Following the failure of Marnie, Alfred Hitchcock returned to suspenseful form with Torn Curtain. Unfortunately, this solid, flashy thriller became the director's second consecutive box-office dud despite the pedigree of its director and the casting of mega-stars Paul Newman and Julie Andrews. From a technical standpoint, the film is exceptionally well-made and can be described in three sections. The first third introduces Newman's brilliant scientist who defects to East Germany where he is shocked to find that his girlfriend (Andrews) has followed him. The second section reveals the real reason for his "defection" and the final third deals with the couple's pulse-pounding escape. While the first few reels drag a bit, the story does kick into high gear and features several classic Hitchcock scenes. In one, Newman's attempt to ditch his German "bodyguard" Gromek (Wolfgang Keiling) leads him through a museum in which the only sound is the sharp audible clopping of each man's shoes. Later, Newman murders Gromek with the help of a contact's wife. The sequence is brutal and lengthy -- something Hitchcock wanted in order to depict just how difficult it can be to commit a murder. Climactic scenes including a bus chase and an amusing escape sequence are suspenseful, but pale in the aftermath of Gromek's murder. Torn Curtain certainly had the potential to put Hitchcock back on top, but several adverse factors threw a wrench into the director's plans. Because of Marnie, Hitchcock bowed to pressure from Universal and did two things that undermined the whole operation. First, he hired Newman and Andrews, who used up nearly half of the picture's total budget; then he fired his longtime composer Bernard Herrmann when the studio expressed concerns about his score. John Addison stepped in and created a decent score, but considering how integral Herrmann's work had been in many of Hitchcock's films, it seems obvious that his music could have significantly strengthened Curtain. Hitchcock did not work well with method actor Newman, and although he gives a good performance, his character is too aloof to connect with the audience. Hitchcock can be seen holding a baby in a hotel lobby about seven minutes into the picture.
by Patrick Legare review