Torn Curtain (1966) / Thriller

MPAA Rated: PG for mild sensuality and a scene of strong violence (easily PG-13 today)
Running Time: 128 min.

Cast: Paul Newman, Julie Andrews, Lila Kedrova, Hansjorg Felmy
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Brian Moore

Review published May 23, 2000

Long considered a critical misfire despite it's commercial success, Torn Curtain is an Alfred Hitchcock (Marnie, The Birds) film deserving of another look by those who might consider it lesser Hitchcock fare.  While it is undeniably not a masterpiece like so many of his previous films, Torn Curtain still offers some excellent Hitchcock touches and set pieces, some very fine acting by leads and supporting actors, and a catchy score.  Perhaps not as slick as the James Bond films of the times, or many of the sizzling espionagers, this is still a film made by a director at the top of his game. 

Paul Newman (Hud, The Hustler) plays Michael Armstrong, a noted U.S. scientist who recently has had his career stymied by a failed attempt to develop an anti-nuclear missile system. While on a trip to Norway to with his assistant-turned-fiancee, Sarah (Andrews, The Sound of Music), Newman defects to East Germany and unbeknownst to him, Sarah follows him.  Is Michael going to give his top secret formula to the enemy in order to preserve world peace, or is there something deeper lurking beneath the surface?

OK, so it isn't one of his best films, but is it really fair to expect someone to strike cinematic masterpieces with two successive spy-chase films (North by Northwest being the other).  Not likely, a director is lucky enough to make at least one classic film, and in my opinion, while certainly no masterpiece, Torn Curtain is classic Hitch all of the way.  The wholly visual introduction to the protagonists...brilliant, the murder scene of Gromek...brilliant, the bus chase scene...brilliant, and in fact there are just too many moments of brilliance to shrug off such a quality piece of work as middling.  Newman is terrific as the cold but brilliant scientist, and Andrews compliments him well as the sweet and naive assistant.  In fact the only complaint I have is that it seem to go on a little too long in parts that aren't as interesting as the others. 

So to all the nay-sayers that detract from Torn Curtain's rightful place in an already outstanding ouvre of films, I vehemently argue with all of you.  Torn Curtain is not only a genuinely good Hitchcock spy yarn, but there aren't many of its ilk done better.  Exciting, suspenseful, funny, and with lots of feeling, this is top-quality entertainment of the highest order.

Qwipster's rating:

2000 Vince Leo