Roscoe Lee Browne as Philippe Dubois, smooth-talking Martinican-American sleeper agent
New York City, Fall 1962
Release Date: December 19, 1969
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Costume Designer: Edith Head
Following last month’s look at a “hero costume” from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1942 thriller Saboteur, I want to continue exploring style from the lesser-known entries in the Master of Suspense’s oeuvre. Loosely based on the “Martel affair” and events leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, Topaz was Hitch’s final movie centered around espionage, though I consider it to lack much of the spark that fueled his earlier successes like North by Northwest.
The single exception in Topaz may be a brief scene made more memorable by the appearance of Martinican agent Philippe Dubois, portrayed by Roscoe Lee Browne, the multi-talented star of stage and screen born 100 years ago today on May 2, 1922.
Working deep cover as a New York City florist, Dubois receives a visit from French agent André Devereaux (Frederick Stafford), asking him to make contact with the purple-haired Cuban diplomat Luis Uribe (Donald Randolph) in the hopes of bribing him for information about Russian missile bases in Cuba. (This being the fall of 1962, it’s no wonder why…) His target holed up in Harlem’s Hotel Theresa, Dubois mulls over whether or not he should pose as a reporter from Ebony, Playboy, or the Jersey City Post-Ledger, the latter headquartered about 100 miles southeast of Browne’s actual birthplace of Woodbury, New Jersey.
Dubois: Oh, I think I identify better with Playboy.
Dubois: Oh man, are you square!
His plan determined, Dubois talks his way into a brief interview with the Castro-inspired revolutionary leader Rico Parra (John Vernon), trading on Parra’s vanity to use a balcony photo op as just enough time for Uribe to spirit away with an attaché case full of valuable intel.
After Dubois leaves, a suspicious Parra notices that his documents have gone missing and begins a search his armed Hernandez (Carlos Rivas), eventually finding Uribe overseeing Dubois photographing the documents. The wily Dubois jumps out the window, landing on an awning and making his escape as Parra takes potshots at him. With revolutionaries chasing him through the streets, Dubois hands his camera to Devereaux and retreats into the safety of the flower shop, concluding his role in Topaz, as well as its most entertaining chapter.
What’d He Wear?
Philippe Dubois differentiates himself from the assortment of spies we meet earlier in Topaz, not just with his race and charming irreverence but also his attire of a checked sports coat rather than a gray suit. The single-breasted wool jacket features a low-contrasting black shadow check and narrower blue graph-check against a charcoal-brown ground.
The jacket appropriately reflects narrower fashions of the early ’60s, with the slim lapels notched in the “half clover” style with the lower half of each notch more rounded than cornered, rolling over the top of three buttons to present a classic 3/2-roll, a buttoning style that transcended regional fashions as a favorite among Ivy Leaguers and tailors from Naples to Savile Row. The shoulders are straight and padded, and the sleeves are finished with two buttons spaced apart on each cuff. The jacket also has a single vent, straight flapped hip pockets, and a welted breast pocket that Dubois wears empty.
Dubois’ oxford cloth shirt continues the theme of his American informality in contrast to his continental colleagues. The blue and white end-on-end woven cotton presents a light blue finish. The shirt has a front placket, button cuffs, and an elegantly rolled button-down collar, the style pioneered by Brooks Brothers chief John E. Brooks at the dawn of the 20th century that had been inspired by English polo players and also became an American Ivy staple.
His brown silk tie is patterned in a tight field of darker brown dots and tied in a Windsor knot which, due to the fashionably slim width, doesn’t show the substantial heft associated with more modern Windsor-knotted ties.
Dubois wears dark gray wool flat front trousers held up by a black leather belt that contrasts with the shade of his brown leather cap-toe oxfords. The trousers also have straight side pockets and are finished with turn-ups (cuffs) on the bottoms, which have a short enough break to show his thin dark brown dress socks even when he’s not jumping out of windows.
After his nerve-wracking escape from Parra’s gunmen, Dubois retreats into his floral shop and affects the immediate disguise of pulling on the tweed trilby he keeps hung by the door. The short-brimmed hat is patterned in a black and indigo houndstooth check against the gray woolen ground, with a band made from matching fabric.
Dubois’ sole affectation is a gold ring that he wears on his left ring finger, the oval surface filled with a reddish setting with a raised relief.
How to Get the Look
Roscoe Lee Browne made the most of his limited screen-time in Topaz as the well-dressed and witty agent Philippe Dubois, who may be dressed contemporarily for 1962 but looks just as stylish sixty years later in his dark checked sports coat, light blue OCBD, tonal tie, and brown oxfords.
- Charcoal-brown (with black check and narrow blue graph-check) wool single-breasted 3/2-roll sport jacket with narrow “half-clover” notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, spaced 2-button cuffs, and single vent
- Light-blue oxford cotton shirt with button-down collar, front placket, and button cuffs
- Brown silk tie with small dark brown polka dots
- Dark gray wool flat front trousers with belt loops, straight side pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Black leather belt with silver-finished single-prong buckle
- Brown leather cap-toe oxford shoes
- Dark brown dress socks
- Gold ring with raised brick-red relief-cut setting
- Gray (with black-and-blue houndstooth check) woolen tweed short-brimmed trilby with self-band
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
Devereaux: Watch yourself, Philippe.
Dubois: It’s the best thing I do!