A wealthy San Francisco socialite pursues a potential boyfriend to a small Northern California town that slowly takes a turn for the bizarre when birds of all kinds suddenly begin to attack people there in increasing numbers and with increasing viciousness.
Professor Michael Armstrong is heading to Stockholm to attend a physics conference accompanied by his assistant-fiancée Sarah Sherman. Once arrived however, Michael informs her that he may be staying for awhile and she should return home. She follows him and realizes he's actually heading to East Germany, behind the Iron Curtain. She follows him there and is shocked when he announces that he's defecting to the East after the US government canceled his research project. In fact, Michael is there to obtain information from a renowned East German scientist. Once the information is obtained, he and Sarah now have to make their way back to the West. Written by
Despite the falling out between Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann, Torn Curtain turned out to be one of the highest grossing films of 1966 for Universal. See more »
Reflected in the window of the farmhouse as Armstrong enters. See more »
Professor Karl Manfred:
Are they ever going to get the heating fixed?
They are working at it, Professor. Perhaps some of you scientists would like to give us a helping hand!
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The first time I watched "Torn Curtain," I grew bored and turned it off before it was over. I've watched it in its entirety more than once since then. It's difficult not to conclude that the master director's age was beginning to take its toll by 1966. It could have been a great film except for some major flaws.
First, the main characters. Newman and Andrews look distinctly ill-at-ease and their acting is wooden. There is very nearly no chemistry between them, and viewers are not really drawn into their somewhat implausible situation. Both actors are compelling in other films, but for some reason not in this one.
Second, Hitchcock would have done better to keep his villains' identity less specific. In "The Lady Vanishes", "The Thirty-nine Steps," and "North by Northwest," the identity of the foreign agents is left deliberately vague and thus little plausibility need be attached to their actions. Here they are East German communists, of which we know rather a lot.
Third, there are inconsistencies in the plot. At one point Newman and Andrews are forced to go out into an open space to avoid being overheard. But in another scene a pro-western spy communicates confidential information to Newman in a hospital room, seemingly oblivious to the possibility of wiretaps.
Finally, there's John Addison's score, which seems to have been written quite independently of the film's action. A suspenseful scene is inappropriately matched with cheerful, melodic music. Everyone knows, of course, that Hitch's longtime musical collaborator, Bernard Herrmann, wrote a mostly complete score for the film, but the two had a falling out on the set and Herrmann was dismissed. Another example of poor judgement on Hitchcock's part. Herrmann's score would have immeasurably improved a mediocre film. (Look at "Obsession" nearly a decade later.) With all the recent film restorations, I would love to see someone redo "Torn Curtain" and put in as much of Herrmann's score as the composer was able to finish. (But perhaps there would be copyright problems.) Had Herrmann's score been used, the murder sequence in the farmhouse might have become as famous as the shower scene in "Psycho."
As I was watching the protagonists flee through the East German landscape in their efforts to reach the west, I found myself thinking that, if they had only waited another twenty-three years, the wall would have come down anyway and they could simply have walked out! That's how much their plight gripped me.
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