Hopscotch (film)

Directed by Ronald Neame
Produced by Edie Landau
Ely A. Landau
Written by Bryan Forbes
Brian Garfield
Story by Brian Garfield
Starring Walter Matthau
Glenda Jackson
Sam Waterston
Ned Beatty
Herbert Lom
Music by Ian Fraser
Cinematography Arthur Ibbetson
Brian W. Roy
Distributed by AVCO Embassy Pictures
Release dates
  • September 26, 1980 (1980-09-26)
Running time
104 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Hopscotch is a 1980 American film directed by Ronald Neame and produced by Edie Landau and Ely A. Landau. It was written by Bryan Forbes and Brian Garfield, based on Garfield's novel of the same name.

The film is a comedy starring Walter Matthau as Miles Kendig, a renegade CIA agent intent on publishing a memoir exposing the inner workings of the CIA and the KGB. Sam Waterston and Ned Beatty play Cutter and Myerson, Kendig's protégé and his obnoxious, incompetent, and profane former boss, respectively, and are repeatedly foiled in their attempts to capture him and stop the publication of the damaging memoir. Herbert Lom is Yaskov, the sympathetic KGB agent with an equal interest in his capture. Glenda Jackson plays Isobel von Schoenenberg, his Austrian love interest who helps him stay one step ahead of his captors.

Matthau and Jackson previously appeared together in the 1978 film House Calls. Matthau's son David plays Ross, a bumbling junior CIA agent. Matthau's step-daughter Lucy Saroyan plays the pilot, Carla Fleming.

The film was received in a lukewarm manner by critics and was a moderate financial success during its release. Matthau received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. The Criterion Collection released the film to DVD in 2002.


The movie opens at Munich's Oktoberfest. Kendig and his team foil a microfilm transfer to a German spy. However, Kendig purposely does not apprehend Yaskov, the head of the KGB in Europe. Upon Kendig's return to Washington, his supervisor, Myerson (Beatty), forces him into a desk job because Kendig didn't arrest the Russian. Instead of going in on Monday as directed, Kendig shreds his personnel file and flies to Salzburg, Austria to visit Isobel Von Schoenenberg (Jackson). Inspired by Yaskov's idea to write his memoirs, Kendig begins a book exposing Myerson's 'dirty tricks'. Isobel is horrified that the CIA will send men to kill him, but nevertheless helps out and mails copies of Kendig's first chapter to spy chiefs in the US, Russia, China, France, Italy and Great Britain. Soon enough Myerson is out to silence Kendig and Yaskov is after him as a source of the CIA's covert operations.

Kendig baits his pursuers by periodically informing them of his location. Leaving Europe, he rents Myerson's own Georgia country home, and writes a few more chapters. After leaking his presence there, Kendig induces the FBI to shoot up Myerson's house when they mistake firecrackers for gunshots. This scene is accompanied by the aria "Un bel Dì", the suicide scene from Madama Butterfly (Puccini).

Kendig flies to Bermuda (no scenes were actually filmed in Bermuda) by seaplane (piloted by a woman portrayed by Matthau's stepdaughter, Lucy Saroyan), then to London, to meet with his publisher and present the last chapter of his book. Yaskov and CIA agent Cutter (Waterston), a former protégé of Kendig's and friend who has been tasked to pursue him, exchange information on Kendig during the pursuit. Kendig buys a small plane and hires an engineer to do custom work on it. Kendig's publisher rebuffs Myerson's threats and all the pursuers meet up at Kendig's hotel room. They read the last book chapter, but miss Kendig again.

Kendig ambushes Cutter in his hotel room, ties him up and informs Cutter that he will be flying out from a small airfield. Isobel gives her CIA minders the slip and heads to the airfield. Kendig later reports Cutter's situation to Ross and everyone converges on the airfield. On the way, Kendig suffers a flat tire and is picked up by local police. When a policeman recognizes him from a bulletin, Kendig escapes by short-circuiting an electrical socket and stealing a police car.

He reaches the airfield, but the Americans and Russian are already there via helicopter. He takes off in his vintage biplane and is pursued by Myerson in the chopper. He evades Myerson's pistol shots for awhile, but the plane eventually appears to be hit and blows up over the sea. Looking at the wreck from the cliff, Myerson concludes that Kendig is dead. However Cutter remarks "He better stay dead", appreciating that it was likely a ruse.

It is revealed that the custom device made for the plane was a remote control and Kendig walks away from an old shack at the airfield and drives off with Isobel to France. Months later, the book has become a bestseller and Kendig buys one while wearing a disguise as a Sikh. Isobel admonishes him for his disguises and they walk out together, book in hand.





The music includes 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.

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.

Matthau, who had a personal fondness for opera, is said to have selected the soundtrack himself. The director said however that conductor Ian Frasier found many of the Mozart pieces that fit the movie.[1]

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.

Differences Between Novel and Film

There are a number of small but notable differences between the novel and the film. Most significant are the endings; in the novel, Kendig fakes his own death using a recovered body from a Paris street and includes all copies of the manuscript of the book, ensuring it will never actually be published. In the film, the plane explodes in mid-air and no body is recovered, and the novel is successfully published. (Both works include a knowing nod by Cutter that Kendig is likely alive but will stay apparently dead). The character of Von Schoenenberg is added in the film, while in the novel, Kendig has feelings for a hired pilot, which proves to him that he will find a new life outside of spycraft.


  1. In Hopscotch - Criterion Collection DVD, special feature "Introduction by Neame & Garfield", director Neame stated that Matthau's agent made the suggestion that they ought to put in some Mozart because this would greatly please Matthau. As they looked into this they realized that it would much enhance the movie if Kendig loved Mozart. Ian Fraser was the arranger and found many sections of Mozart that fit the movie, but they couldn't find anything to go with Kendig typing. They asked Walter and he brought in some Mozart that went perfectly with it.
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