FILMS… Memories of Ned Beatty in Hopscotch (1980)

#1980s

 

Playing games with Ned Beatty’s corrupt and incompetent CIA head

 

A former CIA field agent threatens to expose CIA secrets in his memoirs, leading to a cat and mouse hunt throughout the States and Europe.

 
Hopscotch (1980) ORIGINAL TRAILER [HD 1080p], HD Retro Trailers
 

I was sad to learn about the passing of the genial actor Ned Beatty today. This actor had his film debut in 1972’s Deliverance and this was the first of his six films with Burt Reynolds. Following this film, Beatty’s versatile filmography shows an extensive career of a further 164 credits in films and TV. He also appeared on the stage and added his voice to video games.

His TV appearances included guest roles in Murder She Wrote (1984-96) and MASH (1972-83). His prolific films included three in one year, the disaster movie parody in The Big Bus (1976), the historical drama All the President’s Men (1976) and the satire Network (1976). In the latter movie, Beatty was honoured with an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards.

Like most kids of my age, I always remember him as the comical, incompetent Otis, Lex Luthor’s (Gene Hackman) sidekick in the first two Christopher Reeve, Superman (1978) movies. In this movie, Beatty could have reunited with Burt Reynolds, who was in the running for the role of Clark Kent / Superman. Beatty had a great on-screen comic rapport with Hackman and Valerie Perrine, his on-screen partners in crime.

Other roles included adding his voice to animation in Toy Story 3 (2010) to his many appearances as John Goodman’s on screen father in Roseanne (1988-2018). More recently I reviewed him, in his role as a Russian KGB agent in the Cold War espionage drama in The Fourth Protocol (1987). In this espionage film, he starred alongside Michael Caine and Pierce Brosnan.

I most remember Beatty as a film character with a more senior role in an intelligence agency. This man also a villainous type and just as incompetent. This as Ned Beatty has a leading bad guy role as Myerson, the treacherous and bumbling CIA head in Hopscotch (1980).

This film was adapted from a thrilling book written by Brian Garfield. Garfield also wrote the revenge tale, Death Wish. Garfield then teamed up with Bryan Forbes, the original director to write the screenplay. Film critic Roger Ebert compares and contrasts both these films, stating their different genres with Death Wish a drama and the Hopscotch more a drama-comedy. But added in Hopscotch that “his hero once again is a guy who single-handedly takes on the establishment”.

Hopscotch tells of Miles Kendig (Walter Matthau), a veteran CIA agent who is undercover at the Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. He watches and photographs a live drop to the Russians. This as a suspicious cigarette packet is passed from an apparently random woman to the man he’s spying on. This man is Mikhail Yaskov (Herbert Lom), the Head of the KGB, and it’s later joked that he is dressed like an extra from Casablanca (1943) as complete with trilby and trenchcoat.

Kendig then confronts Yaskov outside, taking the film from the cigarette box. However, Kendig now considers this as a job done and lets this high ranking Russian go unharmed. On his return, he is warned this action didn’t go down well with his boss, Myerson who is “in a sweat because you let that Russian go.”

Kendig explains his perfectly acceptable reasons for doing this to his new boss, Myerson (Beatty). However, this action has annoyed his apparently unscrupulous boss who has “got tapes on everybody locked away. They’re scared to death of him.”

Myerson (Beatty) is further described by Ebert HERE as;

“a veteran of the CIA’s clandestine “dirty tricks” operation, and the movie hints that he was the guy behind sending the poisoned cigars to Castro, among other dumb stunts.”

Kendig tells Myerson, that he let Yaskov go, as he knows Yakov well and his working methods. He argues that if they took Yakov in or killed him, that it would take time to get to know his replacement. Myerson continues to reprimand him telling him he failed this mission – after his wife calls him at work – which to dismantle the Russian network. He delegates Kendig to a desk job until he retires. It’s clear that these two men dislike each other, Myerson fills Kendig’s job with Joe Cutter (Sam Waterston), a man who worked with Kendig and clearly admires him. But before Kendig leaves Myerson asks him to hand in a report of this case the following week.

Kendig is not a happy man, and before he leaves he accesses then shreds of all his personal files. He then leaves for Austria, where he travels to see his old girlfriend, Isobel von Schönenberg (Glenda Jackson), a fellow former CIA operative now Austrian citizen. Isobel and Kendig become a couple again, after some comic flirty scenes. Whilst in Salzberg, Kendig meets with Yaskov who asks him to defect and work for the KGB.

