Hopscotch (film)

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Directed byRonald Neame
Produced byEdie Landau
Ely A. Landau
Written byBryan Forbes
Brian Garfield
Story byBrian Garfield
StarringWalter Matthau
Glenda Jackson
Sam Waterston
Ned Beatty
Herbert Lom
Music byIan Fraser
CinematographyArthur Ibbetson
Brian W. Roy
Distributed byAVCO Embassy Pictures
Release date
  • September 26, 1980 (1980-09-26)
Running time
104 minutes
CountryUnited States

Hopscotch is a 1980 American spy comedy film, produced by Edie Landau and Ely A. Landau, directed by Ronald Neame, that stars Walter Matthau, Glenda Jackson, Sam Waterston, Ned Beatty, and Herbert Lom. The screenplay was written by Bryan Forbes and Brian Garfield, based on Garfield's 1975 novel of the same name.

Former CIA field officer Miles Kendig is intent on publishing an explosive memoir that will also expose the dirty tricks of Myerson, his obnoxious, incompetent, and profane former boss. Myerson and Kendig's protégé Joe Cutter are repeatedly foiled in their attempts to capture the former agent and stop the publication of his memoir. He cleverly stays one step ahead of his pursuers as the chase hopscotches around America and Western Europe.

Garfield took the name of his book from the children’s game, “wherein a player has to retrieve ‘an elusive object' while hopping on a sidewalk from space to space. One false step or clumsy move could mean falling and landing on one’s backside.“[1]

Matthau received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. The Criterion Collection released the film on DVD in 2002[2] and in a 2K restoration on Blu-ray in 2017.


At Munich's Oktoberfest, veteran CIA field agent Miles Kendig (Matthau) and his team foil a microfilm transfer. Upon Kendig's return to Washington, his boss, Myerson (Beatty), reassigns him to a desk job because Kendig did not arrest Yaskov (Lom), the head of the KGB in Europe. Kendig explains to Myerson that he knows how Yaskov thinks, and it would take time and resources to identify and learn about a new replacement. Kendig's good friend and protege, Joe Cutter (Waterston), is nevertheless assigned to take over his mentor's old job.

Instead of accepting this situation, Kendig takes action. He shreds his personnel file and flies to Salzburg to visit former lover Isobel Von Schoenenberg (Jackson), whom he has not seen in a while. Yaskov, guessing what has happened, meets Kendig and invites him to defect to the KGB; when Kendig refuses, Yaskov asks sarcastically if Kendig will be retiring and writing his memoirs.

On the spot, Kendig decides to do exactly that: write and publish a memoir exposing the dirty tricks and general incompetence of Myerson's CIA. Isobel is horrified, saying that Myerson will send agents to kill him. She nevertheless helps by mailing copies of Kendig's first chapter to spy chiefs in the U.S., Soviet Union, China, France, Italy, and Great Britain. Myerson assigns Cutter to stop Kendig, and Yaskov, not wanting his own agency's follies exposed, also pursues his old adversary.

Kendig baits his pursuers by sending them explosive chapters and by periodically informing them of his location. Leaving Europe, he returns to the U.S., cheerfully renting Myerson's own unoccupied Georgia family home, where he writes more chapters. After purposely leaking his address, Kendig maneuvers the FBI (which has jurisdiction) into shooting up Myerson's home with both bullets and tear gas, to Myerson's great dismay.

Kendig flies to Bermuda by chartered seaplane, then on to London to present his publisher with the final chapter. Yaskov informs Cutter that one of his agents has spotted Kendig in London by chance. Kendig purchases a vintage biplane—a Stampe version of the Tiger Moth—and hires an engineer to custom-modify it for a specific task. Myerson meets Kendig's publisher, who rebuffs his threatening bluster and then tells them where Kendig's hotel room is. At the vacated room, all the pursuers read copies of the final chapter he has left for them.

Kendig later ambushes Cutter in his hotel room, ties him up, gags him, and informs Cutter that he will be flying across the English Channel from a small airfield near Beachy Head. Meanwhile, Isobel gives her CIA minders the slip, and crosses the Channel by hovercraft to rendezvous early the next morning with Kendig. While everyone converges on the airfield, Kendig suffers a flat tire on his way and is taken by the local police to their station. When a policeman recognizes him from a posted fugitive bulletin, Kendig escapes by short-circuiting an electrical socket and stealing a police car.

