A Movie A Day: Quint on Hitchcock’s TORN CURTAIN (1966)
Come on, gentlemen! Cluck, cluck, cluck! You’re like chickens!
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today we follow my new girlfriend, 1960s Julie Andrews, over from THE SOUND OF MUSIC to her work with Alfred Hitchcock in 1966’s thriller TORN CURTAIN, co-starring AMAD regular Paul Newman.
It was bound to happen. Mere hours before I sat down to watch this movie, I was reminded by a friend of mine that we rented and watched this movie about 5 years ago when we were both in New Zealand. I expect there will be other films on the list that I thought I’d missed, but somehow caught and didn’t remember until watching it.
That said, most of the movie felt new to me, but I did remember a few key sequences, including the down and out brawl at the farmhouse where a German farm lady helps Paul Newman kill his pursuer and Hitch’s cameo.
That’s not to say the movie isn’t good enough to leave an impression on me. It’s a little clunkier than Hitchcock’s best (especially the farm house fight, with random inserts thrown in that just distract from the actual struggle) and the story is kind of muddled.
However, the plot isn’t the point of the movie. We follow Newman, an American scientist, and his fiancée (Andrews) as he goes behind the Iron Curtain into Eastern Germany, on the guise that the US government has shut down a program he’s been working on… a missile defense system that would obliterate the threat of nuclear war.
If his government won’t fund it, then maybe the Commies will. Andrews knows something’s wrong as they travel Europe for a scientific conference (a trip we know he didn’t want her to come on), so she follows him, finding out he’s a traitor.
Of course, he really isn’t. That’s his way into meet the most brilliant German scientists and find out what they’re up to.
All that is just an excuse to have the wolves close on these two very likable characters starting at about the 40 minute mark. Halfway through the movie, he’s got what he needs and the rest is just a suspense-ridden fight out from behind the Iron Curtain with Germany’s police and military hunting them every step of the way.
And the escape is tense, multi-layered and at times seemingly impossible, which is great when a film can put you in a scenario with the characters where you think “Well, I don’t know how they’re going to get out of this one.” I remember that was one of the things I liked so much about SHAOLIN SOCCER… the opposing team really did seem unbeatable, so you’re really concerned that your leads might not come out victorious.
There are wonderful characters that pop up, including the German Scientist Newman is trying to get alone time with, Professor Lindt (played by Ludwig Donath) and probably my favorite character in the whole film, Countess Kuchinska (Lila Kedrova), an older Polish woman who finds and helps Newman and Andrews in exchange for a promise of sponsorship once they get back home.
She’s miserable, trapped and can’t get out. She sees freedom, longs to be in America, but while the Eastern German government don’t care if she leaves or not, the American Government requires her to be sponsored by an American.
She exudes desperation, but also a childlike enthusiasm. When Andrews and Newman agree to help her she’s like a child at Christmas and ends up risking life and limb to help them on their way out of Germany.
Hitch cameo alert: I figured since there are a good many Hitchcock films on the list, I might as well make it a tradition to highlight his famous cameos in each one. Here, composer Bernard Herrmann was replaced by John Addison (although many of Herrmann’s cues remain in the film) and I think it was Addison that adds in a nice little nod for Hitch’s cameo. They strike up the famous Funeral March For A Marionette, the theme from Alfred Hitchcock Presents when we first see Hitch. Maybe a little overplayed, but it made me smile.
Overall, not Hitchcock’s best, but both Newman and Andrews are at the peak of their games and are as charming as ever. This film was Newman’s follow-up to our first AMAD (Harper) and Andrews’ follow-up to the world-wide sensation that was yesterday’s AMAD: The Sound of Music.
The suspense works, there are interesting characters and two of cinema’s greatest screen presences at the top of their popularity.
