Thursday, April 22, 2010

Spy and Go Seek

Was watching Hopscotch yesterday, via the Netflix streaming video on the Wii. It’s an old Walter Matthau movie (well, I guess there aren’t any new ones), where he plays a CIA field agent whose new boss (Ned Beatty) demotes him to a desk job, so he goes AWOL through Europe instead, writing his memoirs, chapter by chapter, and sending them out to intelligence agencies around the world. Not so much to spill state secrets; more to tweak Ned Beatty’s nose.

It’s more of a comedy than a spy thriller, and even a mild comedy at that. (Extra-mild, in fact, since it seems Netflix is streaming an edited-for-television version, where Ned Beatty is forever frustrated from exclaiming, "Son of a bitch!") It goes for smiles more than laughs (though there’s a moment with a photo of Ned Beatty that gave me a good chuckle), but Matthau has a sort of rumpled charm that makes him really enjoyable to be around, as he stays far enough ahead of his ex-colleagues that he has to resort to dropping obvious clues just to give them a fighting chance. The whole thing’s sort of like Burn Notice without a body count.

Also: Sam Watterson plays Matthau’s young protégé. You don’t see that anymore.

One bit of trivia, which I haven’t seen mentioned online, even though Roger Ebert specifically notes this scene in his review. At one point, Matthau hires a charter plane to take him to an island. After they land, the pretty charter pilot, played by Lucy Saroyan, says to him “You remind me of my father,” to which Matthau retorts, “That’s always been my problem.” In once sense, it’s a cute nod to the fact that Matthau married Saroyan’s mother after she divorced from writer William Saroyan. Also, though? Just the slightest bit creepy.

Incidentally, this was Saroyan’s last movie, despite how familiar she looked to me during her scene. (She also had a small part in The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, so it’s not like I’ve never seen her before.) She passed away a few years ago, but Wikipedia says there was a gallery show of her paintings earlier this year.

There’s nothing quite like watching an old movie, saying, “Hey, who’s that?” and following the winding paths of IMDB, is there?


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