Kendig reaches the airfield, and the Americans and Yaskov arrive by helicopter soon after. Kendig's biplane takes off and is pursued by Myerson in the helicopter. He evades Myerson's gunfire for a while, but the plane is finally hit and suddenly explodes over the Channel. Myerson assumes that Kendig is finally dead. Cutter, however, remarks wryly that he "better stay dead". Meanwhile, Kendig sneaks away from a deteriorating building on the edge of the airfield, using a barrel of used engine oil to dispose of the remote control he had used to fly and destroy the biplane. He and Isobel set out for a few weeks in the south of France.

Months later, Kendig's explosive memoir (also titled Hopscotch) has become an international bestseller. Disguised as a Sikh and speaking with a British accent, Kendig buys a copy of his own book in a local bookstore, much to Isobel's complete exasperation with his disguises.



Film score[edit]

The film features many pieces by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Notable examples include the aria "Non Più Andrai" from the opera The Marriage of Figaro, the andante movement from Eine kleine Nachtmusik, the first movement of Mozart's Piano Sonata No.11, K331 (best known for the third movement, the Rondo alla turca), the Posthorn Serenade, K320 and a Rondo in D, K382. In the Hopscotch - Criterion Collection DVD special feature "Introduction by Neame & Garfield", director Neame stated that Matthau's agent made the suggestion that they put in some Mozart because this would greatly please Matthau. As they looked into this, they realized that it would enhance the movie if Kendig loved Mozart. Ian Fraser was the arranger and found many sections of Mozart that fit the movie, but they could not find anything to go with Kendig typing. They asked Matthau; he brought in some Mozart that went perfectly with it.

Hermann Prey's singing of "Non Più Andrai" highlights the antics of the old biplane as Myerson is shooting at it. The song tells how Cherubino ("little baby"), going into the army, will no longer be a dainty favorite, just as 5-foot-7 Myerson is going to lose his power at the CIA. Also, the song describes bullets flying and even bombs exploding.

There is also the aria "Largo al Factotum" from the opera The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini. Matthau sings this as he passes a border checkpoint. The words to the aria explain how everyone is looking for the barber, and he moves fast like lightning.

Kendig has the aria "Un Bel Dì Vedremo" ("One Beautiful Day") from Madame Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini playing loudly on the stereo as the FBI and CIA shoot up Myerson's wife's house. The operatic contrapunto adds a surreal air of ironic justice to the events as Madame Butterfly sings how she will hide from her husband.

The credits also list "Once a Night" written by Jackie English and Beverly Bremers. This is the blaring song playing at the bar "The Other End" where Matthau goes to arrange his flight from Georgia.


According to Neame in the special feature "Introduction by Neame & Garfield", the Jewish Matthau refused to film on location in Germany, as he had lost many relatives in the Holocaust. However, he wanted to have Neame cast his son David and later his stepdaughter Lucy Saroyan, so Matthau gave in. David Matthau played the CIA agent Kendig takes prisoner after leaving Myerson's house and Saroyan the pilot who takes Kendig to Bermuda.

According to Neame, he did not think they could get Glenda Jackson, but she and Matthau had previously worked together in the 1978 film House Calls, and she was delighted with the prospect of reteaming with him.


Hopscotch was filmed in many locations in Europe and the United States, including London, United Kingdom; Marseilles, France; Bermuda; Washington, D.C.; Savannah, Georgia; Atlanta, Georgia; and Munich, in then-West Germany.

Locations in Salzburg, Austria, included The Mirabell Platz. The scenes set during Munich’s Oktoberfest were filmed using eight cameras concealed in strategic locations at the Munich Fairgrounds.[3]


IFI and the Landaus raised money from cinema chains, which later caused problems with distribution for the film. IFI wanted Goldcrest Films to invest, as they had on The Howling and Escape from New York but David Puttnam persuaded the Goldcrest board otherwise. The film earned $20 million, including $9 million in rentals. Jack Eberts claimed IFI did not make money on the film.[4]

Differences between novel and film[edit]

Garfield's original script reflected the dark tone of the novel. At one point, Warren Beatty and Jane Fonda were in line for the leads.[1]

Matthau agreed to appear on condition that Garfield rework the script to play to his own gifts as an actor. Matthau and Neame participated in the rewrites, which continued throughout the film. The AFI catalog refers to a Hollywood Reporter article describing two of Matthau's significant contributions: the ending, in which Kendig disguises himself as a Sikh in order to visit a bookshop, and the scene in a Salzburg restaurant where Kendig and Isobel, apparently strangers, strike up a conversation about wine that reveals more and more about them and ends in a passionate kiss. The original scene relied on a great deal of exposition to bring the audience up to date. Neame said that Matthau contributed so much to the final film that he could have asked for credit, but that was never pursued.[5][1]

The endings are very different. In the novel, Kendig fakes his own death using a body recovered from a Paris street and includes all copies of his manuscript, ensuring it will never be published. In the film, his escape airplane explodes in mid-air just as it heads over the English Channel and no body is recovered. His exposé is published and is a great success. Both works include a knowing nod from Cutter indicating that he is sure that Kendig is alive but hopes that he will stay dead. The character of Isobel, Kendig's old flame, provides a romantic interest in the film. In the novel, his feelings for a hired pilot, prove to him that he will find a new life outside the world of spycraft.


