CIA for so long is that he has tapes on everyone. Myerson decides to retire Kendig behind a desk because he's too old and he doesn't play by the rules, even though he always gets the job done.
Kendig finds this objectionable, so he decides to quit by shredding his file and flying off to Salzburg to see Mozart.
He also meets up with his old girlfriend Isobel, who also used to be a spy but is now a wealthy Austrian widow.
Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson have wonderful chemistry together and I wished that they had made more films together. Plus Glenda Jackson is always so fabulous at playing comedy.
They quickly fall back into their old comfortable relationship and play gin while Kendig thinks of what he wants to do next.
While having a drink, Yaskov jokingly asks if he's going to write his memoirs. That isn't such a bad idea.
I also spotted Walter Matthau wearing this exact same sweater when he hosted Saturday Night Live a few years before and Jim Hutton also wore it a couple of times when he was in Ellery Queen (the greatest show you've never heard of) in the Seventies. Must have been a popular sweater.
Meanwhile the CIA have finally figured out that he's quit and start following him and tapping Isobel's phone to figure out what he's up to.
Kendig starts writing his history of all of the CIA's dirty secrets as well as details on the operations that their currently working on.
But she'll help him anyway.
What follows next is the ultimate way to one-up your entire company and quit your job at the same time, although Kendig's method is not recommended for everyone.
While Isobel is mailing out the first chapter of his book to every spy agency, Kendig drives to France to pick up some false passports.
Myerson naturally over reacts to Kendig's retirement plan and orders Sam Waterston as Cutter, Kendig's former trainee and replacement to find him and kill him before the KGB gets to him.
Remember when you could just walk into an airport and buy a ticket for the first plane out? Neither do I.
Kendig is having fun playing with the CIA by keeping one step ahead of them and knowing exactly how they will react. Really this is the best way to quit your day job.
Meanwhile, they start harassing Isobel, but they can't get past her dog.
Kendig then brilliantly rents out Myerson's vacation house from this nice Southern realtor lady.
Looking at his hated boss's picture really gets his creative juices flowing.
During his heavy writing period, the CIA declares him to be the most dangerous man in the world. This is not what one would expect the most dangerous man in the world to look like.
Once he's finished writing most of his book, Kendig phones Isobel to let the CIA know which house he's been staying in.
He then sets up a complex system of firecrackers.
"He's actually had the balls to hide out in my house!"
Kendig then leaves out the back while the FBI destroy Myserson's beautiful house.
Now, that is how you one-up someone!
And now Kendig and Isobel moves into the final stage.
Myerson and Cutter finally track down Kendig's publisher in London, only he wont be intimidated by death threats. How could anyone threaten a man with such a beautiful fireplace in his office?
Myerson, Cutter and Yaskov then find his hotel room and the final chapter, which has the really dirty stuff in it. The KGB actually have now interest in catching Kendig, but Yaskov does want to know what he's friend is up to.
So, what his plan to quit his job? Well, it involves blowing up an airplane, but it does void his CIA pension.
Hopscotch is available on Regions 2 and 4 and on a Region 1 Criterion DVD.
Here is the original trailer:
Here's the trailer for House Calls, the first movie that Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson made together and it's well worth watching.