A Movie A Day: Quint on Hitchcock’s TORN CURTAIN (1966) Come on, gentlemen! Cluck, cluck, cluck! You’re like chickens!
Published at: June 26, 2008, 8:05 p.m. CST by quint
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.