Matthau was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for his performance as Miles Kendig.

New York Times critic Vincent Canby gave the film a rave review: “..a lark, a comic cloak-and-dagger adventure... a stylish, lighter-than-air vehicle that moves from Munich to Salzburg to Washington to the Deep South to Europe and back without once losing its breath. It is beautifully played by Mr. Matthau and Miss Jackson and by a supporting cast.. directed by Ronald Neame and scored largely by Mozart. My only reservation is that Miss Jackson isn't on the screen enough...”[6]

At the time of its release, film critic Roger Ebert described the movie as “a picaresque comedy disguised as a thriller.” “A shaggy-dog thriller that never really thrills us very much, but leaves a nice feeling when it's over... partly because of the way Walter Matthau fools around with dialogue... and partly because the movie's shot at a measured, civilized, whimsical pace. It's a strange thing to say about a thriller, but Hopscotch is . . . pleasant.“ [7]

TCM's Susan Doll observes: “For the most part, critical reaction to Hopscotch is dependent on the age of the reviewer...” contrasting the reactions of “critics (who) understand... its value as a vehicle for Matthau, the appeal of a literate script, and the craftsmanship behind Neame's measured style,” and the responses of “Contemporary reviewers, accustomed to the violence of spy dramas and the fast pace of action films, (who) tend to be critical of its fluffy plot, dry humor, and lack of action scenes.”[5]

As of June 2020, Rotten Tomatoes tomatometer gives the film a rating of 73% based on 15 reviews: “As written by Brian Garfield, Hopscotch was a conventionally serious espionage novel. As adapted for the big screen by Garfield and Bryan Forbes, Hopscotch is a lively exercise in cloak-and-dagger comedy, even when the pursuit of Matthau turns deadly towards the end.”[8]

Writing for Criterion in 2002, Bruce Eder[9] opens his long assessment of the film with the statement that it “has the distinction of being the only 'feel-good' realistic spy film ever made. As the movie walks a fine line between serious drama and satirical comedy, and between topicality and escapism, it beguiles the viewer with its sophistication and complexity. The most surprising aspect of Hopscotch, however, may not be how well it walks that tightrope, but that its makers accomplished this balancing act in an era that saw the spy movie genre reduced to tales of relentless despair...”[10]


The series finale of Homeland paid tribute to Hopscotch by penultimately concluding with the publication of a CIA tell-all by the show's protagonist, Carrie, exactly as Hopscotch finally concluded, with the publication of Kendig's CIA tell-all while he is in hiding.

In season 8, episode 3 "False Friends" Yevgeny and Claire meet for a private meeting. The former, brings drinks and represents the Russian intelligence community and the latter, Carrie, the American one. This meeting is monitored by a colleague of the American in the meeting. These characteristics also occurred were also all true of a scene in Hopscotch forty years earlier.


  1. ^ a b c "Hopscotch". catalog.afi.com. Retrieved 2020-06-21.
  2. ^ Rivero, Enrique (June 15, 2002). "Criterion Plays Hopscotch". hive4media.com. Archived from the original on June 23, 2002. Retrieved September 22, 2019.
  3. ^ "AFI|Catalog". catalog.afi.com. Retrieved 2020-06-21.
  4. ^ Eberts, Jake; Illott, Terry (1990). My indecision is final. Faber and Faber. pp. 60–61.
  5. ^ a b "Hopscotch (1980) - Articles - TCM.com". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2020-06-21.
  6. ^ Canby, Vincent (1980-09-26). "'Hopscotch' Stars Jackson-Matthau Team". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-06-21.
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (October 17, 1980). "Hopscotch". www.rogerebert.com.
  8. ^ Hopscotch (1980), retrieved 2020-06-21
  9. ^ "Bruce Eder Biography". Fandango. Retrieved 2020-06-21.
  10. ^ Eder, Bruce. "Hopscotch". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2020-06-21.

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