Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hitchcock Month - Torn Curtain

Torn Curtain (1966)
Starring Paul Newman and Julie Andrews
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Well, I must say that this was a pleasant little surprise that I didn't see coming.  For years, I never managed to put Torn Curtain into the dvd player despite its acting pedigree of Paul Newman and Julie Andrews simply because it seemed like it was going to be a tremendously heavy-handed spy thriller.  I am pleased to report, I was wrong.  While it is a political thriller, Torn Curtain is actually incredibly watchable with just enough twists and complications to make it interesting, but not too many to make it convoluted.

Paul Newman plays Michael Armstrong, an American physics professor and Julie Andrews is Sarah Sherman, his fiancée and assistant.  When the couple arrives in Copenhagen for a conference, Michael begins acting suspiciously.  Sarah soon discovers that he is flying to East Germany and she begins to believe that he is defecting to the other side of the Cold War.  Sarah sneakily follows him behind the Iron Curtain and eventually discovers that Michael is essentially using his physics knowledge to spy on the Germans while pretending to have become allied with them.  Needless to say, things quickly go awry, and Michael and Sarah soon find themselves on a whirlwind chase through East Germany in an attempt to return home.

Most appealing about Torn Curtain is what I mentioned already -- spy thrillers have a tendency to be overly confusing and that's not the case here.  And it's not like Torn Curtain talks down to the viewers -- this isn't "dumbed down" in any way.  But Hitch and his screenwriter managed to make this more of a "chase" movie with touches of political intrigue than vice versa and the result is a successful genre film.

As a little aside, I also wanted to commend Hitch on his lack of subtitles in this flick.  Michael and Sarah are in a foreign country, unable to speak the language.  Rather than (a) have all the characters speak English and/or provide a translator for the characters, or (b) provide the audience with subtitles, Hitch has the Germans actually speak German (a crazy concept, I know) without providing any clues (other than body language) as to what they're saying.  This puts both the characters and the audience in a state of confusion at times.  This adds immensely to the tension in a way that one might not expect.  Incredibly clever on Hitch's part.

Hitch apparently had a tough time with both his lead actors, but none of that difficulty comes out on the screen.  Newman is quite good and Andrews, while completely underused, is always a joy to watch no matter what movie she's in.  The two of them together may lack a little chemistry (which was apparently Hitch's issue with the stars), but I think they simply weren't given enough to work with to make their chemistry truly gel.  Plus, every single side character was truly fun to watch.  Sometimes in Hitchcock films, the secondary character actors tend to overact, but here, I really liked every single actor onscreen.

While there's no jawdropping set pieces, there are several scenes that are quite tension-filled.  As I said in my review of Marnie, it's nice to see that Hitch didn't lose his touch as he started to finish his career (it's a real shame his two final films -- Frenzy and Family Plot -- couldn't end his career with a bang).  Needless to say, I highly recommend giving Torn Curtain a look-see.  It's one that really didn't appeal to me in the slightest prior to watching it, but it's a film that I will certainly watch again in years to come.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

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