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Torn Curtain 1966...just notes

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TORN CURTAIN & TOPAZ ...Cold War Spy Thrillers

 

 

This movie opens with a camera closeup  shot of an eye that looks like the eye of Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews). Just like in Vertigo with  (Kim Novak) in the dual role of Madeleine/Judy.

 

This is just a note about the audience being made to feel sympathy for a killer: Professor Michael Andersen  (Paul Newman). This American physicist never imagined he might become a killer most likely. He is a rocket scientist, then he turns spy, then he turns killer; he has help becoming a killer.

 

The scene in the farmhouse is where the scientist must for his own life & the life of the female (underground) spy/contact (Carolyn Conwell)  become a killer...he helps kill... he has no choice. I love her face in this movie ...Carolyn Conwell. What becomes of her after the motorcycle is found on her farm? Probably nothing good & the dead body is not shown. They had no choice, they had to kill him.

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This is a great scene...to me it is perfect; look what can happen to someone in the blink of an eye.  It is saying anyone may become a killer to save their own life or the life of someone else.

 

Also, a second scene caught my attention...the 'fake' bus... this scene sequence was full of tension; that other bus ... the 'real' bus just behind coming closer & closer ...scary. We know it will be bad if they are seen together. We know it will not end well.  I was shocked when at last the 'fake' passengers were caught out & stopped because the 'real' bus came up behind them. When they all had the opportunity to run, run, run for their lives it was shocking to see them get shot at. Those guns with people pulling the triggers at living humans running for their lives was nerve wrecking. I'm sure many situations like this did happen according to history. Awful scene sequence of art imitating life.

 

Later two characters said the people all made it alive...only a flesh wound.

 

TOPAZ:

 

The scene with the seagulls...gulls love to eat & they are trouble makers. When they fly over carrying large pieces of bread we know it will cause trouble. It costs two people their lives or they were tortured. Their lives for bread crusts.  This is another incredible scene sequence. Hitchcock knew how to make people feel emotions of their characters. The image of the aftereffects of being tortured ... the loyal servants Pablo & Carlotta  Manzoda played by (Lewis Charles & Anna Navarro) generated sympathy from the viewers. 

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Re Torn Curtain, I remember the farmhouse scene because for once it gives the audience a sense of just how hard it is to kill someone (unless you shoot them accurately).  It's hard to watch, but that is the point.

 

And I loved the character of Countess Kuchinska - a relatively small part but you come to know her and identify with her plight.  Family Plot could certainly have benefited from having at least one character like that, but personally I couldn't have cared less what happened to any of them in that movie.

 

I had never seen Topaz before this, and I liked it.  Quite a different feel from most of Hitchcock's movies, more straightforward.  But then, I like espionage films so unlike audiences at the time it came out, I enjoyed it.

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Re Torn Curtain, I remember the farmhouse scene because for once it gives the audience a sense of just how hard it is to kill someone (unless you shoot them accurately).  It's hard to watch, but that is the point.

 

And I loved the character of Countess Kuchinska - a relatively small part but you come to know her and identify with her plight.  Family Plot could certainly have benefited from having at least one character like that, but personally I couldn't have cared less what happened to any of them in that movie.

 

I had never seen Topaz before this, and I liked it.  Quite a different feel from most of Hitchcock's movies, more straightforward.  But then, I like espionage films so unlike audiences at the time it came out, I enjoyed it.

There was another movie on the same topic of the Russian infiltration of the French Government Le Serpent or Night Flight from Moscow.  Starred Yul Brynner as the defector with Henry Fonda.  A Franco-German production.

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Re Torn Curtain, I remember the farmhouse scene because for once it gives the audience a sense of just how hard it is to kill someone (unless you shoot them accurately).  It's hard to watch, but that is the point.

 

And I loved the character of Countess Kuchinska - a relatively small part but you come to know her and identify with her plight.  Family Plot could certainly have benefited from having at least one character like that, but personally I couldn't have cared less what happened to any of them in that movie.

 

I had never seen Topaz before this, and I liked it.  Quite a different feel from most of Hitchcock's movies, more straightforward.  But then, I like espionage films so unlike audiences at the time it came out, I enjoyed it.