The schedule for the next 7 days is:
Friday, June 27th: THE LEFT HANDED GUN (1958)
Saturday, June 28th: CALIGULA (1980)
Sunday, June 29th: THE ELEPHANT MAN (1980)
Monday, June 30th: THE GOOD FATHER (1987)
Tuesday, July 1st: SHOCK TREATMENT (1981)
Wednesday, July 2nd: FLASHBACK (1990)
Thursday, July 3rd: KLUTE (1971)
Tomorrow we follow Paul Newman once again, this time to one of his early screen roles, 1958’s THE LEFT-HANDED GUN where he plays none other than Billy, The Kid. See you folks then!
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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June 26, 2008, 8:24 p.m. CST
June 26, 2008, 8:32 p.m. CST
Never heard of this movie before.Thanks for the heads up! Paul Newman in a Hitchcock film sounds like a winner! Still can't believe I've never heard of this before.
June 26, 2008, 8:56 p.m. CST
by Finding Forrestal
TORN CURTAIN is minor Hitchcock. Although the murder sequences is one of his best directed.
June 26, 2008, 9:07 p.m. CST
I am proud to own over 30 of his movies and they're all fantastic
June 26, 2008, 9:10 p.m. CST
That sequence is the only masterful thing in an otherwise mediocre to poor Hitchcock picture. I'm blown away that you would think it consisted of "random inserts thrown in that just distract from the actual struggle". I'm a storyboard artist and I'm constantly looking back at that sequence for the power of it's shot selection and cutting. You need to read Podovkin's Film Technique...urgently! Gabriel Hardman
June 26, 2008, 9:16 p.m. CST
You mentioned a few Movie a Day's ago there was a Hitchcock you hadn't seen but should have... I'm thinking no, so really I'm just fishing for another hint as to what it is... (I guessed Rear Window)
June 26, 2008, 9:46 p.m. CST
not the biggie.<BR><BR>Gabriel, I'm sure a lot of people love it and the shot selection is not what I had a problem with. Look at the inserts leading up to it, with Gromek jabbing at Newman's chest. The cuts don't match. Every time they cut back to the wide his hand's in a different place. I understand the effect is the important thing and the editing makes you visualize the impact of the jabs... and the POV shot of Gromek being pulled closer and closer to the oven is fine... but compare this sequence to the famous shower scene in Psycho where nothing felt out of place and everything moved as one. Here you could see all the different parts acting against each other.<BR><BR>I'm sure my thinking isn't the popular thing, but it's how I feel. I think the way the handled the second bus getting closer and closer and closer was much more suspenseful than the kitchen murder in the film.
June 26, 2008, 9:47 p.m. CST
I'm surprised Quint didn't mention John Warren's work in this. Even though a lesser Hitchcock film it's impeccably shot. The film uses a very unusual color palette that
June 26, 2008, 10:11 p.m. CST
by Nasty In The Pasty
The intentionally overextended murder setpiece is the highlight (referenced recently in Lust, Caution). It's hard to forgive Hitch for canning Herrmann's score, though.
June 26, 2008, 10:27 p.m. CST
Will you do Gremlins 2 please?
June 26, 2008, 10:36 p.m. CST
I was wondering if you have seen Darker Than Amber and if you haven't I hope you will include it in your viewing list. Not even sure if it is out on dvd or even vhs.
June 26, 2008, 10:38 p.m. CST
by Mavra Chang
That is one of Hitchock's best. I believe he even considered it his personal favorite. I put it in my top five faves of his work.
June 26, 2008, 10:42 p.m. CST
by Mavra Chang
June 26, 2008, 10:48 p.m. CST
Hitchock famously fired Bernard Herrmann in the middle of a "Torn Curtain" scoring session because Herrmann refused to write a contemporary pop score, as demanded by Universal studio bosses. (And Hitchcock, though a revered cinema Icon, was a spineless weakling when dealing with his Universal overseers) The replacement score by John Addison is pure rinky-dink TV-movie pablum. Compare it to the partial score that Herrmann wrote for the film before he was sacked..it's available on CD..he even scored the farmhouse murder. It's angry, edgy, pure Herrmann. .....speaking of Gromek's murder, Hitchcock supposedly shot a sequence in which Newman, touring an East German factory, runs into Gromek's twin brother...honest.