Meanwhile, Myerson has learned that Kendig has left the country and flown to Salsburg. His meeting with Yaskov meeting is reported to an increasing paranoid Myerson. Unknown to Myerson, Kendig turns this offer down. However, Yaskov jokingly asks Kendig if he plans to retire and write his memoirs.

So Kendig camps out at Isobel’s home, and does just that.. and he persuades her to help him. He sends the first chapter, which reveals many CIA secrets to Myerson… and also to other intelligence agencies around the world. As Isobel predicted Myerson now wants Kendig killed before the Russians get to him.

As more and more of the CIA’s incriminating secrets are revealed chapter by chapter. Now on the run, Kendig moves from place to place, around the United States (these hideouts including Myerson’s summer home) and from country to country in Europe. The CIA is on his tail as Kendig stays one step ahead of them and leaves leads for them to follow. Then he starts spilling secrets from other countries, and the Russians and later the British get involved…

As Myerson, Beatty was convincing as this comic character. He played his character credibly as the increasingly exasperated and angry CIA chief. His villainy was hinted at in the script, and it’s clear this man has his secrets that he wants to be kept even from his colleagues. He fumes and stomps about like a cartoon character or a kid who didn’t get what he wanted for Christmas.

His tantrums were seen at their best as Kendig has the audacity to rent Myerson’s empty summer home in Savannah (Kendig was able to rent this house from a real estate worker representing his wife with some fake ID. after hearing the Myerson’s phone conversation as mentioned earlier). His annoyance and frustration is fantastically relayed by Beatty as he says on the phone,

You’re kidding! [hangs up] I don’t believe this… I DON’T FUCKING BELIEVE THIS!… Sorry, Beverly. He actually had the balls to hide out in MY HOUSE!

After Myerson and his colleagues trace Kendig to Myerson’s own house. Myerson is not only annoyed he’s rented his house, but as this incident now is involving the FBI was “its not his jurisdiction”. Myerson says in his frustration and anger;

“Now I know what the FBI stands for. “Fucking, Ball-busting Imbeciles”!”

After the FBI take over and this leads to a shoot up with Myerson’s beloved house destroyed and he now believes this is a “personal vendetta”. There’s a nice touch spotted in these scenes, a portrait photograph of Myerson changes expression from during these scenes and then a bullet shot.

Additionally, Beatty’s small height as compared with other prominent cast members is reinforced from the start, in his first scene with 6ft 3 inches Matthau to Beatty’s 5ft 7 height. Kendig saying;

“Hi, Myerson. I thought you were taller. I don’t remember you being this short. How’d you get so short?

Beatty’s height is endearingly reflected in the script, with Matthau often calling Myerson’s photograph Shorty as he rents his home. It is also the set-up for scenes where Beatty stands next to much taller cast members – including 6ft 1 Waterston, to comic effect. Other scenes have him seen as the same height as someone kneeling.

And as Beatty once said;

“It always impresses me when a person of small stature has command.”

Or as this film shows, the lack of it!  As Ned Beatty proved in this movie in his ability to make others laugh at his often bumbling, always comic character. And it appears he was a comic off set too another actor with the surname Beatty was touted for the Kendig role. This actor was Warren Beatty, and it appears that Ned was often asked if he was related to this seventies heartthrob. Ned replying that Warren was his “illegitimate uncle”. From this comment alone, it’s clear that this little Hopscotch actor had a big sense of humour.

 

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2 thoughts on “FILMS… Memories of Ned Beatty in Hopscotch (1980)

  1. A very nice tribute to a great, versatile actor, Gill.

    I am from the generation that thinks of the Superman movies first when thinking of Ned Beatty.

    I must add that I was flabbergasted to learn Burt Reynolds was up for the role of Clark Kent Superman. that would have been a very different film. Honestly, that would have not been as good a film.

    • Thanks for stopping by! I agree while I can see him as Superman it would be minus his trademark moustache. But it would be hard to see him as Clark Kent. Dallas stars Patrick Duffy (Bobby) and John Beck (Mark Graison) were also in the running, so I can see why they went for Christopher Reeve.

Love your thoughts... but only if they are spoiler free!

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