Torn Curtain

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Torn Curtain
Torn curtain.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Howard Terpning
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by
Screenplay by Brian Moore
Music by John Addison
Cinematography John F. Warren
Edited by Bud Hoffman
Universal Pictures
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • July 14, 1966 (1966-07-14) (USA)
Running time
128 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3 million[1]
Box office $13,000,000[1]

Torn Curtain is a 1966 American political thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Paul Newman and Julie Andrews. Written by Brian Moore, the film is about an American scientist who pretends to defect to East Germany as part of a clandestine mission to obtain the solution of a formula resin and escape back to the United States.


Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman), an esteemed American physicist and rocket scientist, is to attend a scientific conference in Copenhagen. He takes a cruise ship to Copenhagen along with his assistant and fiancée, Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews). Armstrong tells Sherman that he did not want her to come along, and en route to Copenhagen, he receives a radiogram to pick up a book once in Copenhagen. The book, allegedly a first-edition of one of Armstrong's book, actually contains a message that says, "Contact π in case [of emergency.]" He tells Sherman he is going to Stockholm, but she discovers he is flying to East Berlin, and she follows him there. When they land, he is welcomed by representatives of the East German government, and Sherman realizes that Armstrong has defected to the other side. Sherman, however, is extremely uncomfortable with this move, realizing if the apparent defection is in fact real, given the circumstances of the Cold War of the period, she would likely never see her home or family again. They are constantly accompanied by Professor Karl Manfred (Günter Strack), who took part in arranging Armstrong's defection to the East.

Armstrong visits a contact, a 'farmer' (Mort Mills), where it is revealed that his defection is in fact a ruse to gain the confidence of the East German scientific establishment in order to learn just how much their chief scientist Gustav Lindt (Ludwig Donath) and by extension, the Soviet Union, knows about anti-missile systems. While Armstrong does not inform the U.S. government of his plan, he has made preparations to return to the West via an escape network, known as π. However, Armstrong is followed to this farm by his official body man, Hermann Gromek (Wolfgang Kieling), an East German security officer assigned to him. Gromek realizes what π is and that Armstrong is a double agent, and as Gromek is calling the police to report his suspicions, a tortuous fight scene commences that ends with Gromek being killed. So as to not arouse the suspicion of the taxi driver who brought Armstrong to the farm, a gun is not used to kill Gromek, but instead he is choked, stabbed, hit with a shovel, and, ultimately, gassed to death by Armstrong and the farmer's wife (Carolyn Conwell). Gromek and his motorcycle are then buried by the 'farmer' and his wife. The taxicab driver (Peter Lorre Jr., uncredited) who drove Armstrong to the farm, however, reports on Armstrong's behavior to the police when he sees Gromek's missing person ad in the newspaper. The remains of Gromek are found; the fate of the farmer's wife is not given.

Armstrong visits the physics faculty of Karl Marx University in Leipzig, where his interview with the scientists is abruptly ended when he is questioned by security officials about the missing Gromek. The faculty try to interrogate Sherman about her knowledge of the American "Gamma Five" anti-missile program, but she refuses to cooperate and runs from the room even though she had agreed to cooperate and defect to East Germany. At this point, Armstrong secretly confides to her his actual motives, and asks her to go along with the ruse. He finally goads Professor Lindt into revealing his anti-missile equations in a fit of pique over what Lindt believes are Armstrong's mathematical mistakes. When Lindt hears over the university's loudspeaker system that Armstrong and Sherman are being sought for questioning, he realizes that he has given up his secrets while learning nothing in return. Armstrong and Sherman escape from the school with the help of the university clinic physician Dr. Koska (Gisela Fischer).

They travel to East Berlin, pursued by the Stasi, in a decoy bus operated by the π escape network, led by Mr. Jacobi (David Opatoshu). Roadblocks, highway robbery by Soviet Army deserters, and bunching with the "real" bus result in the police becoming aware of the decoy bus and everyone fleeing. While looking for the Friedrichstraße post office, the two encounter the exiled Polish countess Kuchinska (Lila Kedrova) who leads them to the post office in hopes of being sponsored for an American visa. The police find Armstrong and Sherman at the post office, and Kuchinska throws herself in front of the police so they can go to their next destination, a travel agency.

