[box cover]

Torn Curtain

If the 1950s was when the career of Alfred Hitchcock peaked with a string of masterworks, it was the '60s when the Master himself began to slow down. Certainly there was 1960's Psycho and The Birds in 1963, but 1965's Marnie tanked, to be followed by Torn Curtain a year later. The film perhaps is the nadir of the Hitchcockian oeuvre. Paul Newman plays Michael Armstrong, a physicist who defects to East Germany so he can work on his rocket project. His assistant/girlfriend (Julie Andrews) pluckily decides to stand by her man and follows him uninvited to East Berlin. But — surprise! — Newman's really faking desertion so he can pick the brain of a German scientist who has the information he needs to complete a nuclear defense project for the Americans. Not surprisingly, the plan is quickly discovered and the two must flee for their lives. In addition to a thuddingly dull plot, Torn Curtain suffers from a major lack of enthusiasm on Hitchcock's part — he not only disliked Andrews in her role and had trouble getting a script that he was happy with, but he also clashed with Actors Studio-trained Newman and fired longtime-collaborator Bernard Herrmann because of a disagreement over the score. The last was a notable mistake — the score by Herrmann's replacement, John Addison, is abominable and often glaringly inappropriate to the scene at hand. The film itself is directed in the haphazard manner of a director who really doesn't give a damn, with some scenes gorgeously constructed and plotted in classic Hitchcock fashion, while others feature astoundingly horrible rear-projection shots and pedestrian editing. The famous "farmhouse scene" (with the brutal murder of an East German agent) is gruesome and darkly hilarious. But a scene where Newman tricks the German scientist into giving up his secrets through a sort of "dueling formula scribbling" is unbelievably tedious, and Newman and Andrews' attempt to escape by bus into West Berlin may be one of the most excruciatingly boring "climactic" ten minutes in cinematic history. Universal's DVD release of Torn Curtain offers a good anamorphic widescreen transfer (1.85:1) with audio in monaural Dolby 2.0. The film is no masterpiece, but the 30-minute documentary "Torn Curtain Rising" offers a detailed history of the production of the film. Additional scenes with music by Bernard Herrmann make one miss his brilliance all over again, and they illustrate that this movie might not have been quite so horrible had he been allowed to finish scoring it. Production notes, cast-and-crew notes, theatrical trailer, still gallery. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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