Saturday, 23 April 2011

Torn Curtain (1966)

As I posted the other day, this is one of the many new films I watched while on holiday in Greece over the first week of my Easter break. I really enjoyed it, and just wanted to share a little about it as I know it is one of Hitchcock's lesser known films. This is a very complicated science-cold-war-espionage film so the plot summary is War and Peace length. Sorry!

{Many of the pictures in this post were found by chance, using google images, on Clara's blog, Via Margutta 51}

Torn Curtain Dir. Alfred Hitchcock

"IT TEARS YOU APART WITH SUSPENSE!" Gotta love vintage movie posters.

American physicist and rocket scientist, Michael Armstrong is on a cruise ship with his fiance and assistant, Sarah Sherman, attending a conference of physics. The couple seem perfectly happy for the first few days of the cruise, taking time out from the busy schedule to spend time together and enjoying the journey (before they are married, evidently the movie censorship was kind of non-existent by this point). But Michael Armstrong is corresponding secretly with the CIA about ordering and picking up a particular book in a shop once the ship docks at Copenhagen, Denmark. Sarah finds out once they are there and goes to pick up the book before he can stop her.

She starts to become suspicious about Michael's goings on and decides to try and find out what he is doing. She becomes even more disconcerted and upset when he tells her that he has to suddenly leave to fly to "Stockholm" and she definitely can't go with him. In an attempt to follow him, she asks the man at the desk at the hotel for a ticket on the same flight as Dr. Armstrong but he says that Armstrong's ticket is to East Berlin (on other side of the Iron Curtain). She follows him just the same, only to be discovered by him on the plane. Angry that she has followed him, Michael goes about his work. His anti-missile project was cancelled by Washington, so he has decided to offer his services to the East German government. But again, it is soon apparent that this is just a ruse for Armstrong to find out what the East German scientists know about anti-missile systems, and Michael is working with the CIA, and embarking upon a very dangerous mission as a double agent. But Michael's escort, Hermann Gromek quickly catches on to his plan while Michael is visiting a fellow agent in a farm in the country. Michael and the East German agent that he has gone to meet decide it is out of the question for Gromek to call the police so they murder him and bury him and his motorbike in the field.

Sarah is now furious with Michael for being so frosty and cruel to her, but Michael knows it's for her own good. He wants her to leave as soon as possible because he is afraid she will never see her family or friends again if she becomes too involved.

"We have strange ways of communication in this trade." Dr. Koska on bruising Michael's ribs to get him to see her about the murder.

When michael gets around to visiting the university he is under suspicion of murder and he and Sarah - who still knows nothing of his secret agent-ness - are both questioned. He asks for some time alone with her and he tells Sarah everything. Along with the university doctor, Dr. Koska (also an agent) Sarah decides they must leave the country. They wait for Michael to come and catch the special bus for smuggling agents over the border between East and West Germany, but he is still with Professor Gustav Lindt, the government's top scientist to try and find out if he has any important information. But while he is in the Professor's office, a loudspeaker tells the whole university that they should look for Dr. Michael Armstrong. Lindt then realizes that Michael has told him nothing, and that he has been stealing his ideas. Michael makes a run for it, getting to the bus just in time.

There follows a very suspenseful scene as the fake bus for helping agents get to the other side of the border is nearly caught up with by the regular bus. The police eventually catch up with them, but Michael and Sarah manage to escape just in time. They are about to start their journey to a post office to a man who will help them get back to America when they bump into extravagant and ditsy woman, Countess Kuchinska, who needs sponsors to get her toAmerica. After much persuasion, they give in to sponsoring her, but they are endangering their lives every second they waste in the country and...

I can't tell you anymore because it will spoil it for you! (if I haven't done so already by writing everything in that summary :-S)

Julie Andrews, Alfred Hitchcock and Paul Newman celebrating with Hitchcock.

I really liked this film and it deserves so much more credit than it gets at the moment. The chemistry between Julie Andrews and Paul Newman was good, I thought. And now, I am completely obsessed with Paul Newman. My to see list is full of movies like Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and Cool Hand Luke. He is really great in this and Butch Cassidy And the Sundance Kid. And can I just say, his blue eyes... Everyone is always saying that Julie Andrews can't act (even she said that she didn't think she was a natural actress in her autobiography, "Home"), but I think she is more than good enough to tackle a role like this. I know that Hitchcock had his heart set on Eve Marie Saint and Cary Grant for the pair, but I think the film would have been turned into a Cary grant farce (even though imagining it it would have been funny) and not a serious spy picture.

Directing Julie Andrews

And there are holes in the plot.. It's like, if you were an agent, even a new one, you wouldn't carve a giveaway sign to all your identities deep in  a driveway and not cover it up.  If he had, there might not have been any need for the difficult business of killing Gromek in such a gruesome way. (Although the murder scene was very well choreographed.) The other Hitchcock I watched on holiday was Strangers on A Train which was more tightly constructed than this, but that didn't mean this was less enjoyable

Also, Hitchcock has the best cameo in this movie of any of them. He is sat in the lobby at the hotel in Copenhagen with Julie Andrews' daughter Emma on his lap. This film also was the end of the Hitchcock /Bernard Hermann partnership. Sad.

One of my favourite characters and performances was that of Lila Kedrova, a great favourite of my Grandma's who gave an amazing performance as Countess Kuchinska.

But I really enjoyed this film, and I would advise you not to be put off by it's unknown and unappreciated history.

At a press conference for the film.

P.S. You can check out Clara's amazing post about this film that she did for the Classic Movie Blog Association's Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon here. She is obviously a fellow Paul Newman fan :-)


Meredith said...

I still need to see this film. I've always been interested in seeing Julie Andrews in a Hitchcock film.

So glad you're a Newman fan now! Cat On a Hot Tin Roof is one of my favorites.

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