Torn Curtain (1966)

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Starring Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, at first glance this film is a glorious gift sent from the cinema heavens. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite hold up.

Michael Armstrong, (Newman) a rocket scientist is en route to a scientific conference; however it isn’t long before he begins to act suspiciously, eventually boarding a flight to East Berlin followed by his fiancée Sarah Sherman (Andrews) who believes he has defected. The Cold War backdrop to this film means that once in East Germany, every move they make is followed and the true nature of their trip is soon revealed, as is their desire for escape back into America.

Made after Psycho and The Birds, this film marks the beginning of the decline of Hitchcock and lacks the tension and clarity of direction which drove his earlier works into the light. Although there are a few moments which feel more classically Hitch, such as a gruelling death scene in which he demonstrates how horrible the murder of another human being is – physically as well as emotionally. A lot of the two hour running time is taken up with lingering shots and pauses that arguably rob the film of its momentum.

One thing which shines through is the performances – ranging from Andrews’s and Newman’s predictably brilliant on screen presences to the supporting cast member’s equally compelling work, particularly that of Carolyn Conwell, the farmer’s wife who aids Michael in his attempts to gain information, and Ludwig Donath as Lindt, the chief scientist believed to have knowledge about anti-missile systems.

Although this film isn’t one of the best Hitchcock’s you will ever watch, it suffers because of the reputation of its director – more is expected. Interesting lead performances are the most appealing thing about a film that is no classic but passes the time well enough.

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