Torn Curtain

Torn Curtain (1966)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Paul Newman, Julie Andrews
Extras: Featurette, Alternate Score, Production Photos, Production Notes, Biographies, Trailers

"Torn Curtain" is notable as production number 50 from the most recognized film director in the world, Alfred Hitchcock, and comes to us on DVD as another disc in the stellar package of Universal’s "The Alfred Hitchcock Collection." While the director’s more recognized masterpieces had come years before this cold war espionage tale, this film nonetheless finds a comfortable slot on Hitch’s storied resume, exploring familiar themes and utilizing trademark techniques.

"Torn Curtain" stars Paul Newman as Dr. Armstrong, a United States scientist who has defected to East Germany to work on a defense system against nuclear attack, a project his American homeland has ceased funding. Under the premise of attending a professor’s conference in Norway, Dr. Armstrong struggles to keep his fiancée, Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews) from finding out his true reason for coming to Europe. Stupefied by his sudden mysteriousness, the fiancée trails Dr. Armstrong to East Berlin where she learns of his traitorous intentions and is understandably horrified and disappointed. Determined to get a straight answer from the man she loves, Sarah stays in Berlin where she soon finds the true reason Dr. Armstrong has kept her in the dark for so long. In typical Hitchcock fashion, nothing is as it seems and Sarah soon learns that Dr. Armstrong has not sold out to the Iron Curtain, but is in fact spying for American intelligence, desperately seeking the missing piece of his project’s puzzle from the top professor in the world. What follows is a cat mouse game, where knowing too much can cost you your life and coming out from behind the Iron Curtain is far more difficult than getting in.

Truth be told, "Torn Curtain" is really half of a movie. The first half suffers from pacing issues and the distance between Newman and Andrews’ characters. We are introduced to them as lovers but due to Dr. Armstrong’s necessary difficult actions, he quickly comes across as someone who has little to no feelings for this woman at all. The problem this distancing creates is that it becomes harder for the audience to accept Andrews’ own actions, where she stubbornly follows after this man that she apparently loves so much, but who has treated her so poorly. Having said that, let’s be honest here, most of us aren’t too terribly concerned with the romantic concoctions between anybody in a Hitchcock film. Where this film really takes off is in the second half, after the audience learns with Andrews that Newman is an American spy and is in serious risk of being discovered. When they start working together the stakes are raised even higher and some interesting twists and turns are created. The were various little things about this film that bothered me, such as some very obvious sets that just don’t seem to fit in, a stalking scene in a famous Berlin museum that just so happens to be COMPLETELY empty of other visitors, and an over-directed and drawn out fight scene. The biggest fault I see with this film is an ending that was rather vague of whether or not Dr. Armstrong actually got what he risked his life for. But basically I’m nitpicking here because we all know what Hitchcock was capable of creating, and "Torn Curtain" just comes up a bit short of the typical Hitchcock greatness.

Universal has done a pretty decent job transferring this 1966 film. Presented in 1.85:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen>, "Torn Curtain" could benefit from the same re-mastered treatment that some of the other Hitchcock DVD’s like North by Northwest and Vertigo have been given, but overall it’s not bad. Colors look good and do not bleed (see all the scenes with the crazy Polish woman searching for a "sponsor"!), though this is not an extremely colorful film as the scenery is rather drab. The print does show some dirt and grain, as is typical for a film this age, but it is nothing terribly distracting or disappointing. One thing you will certainly notice is that practically every single close up of Julie Andrews looks very soft, but rest assured this is how it was filmed. Overall, not a bad transfer but one that could look a little better.

Audio is presented in a <$DD,Dolby Digital> mono track that is satisfying, but not outstanding. When some of the louder sound effects take sudden prominence, it comes across as a bit jarring and distorted. The score is very loud in the mix and at times felt inappropriate to me, with a lover’s theme playing over scenes with noticeable tension. The dialogue is mostly clear and sounds fine, though I felt one character in particular (Gromek the security guy) was somewhat muddled, due in part to the mix of the track and part to his own accent. Similar with the video, this is an audio track that could be taken to another level given the proper treatment, but also one that will not keep you from enjoying the film.

Despite not being one of Hitchcock’s marquee titles, Universal has nonetheless put together a pretty nice package of features for this film. The standout here is the Laurent Bouzereau-produced featurette entitle "Torn Curtain Rising," another very informative look at the history and theory of the film. A great assemblage of stills and clips, the featurette presents the film in an honest light, exposing the problems both Hitch and Newman had with the script, as well as the suggestion that Andrews was not the director’s first choice in leading ladies. A very cool addition, are two different versions of the very weird fight scene that features no music in the final film. Here the scene is presented with separate scores from composers John Addison and Bernard Herrmann, and it is interesting to see how each interpretation effects the mood of the scene compared to what the final cut gives us. It’s also really cool to hear a sort of critical analysis about how this film is a typical Hitchcock film and how it differs. Clocking in at just over thirty minutes, I’d by lying if I didn’t say I almost enjoyed this documentary more than the film itself! This is a wonderful inclusion on this disc. Also included are additional scenes that were composed by Herrmann and a slew of production photos and posters for the film, easily scanned through via your remote. Finally, the always entertaining dated theatrical trailer, production notes, and cast and crew bios are on board to round out this disc.

"Torn Curtain" is half of a really good movie that flashes signs of Hitchcock’s brilliance, but unfortunately never quite gets around a less than stellar script. Stars Paul Newman and Julie Andrews give good performances, but their lack of chemistry leads them to be upstaged by some very unique secondary characters (by the way, the German professor is a great character!). Naturally, this one is a must for Hitchcock aficionados and with a featurette that actually delivers the goods, this DVD is generous to all.