Saturday, September 21, 2013

Torn Curtain

Paul Newman and Julie Andrews in Torn Curtain

As far as I am aware, I have never done a full-length blog post on Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain. It's airing tomorrow (September 22) at 5:45 PM on TCM as part of this month's salute to the films of Alfred Hitchcock, so now would be a good time finally to post about this film.

Paul Newman plays Michael Armstrong, a professor of nuclear physics who is on his way to a conference in Scandinavia, along with his secretary/girlfriend Sarah (Julie Andrews). Except that there's something else going on. The good professor gets a message that leads him to a book with the Greek letter π circled, which obviously means something. So the professor holds a press conference saying that he's defecting to East Germany to use nuclear science for peaceful means! Unfortunately, his dippy girlfriend buys a ticket on the plane in order to follow him!

Sarah's showing up in East Germany is a big problem for Michael, because his plan isn't defection. No, he has a plan to steal some vital information. He's been working on some particular problem in nuclear physics, but he's reached a roadblock as the mathematics behind a particular portion of the problem has stumped him. Michael's plan was to get the information he seeks from a prominent East German scientist, Prof. Lindt (Ludwig Donath), and then defect back to the West. It's a daft plan, but it was a plan. It would have been only moderately difficult for him to escape East Germany alone, but with a girlfriend in tow? If she's stupid enough to follow a man to a Communist dictatorship for lvoe, perhaps she's stupid enough to ditch.

Anyhow, Michael finally gets to meet Prof. Lindt, who is a brilliant man. Not only does he know a lot about nuclear physics, he knows from Michael's discussing the problem that Michael knows nothing of the problem, and is only trying to get the vital information! Spy! Traitor! Kill him, kill him! Immediately, every single student in the university seems to try to chase after Prof. Anderson, if only they know which one was really him. (In real life, the students would probably have acted more like the townsfolk in The Firemen's Ball.) Michael and Sarah have to escape the country, with the Communists one step behind.

Torn Curtain is far more entertaining than it has any right to be. It might be in part down to the direction of Alfred Hitchcock. He had had a bad experience on his previous film, Marnie, which is generally considered the end of the truly great part of his career. The plot of Torn Curtain is even more full of coincidences and lucky escapes than Hitchcock's earlier work, and with Julie Andrews in tow in a foreign country, you'd think there's no way they can realistcially escape. And yet, there are some interesting set pieces, such as a shop in Copenhagen, and a museum in East Berlin. There's also an effectively brutal murder scene. All in all, Torn Curtain isn't great, but it succeeds at entertaining.

Torn Curtain (and in fact, all of tomorrow's Hitchcock films on TCM) is available on DVD.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'd go along with that. It is entertaining, almost in spite of itself. I think the set pieces and some of the character turns are a large part of what keeps it watchable.