Torn Curtain (1966) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • Professor Michael Armstrong is heading to Copenhagen 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.

  • U.S. rocket scientist Michael Armstrong and his assistant/fiancée Sarah Sherman are attending a convention in Copenhagen. Michael is acting very suspiciously and Sarah follows him to East Germany when he apparently tries to defect to the other side.

  • American scientist Michael Armstrong defects to Eastern Europe, followed by his reluctant fiancée Sarah Sherman. It's no surprise to learn that the defection is not genuine, and that his real mission is to steal a secret mathematical formula from a professor in Leipzig.

  • While traveling by ship to a convention in Copenhagen, the reluctant Professor Michael Armstrong is pressed by his fiancée and assistant, Sarah Sherman, to discuss a possible schedule to their marriage. Later in the Hotel D' Angleterre, Sarah sees Armstrong receiving a plane ticket and he explains that he needs to go to Stockholm. However, the snoopy Sarah discovers that he is indeed flying to East Berlin with Professor Karl Manfred who is also attending the convention, so she decides to follow him.

  • An American scientist publicly defects to East Germany as part of a cloak and dagger mission to find the solution for a formula resin before planning an escape back to the West.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman), an esteemed American physicist and rocket scientist, is to attend a scientific conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. He takes a cruise ship to Copenhagen along with his assistant and fiancée, Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews). Armstrong tells Sherman that he did not want her to come along, and en route to Copenhagen, he receives a radiogram to pick up a book once in Copenhagen. The book, allegedly a first-edition of one of Armstrong's book, actually contains a message that says, "Contact in case (of emergency.)" He tells Sherman he is going to Stockholm, but she discovers he is flying to East Berlin, and she follows him there. When they land, he is welcomed by representatives of the East German government, and Sherman realizes that Armstrong 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.

    Armstrong visits a contact, a 'farmer' (Mort Mills), where it is revealed that his 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. While Armstrong does not inform the U.S. government of his plan, he has made preparations to return to the West via an escape network, known as (Pi).

    However, Armstrong is followed to this farm by his official body man, Hermann Gromek (Wolfgang Kieling), an East German security officer assigned to him. Gromek realizes what is and that Armstrong is a double agent, and as Gromek is calling the police to report his suspicions, a tortuous and violent fight scene commences that ends with Gromek being killed. So as to not arouse the suspicion of the taxi driver who brought Armstrong to the farm, a gun is not used to kill Gromek, but instead he is choked, stabbed, hit with a shovel, and, ultimately, gassed to death by Armstrong and the farmer's wife (Carolyn Conwell). Gromek and his motorcycle are then buried by the 'farmer' and his wife. The taxicab driver (Peter Lorre Jr.) who drove Armstrong to the farm, however, reports on Armstrong's behavior to the police when he later sees Gromek's missing person ad in the newspaper. The remains of Gromek are found; the fate of the farmer's wife is not shown.

    Meanwhile, Armstrong visits the physics faculty of Karl Marx University in Leipzig, where his interview with the scientists is abruptly ended when he is questioned by security officials about the missing Gromek. At the same time, the faculty try to interrogate Sherman about her knowledge of the American "Gamma Five" anti-missile program, but she refuses to cooperate and runs from the room even though she had agreed to cooperate and defect to East Germany. 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 Sherman are being sought for questioning when Gromek's body is found, he realizes that he has given up his secrets while learning nothing in return. Armstrong and Sherman escape from the school with a little help from of the university clinic physician Dr. Koska (Gisela Fischer).

    They travel to East Berlin, pursued by the Stasi, in a decoy bus operated by the escape network, led by Mr. Jacobi (David Opatoshu). Roadblocks, highway robbery by Soviet Army deserters, and bunching with the "real" bus result in the police becoming aware of the decoy bus and everyone flees off the bus and scatter in the streets.

    While looking for the Friedrichstraße post office, the two encounter the exiled Polish countess Kuchinska (Lila Kedrova) who leads them to the post office in hopes of being sponsored for an American visa. The police find Armstrong and Sherman at the post office, and Kuchinska throws herself in front of the police so they can go to their next destination, a travel agency.

    When Armstrong and Sherman arrive at the travel agency, however, the police were performing a raid. Two men from the travel agency walk up to them on the sidewalk - one is the 'farmer' - and give them tickets to the ballet, with the plan being to travel with the troupe to Sweden later that night. While they are attending the ballet and waiting for the pick-up, they are reported to the police because they were spotted by the lead Russian ballerina (Tamara Toumanova), who bears a bit of a grudge; Earlier in the film, 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 escape through a crowded theater by shouting "fire".

    With the help of the escape network, Armstrong and Sherman hide in a crate of props belonging to a traveling Czech circus troupe. They cross the Baltic Sea to Sweden on a freighter. The ballerina makes a mistake in uncovering where Armstrong and Sherman are hiding on the ship, and the wrong crates are fired on when already dangling over the pier (thus, Swedish crane operators technically have control over the property once it was off an East German boat), and Armstrong and Sherman are able to escape by jumping overboard and swimming to a Swedish dock, safe at last.

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