TORN CURTAIN (Alfred Hitchcock, 1966)
Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Film
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Thursday, June 21, and Wednesday, June 27
MoMA is screening Alfred Hitchcock’s 1966 Cold War thriller, Torn Curtain, in its “Modern ‘Matinees’: Hitchcock/Truffaut, Fashionably Late” series, but don’t let that convince you that it’s museum-worthy. Torn Curtain is one of the Master of Suspense’s worst movies, and it never really had a chance. Hitchcock wanted Vladimir Nabokov to write it, but ultimately hired novelist Brian Moore to write the screenplay, then had Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall attempt to polish it. Hitch had little choice in Universal’s miscasting of the leads, Paul Newman and Julie Andrews; Hitchcock had no love for the former’s Method acting, and Andrews was on a tight schedule that affected her availability. He rejected Bernard Herrmann’s original score and replaced it with one by John Addison. The film was photographed and edited by television veterans John F. Warren and Bud Hoffman, respectively. And it was made on a limited budget, so Hitchcock’s “realistic Bond” picture relied on stand-in locations. The story was inspired by the defection of Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, British diplomats who were members of the Cambridge Five spy ring; they defected to Russia in 1951.
In Torn Curtain, Newman is rocket scientist Michael Armstrong; Andrews is Sarah Sherman, his assistant and fiancée. Unhappy with the status of one of his projects, Armstrong decides to defect to East Germany and work with missile expert Gustav Lindt (Ludwig Donath). However, Armstrong does not anticipate Sherman following him and deciding to defect as well. Once in East Berlin Armstrong is trailed by security spy Hermann Gromek (Wolfgang Kieling), visits with a mysterious farmer (Mort Mills) and his wife (Carolyn Conwell), encounters the kooky Countess Kuchinska (Lila Kedrova), and meets such underground figures as Dr. Koska (Gisela Fischer) and Mr. Jacobi (David Opatoshu). The narrative is filled with plot holes and scenes that lack the tension Hitchcock is treasured for. Even the much-ballyhooed rural murder scene is awkward, though brutal. And the bus chase is torturous. Thus, Hitchcock’s fiftieth film is nothing special; nor would his next outing be, another Hollywood political thriller, Topaz. He would ultimately regain his form with 1972’s Frenzy, a British production written by Anthony Shaffer. Torn Curtain is screening June 21 at 1:30 and June 27 at 7:00 at MoMA; “Modern ‘Matinees’: Hitchcock/Truffaut, Fashionably Late” continues through July 4 with such other Hitchcock fare as The Paradine Case, Psycho, Saboteur, Spellbound, Suspicion, Rebecca, and Rear Window.