Classical Film Reviews · Film Reviews

Classical Film Review: Torn Curtain [1966]

Torn CurtainHello and welcome to the Classical Review… otherwise known as the Alfred Hitchcock Review… because yes, this week it’s another Hitchcock film: Torn Curtain! An American physicist, Michael Armstrong, shocks his friends and family by defecting to East Germany at the height of the Cold War! [VT- Shock!] Even his fiancée, Sarah, is surprised by the move. But! When she follows him behind the Iron Curtain she discovers… that her husband to be isn’t actually a Communist… he’s a double agent! Michael’s job is to discover Soviet nuclear secrets but, as they plot a way back to America, his cover is blown!

Is it the best film you’ve ever seen? Startlingly brilliant? Is it full of mystery and intrigue?!?!

Well, it’s not a total disaster.

Whilst there are some undeniably tense moments (almost all involving Wolfgang Keiling’s KGB agent Hermann Gromek), this is Hitchcock on autopilot and really quite unrewarding.

The 1966 spy thriller has one of the lowest reputations of his late works. But Hitchcock was incapable of making a completely uninteresting film- even when lumbered with the utterly unsympathetic Paul Newman and Julie Andrews (don’t give me that look- you know they are!) He’s a screen legend, one of the best cowboys of all time and his wry humour is fantastic… yet an academic he is not.

Much criticism at the time was aimed at Julie Andrews- whose performance is perfectly acceptable. No. Really. It’s fine. She’s… fine.

She’ll do.

But she doesn’t sing! Fresh from the hugely successful Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, she was in danger of becoming type cast… because she is really ruddy good at that one thing! Make her do that one thing over and over please!

Never mind. It’s an okay film. There is even a murder scene that subverts the film convention of a quick and painless death… Film convention of the time, obviously. I don’t think Saw exactly follows those rules.

This is one of those frustrating films of two halves: In the first half of the film, there is an interesting, off-centred moral tone as Michael is an opportunistic missile scientist, trying to worm his way into East Berlin so he can pick the brain of a leading communist researcher. The second half is more of a straightforward chase that manages to loose the momentum and trust it has gained. One wonders whether there was, perhaps, a better film left on the cutting room floor.

‘It tears you apart with suspense’, reads the tag line. ‘It tears you apart with mildly frustrated boredom’, might be a more accurate title.