The plot for "Hopscotch" is very simple. One of the top CIA field agents is being sent to a desk job until retirement. Walter Matthau plays Miles Kendig. His boss is of the Ivy League set and doesn't like the way Miles works. Ned Beatty plays boss Myerson. We don't like him right away. He's a jerk, not as intelligent, and he swears and cusses a lot. Miles won't take it sitting down, and decides to go on the lamb. He destroys the CIA file on himself, and through work contacts arranges for a few new IDs – passports and all.
Miles contacts a former colleague and girlfriend to help him with parts of his plan. He wants to get back together with Isobel (played by Glenda Jackson), who is a well-to-do widow now living in Switzerland. A couple of other main characters are Cutter, a CIA agent who Miles trained, and who is now in charge of trying to find him. Cutter likes Miles, and tells the boss that he will be a step ahead of them all the way. The other character of substance is a Soviet counterpart to Miles, whom Miles like and respects. Miles know how he thinks.. Herbert Lom plays Yaskov, who also likes and respects Miles.
Most of the film is about Miles eluding the CIA who pursue him around the globe. He is writing his memoirs and sending them, a chapter at a time, to the CIA and its counterparts in Moscow, Peking, London and Rome. Myerson wants Miles "eliminated," and maybe the other intelligence groups do as well. But Miles finds a publisher in London, and his book becomes a best seller. As he sets in play each move, Miles stays a step ahead of his pursuers. Until the very end with its unusual but not very surprising ending.
The film is based on a book by Brian Garfield. In an interview that came with my DVD of the movie, Garfield said he wanted to write a CIA story as an adventure and a comedy without the gore and killing. His screenplay kept to the book in that regard. He and Ronald Neame, director, talked about how Ned Beatty had to practice using his profanity because he wasn't that way in real life. That's the one thing that keeps this from being a movie for all ages.
Another reviewer noted how the intrigue of the plot keeps one somewhat on edge for what comes next. We all pull for Miles and want him to succeed. The comedy isn't of the loud laughing type, but is dry and subtle at times with some humorous situations. It's an enjoyable film, but there's still something lacking about it. We don't see or know what Miles plans to do from one point to the next --- and there's a sense that he doesn't have a plan. He even says something to that effect at one point. Yet his every move seems so methodically planned out. He moves too smoothly and almost nonchalantly between stops. He visits a forger. He flies to Switzerland. He rents a car. He drives to see Isobel. He flies to London. He visits a man for a job there. He flies to Washington. He drives to South Carolina. He rents a house. He hires an oil truck. He hires a plane and pilot. He flies to Bermuda. He flies to London. He hires buys, rents and flies ad infinitum.
The movie was shot in several locations – London, Munich, Salzburg, Atlanta and other locales. In the interview that came with my DVD, we learn that Matthau was cool on doing the filming portion in Germany. He is Jewish and lost several relatives who were killed by Nazi Germany during World War II. Ronald Neame explains how he got Matthau to come around. It involved giving parts in the film to some relatives. Mathau's son, David Matthau, plays CIA agent Ross. Lucy Saroyan, daughter of Matthau's second wife, plays the airline pilot, Carla. Both tested well for their parts, according to Neame, and he said he made their roles conditional on Matthau's agreeing to the filming in Munich during the annual Oktoberfest there.
This movie was made at a time when Cold War spy and espionage films were highly popular. It broke away from the usual suspense and mayhem with killing and gruesome scenes. It offers a light comedic touch to the otherwise dark and often seedy world of espionage. It's not a great or complex film, but a light comedy that most adults should enjoy.