Torn Curtain (1966) ***1/2
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
No one handles convoluted plots better than Hitchcock. Torn Curtain is a perfect example of this. I really can’t think of any other film that had me completely clueless about what was going to happen next. The progression of the film’s narrative is so completely all over the place that I couldn’t even contemplate how the movie was going to end. After watching the film’s conclusion, I realized that it would have been impossible for anyone to guess the ending well before it came. Torn Curtain takes what could have been five or six complete films and squishes them down into a single two hour and seven minute thriller. I’ll grant that this isn’t one of Hitchcock’s best films. I’ll also grant that this isn’t one of Paul Newman’s or Julie Andrews’ best films. That being said, I had a great time watching this somewhat confused movie. Actually, I loved it. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been watching so many films from 2007 lately that I needed to watch a great Hitchcock joint in order to satisfy my longing for his entertaining films. Torn Curtain is the tenth Hitchcock film I’ve seen, and I’m happy to say that it’s another one I’ve really enjoyed. All ten are films that I have a lot of affection for, and I’m sure I will visit every single one over and over again.
You might want to take a caffeine pill, because I’m about to describe Torn Curtain’s storyline. You’re going to need quite a bit of energy to follow along. Well, it starts off on a cruise ship whose heating system doesn’t work. The first time we see physicist professor Michael Armstrong (Newman), he’s in bed clutching his fiancée/assistant Sarah Sherman (Andrews) for warmth. At first, the film focuses on Sarah’s suspicions of Michael’s deceptions and secrets. Before they arrive in
At first, Michael treats her very coldly, obviously placing as much distance as possible between Sarah and himself. Michael ends up sneaking away to a farm in the country, followed by a bodyguard for the East German government. Once he’s there, Michael learns about the underground resistance movement against communism to which his true loyalties belong. Unfortunately, he’s required to brutally kill the bodyguard in self-defense.
We the audience now understand that Michael is attempting to deceive the communist government in order to acquire a successful mathematical formula from an eccentric communist professor which would allow
This leads to the film’s tense final act which requires Sarah and Michael to try and escape from
Since I’ve already mentioned the plot’s scatterbrained nature, I won’t harp on the film’s faults (like the ridiculous scene on the bus mentioned above for example) except to say that I felt both Newman and Andrews were completely wasted in this movie. For at least half of the time both are on screen, they simply sit in silence looking worried. Julie Andrews especially says relatively little when you think about how often she is on screen. Perhaps a Hitchcock staple actress of a lesser quality would have been more suited for the role, like say Tippi Hedrin, Janet Leigh or Eva Marie Saint. Newman has his moments to shine, especially during the film’s most violent scene which results in the bodyguard’s head being cooked in an oven. Unfortunately, his moments to shine are too infrequent.
The best scenes in the film take place when Countess Kuchinska appears onscreen. Kerdova is so wonderful in her performance that her character’s tragic departure from the film left me feeling sad. As escapist entertainment, Torn Curtain works great. For any lover of Hitchcock, or Julie Andrews, or Paul Newman, this film is a must see. Just leave the organized, logical side of your brain in another room while you watch.