Thursday, July 12, 2012
Movie Review: Torn Curtain (1966)
A cold war military espionage thriller, Torn Curtain succeeds in creating and exploiting plenty of enjoyable tension. It is also the only Alfred Hitchcock film to feature 1960s era superstars like Paul Newman and Julie Andrews. With Hitchcock reportedly ill at ease directing a method actor, Torn Curtain benefits from a Newman performance in which he never appears relaxed, and his agitation helps to propel the drama.
Armstrong's real motive, however, is to steal the latest East German anti-missile science secrets and return to the US as quickly as possible. Visiting a remote farmhouse to connect with the underground network that will aid his escape, Armstrong has a messy encounter with Gromek, an East German secret service agent. Suspicions are quickly raised, and Armstrong and Sherman have a very limited opportunity to steal the valuable military intelligence and flee, a frantic journey which includes a nerve wracking bus ride from Leipzig to Berlin and an equally nail-biting escape from a ballet theatre.
In a performance mainly composed of solidarity, Andrews is primarily reactive, first astounded that her fiance is apparently a traitor, then standing by her man and helping him try to achieve a seemingly impossible mission.
The supporting cast of mainly European character actors carries a large load with grace, and Hitchcock reportedly turned his attention to working with them once the relationship with Newman and Andrews soured. The standouts include Hansjorg Felmy as the head of East German security and Gunter Strack as the professor who helps to engineer the defection. Ludwig Donath has a short but memorable turn as Professor Lindt, an East German Einstein-type with a yappy attitude, while Wolfgang Kieling says few words but leaves a lasting impression as Gromek the goon.
The locations standing in for Eastern Europe (mostly in Denmark, West Germany and the Universal Studios back lot) are grand, bleak, and threatening, Hitchcock finding the balance between a closed society's desire for achievement and its obsession with state security.
Torn Curtain may lack the shock value and innovation of Hitchcock's most celebrated works, but it remains a robust thriller with a tight narrative and a satisfying dose of thoughtful excitement.
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