Theatrical release poster by Howard Terpning
|Directed by||Alfred Hitchcock|
|Produced by||Alfred Hitchcock|
|Screenplay by||Brian Moore|
|Music by||John Addison|
|Cinematography||John F. Warren|
|Editing by||Bud Hoffman|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Running time||128 minutes|
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.
On a cruise ship en route to Copenhagen, Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman), an esteemed American physicist and rocket scientist, is to attend a scientific conference. Once there, he begins acting suspiciously, eventually flying to East Berlin, where he is welcomed by representatives of the East German government. His assistant and fiancée, Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews), follows him there, believing he 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.
It soon becomes apparent to the viewer that Armstrong's 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. Armstrong has made preparations to return to the West. These plans are threatened, along with the entire escape network, known as Pi, when he is followed to the isolated farm home of his contact by Hermann Gromek (Wolfgang Kieling), an East German security officer assigned to him. Armstrong kills Gromek, who is then buried by the 'farmer' (Mort Mills) and his wife (Carolyn Conwell). The taxicab driver (Peter Lorre Jr., uncredited) who drove Armstrong to the farm, however, reports Armstrong's suspicious behavior to the police.
Armstrong visits the physics faculty of Karl Marx University in Leipzig, where his loyalty is suspected because of the missing Gromek. The faculty try to interrogate his fiancée/assistant about her knowledge of the American "Gamma Five" anti-missile program, but she refuses to cooperate and runs from the room. 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 his fiancée are being sought for questioning, he realizes that he has given up his secrets while learning nothing in return. Armstrong must make a harrowing escape, along with Sherman, with the help of the university clinic physician Dr. Koska (Gisela Fischer).
They travel to East Berlin, pursued by the Stasi, in a bus operated by the Pi escape network, led by Mr. Jacobi (David Opatoshu). Roadblocks, highway robbery by Soviet Army deserters, and bunching with the real bus increase the suspense. The escape eventually leads to an alliance with the exiled Polish countess Kuchinska (Lila Kedrova), and a typical Hitchcock setpiece, an escape through a crowded theater after being spotted by the lead ballerina (Tamara Toumanova), who bears a bit of a grudge. (At the beginning of the movie, 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 hide in a crate of props belonging to a traveling Czech troupe. The troupe travels across 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, and Armstrong and Sherman are able to escape by jumping overboard and swimming to a Swedish dock.
Background and production
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Initially, Hitchcock wanted to cast Eva Marie Saint, the blonde star of North by Northwest, but the studio forced him to cast Julie Andrews. Hitchcock also spoke in 1965 to Cary Grant about appearing in the film, only to learn that Grant intended to make just one more film and then retire.
Hitchcock later complained that Universal Pictures executives insisted on famous stars being cast—after The Birds and Marnie both featured his discovery Tippi Hedren—and that both Andrews and Newman were "recommended" to him rather than being his real choices. However, it was a minor hit for Hitchcock, though seldom considered one of the director's best works. 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.
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.
During production, the film faced some major setbacks, beyond the dispute surrounding its female lead. 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.
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." Newman, who was known as a "Method" actor, consulted Hitchcock about his character's motivations and 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.
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 snuck 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. As a result, another score was commissioned from John Addison, who had recently achieved notoriety with his offbeat scoring of the 1963 film version of Tom Jones.
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.
- "Torn Curtain, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved May 22, 2012.
- McGilligan, Patrick (2003). Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light. New York: HarperCollins. p. 663.
- Perry, George (1987). The Complete Phantom of the Opera. New York: Henry Holt and Company. p. 48. ISBN 0-8050-1722-4.
- Busby, Brian (2003). Character Parts: Who's Really Who in CanLit. Toronto: Knopf. p. 32. ISBN 0-676-97578-X.
- "Big Rental Pictures of 1966", Variety, 4 January 1967 p 8