(1980, Directed by Ronald Neame; Written by Bryan Forbes and Brian Garfield)
Of course, not all writers are writers their whole lives; some have lived other, more extraordinary lives before they finally sit down to write. Indeed, often their book or play is about that earlier, more interesting life. Hopscotch is the classic example of that, telling the story of a rogue CIA agent, played by Walter Matthau, who responds to being unfairly demoted by publishing his memoirs, telling all not only about the CIA but about the KGB and the world’s other great spy networks.
Made at the height of the Cold War, Hopscotch is a superb comic vehicle for Matthau, one of the great under-rated stars of late 60s and 1970s American cinema, who made classics such as The Odd Couple, Charley Varrick and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. It shows a man who deploys all the skills and experience he has gained in his previous life as a spy (disguise, deception and above all the ability to keep one step ahead of the opposition – hence the title of the film) to succeed as a writer. In fact, the whole plot of the film is about the publication of the book, as Matthau sends it, chapter by chapter, to his publisher while trying to avoid capture by his former employers. In our world of instant global communication, it is a reminder of the difficulties that used to exist for anyone trying to communicate with, and send material to, someone in another country.
Hopscotch also has one of the great endings of any film, let alone any film about writers. When he is finally cornered in Britain by both the CIA and KGB, Matthau has to devise a means of escape and the plan he comes up with is worthy of ending any story or movie. Matthau, perhaps the ugliest leading man in movies ever, is at his most cunning and rat-like as he makes his escape and publishes the book that will be the best revenge upon his stupid supposed “superiors.”