Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Hitchcock's disappointing Torn Curtain

Torn Curtain is regarded as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s misfires. It was a respectable hit at the box-office in 1966, but by then the Master of Suspense, though attracting admiration from subscribers to the auteur theory, had fallen out of favor with the mainstream newspaper critics who, following the innovative Psycho, had written him off as old-fashioned and out of touch.

The romantic scenes in Torn Curtain lend credence to that view. They belong in a film from an earlier decade. Whenever Paul Newman and Julie Andrews share a tender moment or her eyes gaze lovingly upon him, John Addison’s music score is out of control, soaking the film in sappy sentiment.

But when it comes to the suspense for which Hitchcock is justly hailed, Torn Curtain rises from the mediocrity of its romance and becomes brutally modern. The murder of the KGB agent who follows Newman’s defecting scientist to a Russian farm where he has an unnecessary meeting with an American agent is as brilliant as anything Hitchcock has ever done. It’s a slow, agonizing scene that demonstrates how difficult it is to end a human life. Addison’s baton is on hold throughout the scene, and the absence of music only makes it more effective.

The scene in Dr. Lint’s lab where Newman and a Russian scientist write competing theories for a nuclear device on a chalkboard is another highlight. “You’ve given me nothing,” the eccentric Russian tells Newman. “You know nothing.” Newman is intensely staring at the board, memorizing his opponent’s formula while a voice on the PA urgently demands he be brought to the office. The scientist slams the chalkboard shut and demands that Newman not leave the room.

Of course, Newman leaves, and, with Andrews in tow, embarks on a predictable flight to safety.

Judged against Hitchcock’s better films, Torn Curtain is a disappointment, but its best moments make it well worth seeing.

Brian W. Fairbanks

© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks


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