Torn Curtain (1966)

“It takes a scientist to pick a scientist’s brain.”

Synopsis:
The fiancee (Julie Andrews) of an American physicist (Paul Newman) is distressed to learn that he has seemingly defected to East Berlin, where he hopes to learn mathematical secrets from a famed nuclear scientist (Ludwig Donath).

Genres:

Review:
Critics have long debated whether this late-life entry in Hitchcock’s estimable oeuvre — his fourth-to-last film — is a complete clunker, or simply a lesser effort by an acknowledged genius. My personal assessment is the latter, given that it remains a positive delight in comparison with Hitchcock’s one GENUINE “clunker” — the frightfully boring (and mercifully Peary-omitted) Topaz (1969). With that said, of course it’s true that Torn Curtain is far from Hitchcock’s best, and there are certainly signs that his cinematic vision was beginning to waver. Jeffrey Anderson of Combustible Celluloid labels it as “a strangely muted, dull effort”, and this description is somewhat apt: in some ways, Hitchcock seems to be simply moving his characters through a series of scenarios which lack the punch or overtly cynical humor of similar earlier efforts. The fault seems to lie largely in Brian Moore’s script, which even Hitchcock himself professed to be displeased with; and Bernard Herrmann’s would-be score is also sorely missed.

Yet there remain a handful of gripping scenarios — including the infamous “kitchen murder scene” (which Hitchcock intended to show just how challenging it can really be to kill a man); the scene in which Newman finally converses with Professor Lindt, racing against time to get (and memorize) critical mathematical information before he’s found out; and the nerve-wracking bus ride sequence out of Berlin. In general, I find the last 45 minutes or so of this over-long film to be its best, given that everyone’s finally on the move and we’re held in genuine tension about whether or not Newman and loyal Andrews (doing her best in a virtually thankless role) will be able to make it out. While Torn Curtain isn’t must-see viewing for all-purpose film fanatics, it’s certainly worth a look by his fans.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The infamously prolonged kitchen murder scene
  • Newman’s mathematical “tussle” with Donath
  • The genuinely tense bus sequence

Must See?
No, though naturally diehard Hitchcock enthusiasts won’t want to miss seeing it at least once.

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One Response to “Torn Curtain (1966)”

  1. I’m afraid I’m going to have to go with almost-complete-clunker on this one and definitely not must-see. I think the only real ‘heat’ here comes with the ‘kitchen murder scene’ – which, indeed, is quite well done.

    The rest…meh. Hitch was, alas, really starting to wind down, overall. And, true, here most of the fault is with the script. You can’t get blood from a stone – a good script needs to have an overall fluid quality and here there’s a lot of solid, uninvolving rock.

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