Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Torn Curtain

Hitchcock, 1966, 122m

An American physicist defects to East Germany, taking us back to Cold War days. The curtain in the movie's title refers to the Iron Curtain which fenced off the world of communism, a term with to the present generation is unlikely to mean much.

Hitchcock in his last phase seems to have lost his taste for the macabre and gruesome. He is done with the psychotic worlds of Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963). With these two films (Marnie (1966) can also be included) he had exorcised his demons and was to provide us with entertainment of a more wholesome sort.

This is another espionage romance set in the beautiful environment of Copenhagen and Berlin. It is a delight to visit these places in the company of the Hitchcock camera, which lends beauty and life to everything. The movie is a feast for the eyes. One of the nicest sequences is a chase through a museum, and we travel over the marble floors with the figures in all those paintings watching the action in grim amusement. Of course everything is subordinate to the action of the narrative and beauty after all is best enjoyed when it passes by, rather than when one goes after it in a self conscious way. The romance of the physicist-lovers played by Julie Andrews and Paul Newman is the binding thread.

The film is over long and the pace of action and suspense cannot hold one's attention. Beyond a certain point the momentum of the urge to see it to the end and find out what happens and to tick off one more Hitchcock is what carries one through. We are glad when it is over. Hitchcock is there with his craftsmanship and talent but the inspiration is missing. Perhaps it is because I have just seen Topaz, a riveting movie of similar genre. This is not the best Hitchcock, but neither by any means it is the worst.

Bosley Crowther


Nathanael Hood said...

I dunno...everything Hitchcock did after "Psycho" just felt really sterile and occasionally phoned in....and that includes "The Birds."

This film was enjoyable, but it just lacked the same kind of power that his other great films did.

S. M. Rana said...

This movie resembles Topaz, but Topaz is a superior film. Both films resemble the Bond series in a superficial way, but the Hitchcock hand is clearly visible in terms of the execution. The camera constantly delights and you can just forget about the theme and see it as a sequence of superbly framed shots.

Psycho, Rear Window and Vertigo are three movies in which Hitchcock explores pathological aspects or at least sub-terrains of human nature. But I think Hitchcock is essentially more fun loving and affirmative than morbidly introverted (he is famously wicked) and in his later years probably wanted to play lighter tunes. Of course in Frenzy (72?) with it's necktie strangler again he treats us to a gory meal.

At the end of the day, he's a versatile guy, and Psycho is just one extreme of the Hitchcock spectrum, not necessarily the most essential one. And it does have a stupid ending, everyone seems to think so.

Vincent Canby's review of Topaz in NY Times, which I have linked, is a wonderful and incisive piece of film journalism.

Anonymous said...

During the production, Hitchcock fired one of his key collaboraters Bernard Herrmann, the legendary Hollywood composer, for not providing "right" music he wanted. I listened to his rejected score; I think his brooding and savage score could have infused some tension into this disappointment.

After "The Birds", the works of Hitchcock were sort of mixed bag, and "Torn Curtain" was certainly low point in his career. But, as you pointed out, it's still a Hitchcok movie.

S. M. Rana said...

Seems a bit unfair to say Hitchcock is not as good as Hitchcock.