When Armstrong and Sherman arrive at the travel agency, however, the police were performing a raid. Two men from the travel agency walk up to them on the sidewalk - one is the 'farmer' - and give them tickets to the ballet, with the plan being to travel with the troupe to Sweden later that night. While they are attending the ballet and waiting for the pick-up, the are reported to the police because they were spotted by the lead ballerina (Tamara Toumanova), who bears a bit of a grudge: she flew to East Berlin on the same airplane as Armstrong, and mistakenly believed the press were there to greet her, rather than Armstrong. Armstrong and Sherman escape through a crowded theater by shouting fire, and after Armstrong and Sherman hide in a crate of props belonging to a traveling Czech troupe, they cross the Baltic Sea to Sweden on a freighter. The ballerina makes a mistake in uncovering where Armstrong and Sherman are hiding on the ship, the wrong crates are fired on when already dangling over the pier (thus, Swedish crane operators technically have control over the property once it was off an East German boat), and Armstrong and Sherman are able to escape by jumping overboard and swimming to a Swedish dock.


Background and production[edit]


By the time Torn Curtain, his fiftieth film, was conceived, Alfred Hitchcock was the most famous film director in Hollywood, having already reached the pinnacle of commercial success six years before with Psycho. Audiences eagerly expected his next film. To find a gripping plot, Hitchcock turned towards the spy thriller genre, which was greatly in fashion since the early 1960s with the success of the James Bond series starting in 1962 with Dr. No.

The idea behind Torn Curtain came from the defection of British diplomats Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean to Russia in 1951. Hitchcock was particularly intrigued about Maclean’s life in the Soviet Union and about Melinda Marling, Maclean’s wife, who followed her husband behind the Iron Curtain a year later with the couple’s three children. With these facts as a starting point Hitchcock created a plot line involving an American nuclear physicist, Professor Michael Armstrong, defecting to East Germany. Against his will, the physicist is followed to East Berlin by his fiancée and assistant, who decides to remain loyal to him regardless of his intentions. The twist of the story is that Professor Armstrong is in fact a member of a secret spy ring and he has defected only with the idea of stealing a formula from an East German scientist.

The script was commissioned to Irish-Canadian writer Brian Moore, author of Judith Hearne. Moore moved to California to work on on the script, but neither Hitchcock nor Universal were satisfied with his script. It lacked the humor characteristic of a Hitchcock film. They found the dialogue flat and lacking sparkle. Brian Moore's own dissatisfaction with the project was reflected in his novel Fergus (1970), which features Bernard Boweri, an unsympathetic character based on Hitchcock.[2]

An extensive rewrite was commissioned to British authors Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, known for their screenplay for Whistle Down the Wind (1961), A Kind of Loving (1962), and Billy Liar (1963), the latter based on the novel by Waterhouse.


Universal Pictures executives insisted on famous stars being cast for the leads after The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964), both of which featured Hitchcock's discovery Tippi Hedren, were box office disappointments. Paul Newman and Julie Andrews were "recommended" to Hitchcock by the studio rather than being his real choices. The director felt that the stars were ill-suited to their roles, while their salaries of $750,000 each took a big part of the film's $5 million budget. After the back-to-back successes of Mary Poppins (1964) and The Sound of Music (1965), Julie Andrews was Hollywood's biggest star at the time. As she was much in demand, she was only available for a short period of time, and that meant that the production of the film was rushed, although Hitchcock was not yet satisfied with the script.

