• Although Torn Curtain is a step or two (at least) off the master’s best work (without doubt it does not touch Marnie– his previous effort)- it still far exceeds the vast majority of efforts from 1966 or any other year.
  • Torn Curtain makes Hitchcock’s fiftieth (50th) film.
  • Hitchcock is shooting largely in Denmark (as a stand in for Berlin).
  • Bernard Herrmann wrote the original score but when Universal wanted something more upbeat, he and Hitchcock got into a fight and Herrmann left the project. John Addison replaced Herrmann and the drop off is tangible.
  • This is Hitchcock in the mode of The 39 Steps and Notorious- espionage and MacGuffins (Pi symbols here).
  • The film stars Paul Newman and Julie Andrews- just about the biggest stars in the movies in 1966. Newman is right there in his prime – the year before Cool Hand Luke—Julie Andrews is coming off Mary Poppins in 1964 and one of the biggest box office smashes in cinema history in 1965- The Sound of Music. Newman looks uncomfortable in Torn Curtain. It is not his best work. He and Andrews do not come off too well here with Hitchcock. Perhaps some of his discomfort fits the role (his Professor Michael Armstrong is defecting) but Sean Connery (worked with Hitch on Marnie in 1964) would have been better- and certainly Michael Caine would be more easily believable as a brilliant scientist (give me Sidney Poitier or Richard Burton too- they would work as well). Andrews simply lacks any sort of presence here. She is a step back from Tippi Hedren (at least as a Hitchcock lead) who was already a step back from Grace Kelly.
  • Newman and Hitchcock were just not on the same page and the generational difference (this is not James Stewart or Cary Grant) could be to blame. Newman was method (a Brando/Dean/Clift acolyte) and when asked for his motivation for a scene- an annoyed Hitchcock reportedly said “your motivation is your salary.”

At the 34-minute mark Hitchcock produces a cinematic painting worthy of Vertigo – the shot of Andrews looking towards the window—Newman is in the background. Hitchcock dubs the audio here to luxuriate in this composition longer during their conversation.

  • The little cat and mouse sequence from the 39-minute mark to the 43-minute mark is the high-water mark for the film. This is the Berlin Museum. A perfect frame as Newman’s character enters in a long shot. This chase is Vertigo– also somewhat reminiscent of one of the strongest sequences of The Grand Budapest Hotel (the Jeff Goldblum chase) from Wes Anderson. Here, Hitchcock chooses to lose the musical score—a great instinct (especially without Herrmann) and choice as you can hear footsteps while Newman moves through the paintings. At the 41-minute mark, Newman’s character is at the bottom in a long shot again—this time with the stairs. Yet another long shot at the 43-minute mark with Newman’s character walking towards the tractor. These sequences from the 34-minute mark to the 44-minute mark are just ten minutes of virtuoso storyboarding.

A perfect frame as Newman’s character enters in a long shot.

The little cat and mouse sequence from the 39-minute mark to the 43-minute mark is the high-water mark for the film.

a breathtaking composition

  • The next sequence is also inspired- but wholly different. This is the prolonged death scene of Gromek (Wolfgang Kieling). Again, Hitchcock chooses to drop the music altogether (again, maybe if he had kept Bernard Herrmann’s work there would have been music worth keeping) but Hitchcock is going for realism here as it is very nasty death (he shows every squirm and the length of time this death takes is a choice as well). Hitchcock is trying to echo his shining moment/murder in Psycho by building this scene in the editing room.
  • Instead of the Germans in Notorious or his earlier films of course- this is the mid-1960s and the atomic secrets and the Russians are the milieu.

Even when the dialogue fails him, Hitchcock can tell a story in pictures like the shot of the four scientists in a row in the front of the frame with the obvious leader of the group- the famous Professor Gustav Lindt (Ludwig Donath)- in the far background in the lecture hall.

  • Unfortunately, Hitchcock’s instincts betray him a bit during the climax as exchanging the details of a math equation on a chalkboard do not make for good cinema. The two slow buses chasing each other one is not particularly exceptional either. On top of that, the whole sequence with the countess needs to be thrown out as well.
  • When Hitchcock is not ending his film on a monument set piece – he often ends it in a theater (both The 39 Steps and The Man Who Knew Too Much if I am not mistaken) like he does here. Armstrong yelling “fire” is shrewd thinking.
  • On the Recommend/ Highly Recommend border—probably leaning Highly Recommend. The highs are very high- but there are several regrettable wrong turns as well.