June 26, 2008, 10:50 p.m. CST
I thought the purpose of that scene. To demonstrate how really difficult it can be to murder someone if you're not experienced. Perhaps I'm giving him too much credit to think that they intentionally shot it that way to give it an awkward feeling. Perhaps it was just a slip up.
June 26, 2008, 11:34 p.m. CST
by Nasty In The Pasty
That Hitch considered it one of his best movies bafles me.
June 26, 2008, 11:35 p.m. CST
by Nasty In The Pasty
Again, check out Lust, Caution. About halfway through the film there's a darkly humorous murder scene with a victim who just plain refuses to die. In fact, there are a *lot* of Hichcock references in that film (even a poster of Suspicion on a theater wall at one point).
June 27, 2008, 12:31 a.m. CST
rear window? north by northwest? hey quint, want to totally geek out? why not do a month of just bette davis and joan crawford films, ending with whatever happened to baby jane...ahhhh...when men were men and women fucked their directors
June 27, 2008, 2:14 a.m. CST
A very popular (but already dead) German actor.
June 27, 2008, 2:15 a.m. CST
I didn't like it. And usually I got a soft spot for old SciFi movies, even if they are ridiculous.
June 27, 2008, 3 a.m. CST
Sounds to me like people thought Hitch was cashing in using the biggest up and coming actors of the time, not judging the performances they give. Just looking at it as a film, Newman is pretty great. It's not a role for Jimmy Stewart... this character is a little more... driven, I guess is the word I'm looking for. And Andrews... well, I couldn't say a bad thing about my new girlfriend even if there was something bad to say...
June 27, 2008, 3:45 a.m. CST
Well not really, it's OK though.
June 27, 2008, 3:48 a.m. CST
I think that was the movie where your new girlfriend gets her knockers out. And at the risk of sounding like a total cliché, how can you not have seen "The Elephant Man"? It's a top tenner
June 27, 2008, 4:50 a.m. CST
Made 3 years before Torn Curtain, starring Paul Newman, Edward G Robinson and Elke Sommer. About an American scientist (for real this time!) who encounters secret agents on his way to the Nobel Prize ceremonies. Coincidence?
June 27, 2008, 7:49 a.m. CST
Two things: (i) Will Indy 4 be one day accepted as "really not that bad, quite good in fact" like this now is? People hated it at the time, didn't they? (ii) I'm with Hitch on the Herrmann score. It's very discordant, *much* more experimental than any of his previous soundtracks for him. Flame away, but all I'm saying is, I can see why Hitchcock wasn't pleased.
June 27, 2008, 8:11 a.m. CST
Newman as Billy the Kid? Shit. That sounds incredible! How do I not know about this movie?<p> I'm so ashamed now...
June 27, 2008, 8:55 a.m. CST
Quint, when you sit down to watch SHOCK TREATMENT, do NOT expect the thing to be a straight continuation of ROCKY HORROR with more drugs and sex jokes. It is a completely different animal, still subversive, but about different things. I think the film is actually more relevant in today's "reality TV" culture than it has ever been. Plus its got some good songs and Jessica Parker can really belt them out...
June 27, 2008, 10:14 a.m. CST
by The Alienist
...that line always comes to mind when I hear the title...
June 27, 2008, 10:15 a.m. CST
by The Alienist
and boy, do I love me some "Shock Treatment"!!!
June 27, 2008, 1:16 p.m. CST
in a Hitchcock review. Oh well. I taped this off TCM and still haven't gotten around to watching it. Can't wait to see Quint's write-ups for Caligula and Shock Treatment...
June 27, 2008, 3:16 p.m. CST
Right you are. That was a weird, early morning brain fart...
June 27, 2008, 10:10 p.m. CST
Julie Andrews was some piece of pussy in her day. She was gorgeous in Mary Poppins
June 30, 2008, 12:34 a.m. CST
of a Doubt is a perfect film. Maybe you just have no attention span.
June 30, 2008, 2:52 p.m. CST
by Munro Kelly
You are right. I read, in one of the many books about Hitchcock, that the point of the scene was that killing is hard.
July 5, 2008, 11:03 p.m. CST
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