Hitchcock surrounded Newman and Andrews with colorful supporting actors: Lila Kedrova as the eccentric and flamboyantly dressed Countess Luchinska who helps Armstrong and Sherman in their escape in return for their sponsoring her to go to America; Tamara Toumanova as the haughty prima ballerina whose limelight Armstrong steals when he arrives in East Berlin; Ludwig Donath as the crotchety professor Lindt, eager to cut the chat and get down to business; Wolfgang Kieling as the sinister Hermann Gromek, the gum-chewing personal guide the East German authorities provide to shadow Armstrong's every move.


The film's climax in a theatre was filmed on Sound stage 28 at Universal Studios. Sound stage 28 was also used in the 1925 and 1943 versions of The Phantom of the Opera with Lon Chaney, Sr. 41 years earlier. The set remains in use and is a major tourist attraction.[3]

During production, the film faced some major setbacks. The original script was found unsuitable by both Hitchcock and Universal. British authors Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall had to do extensive re-writes and script doctoring before any filming could be completed, despite their efforts being uncredited.

Perhaps the best-known scene is the fight to the death between Armstrong and Gromek, a gruesome, prolonged struggle. In conversation with François Truffaut, Hitchcock said that he included the scene deliberately to show the audience how difficult it can be to kill a man, because a number of spy thrillers at the time made killing look effortless.

Financial problems and several filming location changes also delayed the production.

The working relationship between Hitchcock and Newman was also said to be problematic. Newman came from a different generation of actors from the likes of Cary Grant and James Stewart and questioned Hitchcock about the script and the characterization throughout filming. Hitchcock later said he found Newman's manner and approach unacceptable and disrespectful. Newman insisted that he meant no disrespect towards Hitchcock, and once said, "I think Hitch and I could have really hit it off, but the script kept getting in the way." When Newman, a Method actor, consulted Hitchcock about his character's motivations, the director replied that Newman's "motivation is your salary." Furthermore, as Hitchcock discovered, the expected onscreen chemistry between Newman and Andrews failed to materialize. McGilligan wrote that Hitchcock shifted his attentions to the colorful international actors who played supporting roles in the film.

Brian Moore's own dissatisfaction with the project was reflected in his novel Fergus (1970), which features Bernard Boweri, an unsympathetic character based on Hitchcock.[2]

Alfred Hitchcock's cameo is a signature occurrence in most of his films. In Torn Curtain he can be seen (8 minutes into the film) sitting in a hotel lobby holding Julie Andrews' young daughter, Emma Kate. His presence is signaled by a trombone playing the theme of his TV series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Steven Spielberg told James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio that as a young man he sneaked onto the soundstage to observe the filming, and remained for 45 minutes before an assistant producer asked him to leave.


The film had two scores. The first was written by Bernard Herrmann, a recurrent contributor to Hitchcock's work. Hitchcock and Universal, though, asked Herrmann for a soundtrack that was more upbeat than the material initially provided by the horror-genre veteran, from whom a pop- and jazz-influenced composition was requested for this latest project. Biographer Patrick McGilligan wrote that Universal hoped Herrmann might even write a song for lead actress Julie Andrews to perform. However, even when Herrmann revised his score, it still was not as Hitchcock or the studio had wanted. Hitchcock and Herrmann ended their long-time collaboration and John Addison was approached to write the score.

In the climactic scene involving the ballet at the East Berlin theatre, the music was excerpted from Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini.


Torn Curtain was released without any rating on 14 July 1966 (see original 1966 movie poster above). However, the film was given an "M" (for "Mature"—later changed to "PG") under the MPAA film rating system that took effect November 1, 1968.

The film earned $7 million in North American rentals in 1966.[4]


  1. ^ a b "Torn Curtain, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved May 22, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b Busby, Brian (2003). Character Parts: Who's Really Who in CanLit. Toronto: Knopf. p. 32. ISBN 0-676-97578-X. 
  3. ^ Perry, George (1987). The Complete Phantom of the Opera. New York: Henry Holt and Company. p. 48. ISBN 0-8050-1722-4. 
  4. ^ "Big Rental Pictures of 1966", Variety, 4 January 1967 p 8

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