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Torn Curtain

30 Aug

Torn Curtain  – directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Suspense. An American scientist defects to East Germany followed by his girl-friend/Friday, and both must extricate themselves before ITTL (It Is Too Late). 128 minutes Color 1966.

★★★★

After To Catch A Thief I stopped seeing Hitchcock films as they came out, and I know why. The sets look fraudulent.

Why? What aid does this give to the tension of the stories?

Does this come about because Hitchcock story-boarded everything and was only interested in the mock-ups, not in the actual making of the picture itself?

Did the people responsible take it for granted that he liked fake sets

I felt and feel the suspense undermined by the want of reality of the settings in which the perils occurred. Here, for instance, we have an extended murder sequence beautifully shot, but taking place in a little country farmhouse which from the outside looks papier-maché.

Aside from this difficulty, I have no real difficulty with the piece. Of course, the problem with script is well known as having none of the droll Hitchcock gallows humor, which Cary Grant could carry so well, provided the lines provided it. And even if it had the lines, actually we have two actors devoid of the sense of humor that would have required, Paul Newman, who is such a “serious” actor, and Julie Andrews who has pep but no sense of humor at all. And since they are surrounded by spies and scientists and police who are all German, one cannot expect humor from that quarter.

Of course, from the dramatic point of view, Julie Andrews is excellent in the role. You care about her, you wonder about her, you understand her. Newman is excellent for the same reasons. He plays the formula-revelation scene brilliantly and the slaying of the guard brilliantly: he doesn’t want to, but he has to. But both of them lose power in the final scenes, which disappear their characters in a welter of escape-action sequences, and they become lax. They are also left hanging by Hitchcock’s treatment of them. And you never believe Andrews babushka disguise for a minute – her fancy frosted hair shows. But they are both excellent fun in the sex scene with which the film starts, the tone of which is, alas, never followed through.

If Hitchcock’s films of this period disappoint, it is because Hitchcock himself loses power. He devises suspense sequences he cannot execute well, such as the bus trip, and the police entering the theatre at the end, and ditching the guard in the museum.

On the other hand, we have a priceless performance by Ludwig Donath as the key nuclear scientist., who sweeps everything before him with his excitement and authority. And we have a price-of-admission performance by Lila Kedrova as a displaced Polish countess seeking asylum in the United States. She devours the screen. You want her to go on forever, and Hitchcock almost lets her, as he close-ups her while she renders this half-mad character for us. Don’t miss her. And, if you like Hitchcock, don’t miss the film either. Why, you can see both at one and the very same time.

 
 
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