 

Believe it or not, I found the secret service agent Gromek in Torn Curtain amusing at times. His chatter about living in New York City made me laugh because he covered so much in just a few scenes: the New York accent (from a man with a German accent in an English-language movie), the slang, his favorite pizza place near where he lived. And always chewing on gum. During the murder scene, he has time to tell Armstrong that he's been trained in self-defense and murder by professionals, but he can't break the arm lock Armstrong has him in. The Hitchcock touch of humor done well, I thought.

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Torn Curtain has some strong moments. That long kill scene probably being the standout. I agree with Marianne about the comic elements of that scene. Gromek was basically a troll ("tell the cookie..."; the constants "you still have this expression?"s) back before everyone recognized troll characters.

 

I actually was thinking I'd have to majorly change my reaction on it 15+ years after I'd first watched it. But then the 2nd half of the movie hit...

 

There are still some scenes. But the flaws are so glaring. The pacing is off. Newman and Andrews don't click as a romantic couple. It's on both to a degree, but Andrews is really not good in this role. I wouldn't be surprised if Hitchcock noticed this and then moved the movie away from its sort of Notorious/Suspicion beginning tone (with so much focus on the female character and her position) to then more back toward Newman's character. Then...well...it's as if Hitchcock got too frustrated with both his leads, so the movie becomes more and more about highlighting supporting players (e.g. the underground leader on the bus, the polish lady begging for a sponsor), and getting to strong suspense sequences (e.g. the bus, the theater) than tied to leads anymore.

 

But there are definitely a few things I picked up more on this time around. For instance:

-the peeping tom shot of the aging ballerina backstage looking out into the audience to spot the fugitives . (also great use of short freeze frames of her earlier on in the theater sequence as she spots Armstrong.)

-the cutesy-ness of the ending where Newman and Andrews cover up to stop the peeping tom/voyuerism of a photographer seeking to capture their image. (This seems like a play off of how Armstrong's face is put all over TV for suspense reasons earlier, but also underscores how his privacy and anonymity is getting more difficult to navigate in the age of moving images and mass media, even in a world beyond the iron curtain.)

-Hitchcock certainly seems interested in oceanliner ships. In Vertigo, there's ship building and bottled ships, in this movie there are a few oceanliner shots, In To Catch a Thief, a ship is in the opening, in a bottle. The end of Marnie takes place in a harbor where a giant oceanliner ship is painted into the background (which Hitchcock supposedly wasn't a fan of because of how it looked.)

-Hitchcock's love of those rotating, around the world type kisses. I'd noticed this before, of course, but his approach for shooting that beginning in the bed scene is visually a bit different with the same effect. Unfortunately, that scene feels off to me. I've never been able to figure out if it's the seeming artifice of that scene, or if, in this case, it's because the two leads don't quite click as a believable passionate couple and as an engaged couple.

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Torn Curtain has some strong moments. That long kill scene probably being the standout. I agree with Marianne about the comic elements of that scene. Gromek was basically a troll ("tell the cookie..."; the constants "you still have this expression?"s) back before everyone recognized troll characters.

 

I actually was thinking I'd have to majorly change my reaction on it 15+ years after I'd first watched it. But then the 2nd half of the movie hit...

 

There are still some scenes. But the flaws are so glaring. The pacing is off. Newman and Andrews don't click as a romantic couple. It's on both to a degree, but Andrews is really not good in this role. I wouldn't be surprised if Hitchcock noticed this and then moved the movie away from its sort of Notorious/Suspicion beginning tone (with so much focus on the female character and her position) to then more back toward Newman's character. Then...well...it's as if Hitchcock got too frustrated with both his leads, so the movie becomes more and more about highlighting supporting players (e.g. the underground leader on the bus, the polish lady begging for a sponsor), and getting to strong suspense sequences (e.g. the bus, the theater) than tied to leads anymore. . . .

 

 

I really didn't think either lead worked in Torn Curtain. Julie Andrews and Paul Newman are simply not believable as spies, at least for me. They seem to lack a gravitas, a world-weariness, that seems necessary to pull off a spy role convincingly. I think the scene where Newman, as Michael Armstrong, is trying to get the formula out of Professor Lindt could have summed up my reaction to his and to Julie Andrews's performances: "You give me nothing!" says Professor Lindt, and I thought the same.

 

Torn Curtain is not a horrible movie, by any means. The supporting characters are well worth the time, and Hitchcock's attention to detail is phenomenal. How about that scene in Gerhard's office? The view outside his windows is one of World War II destruction that lingered in both East and West Germany after the war.

 

But between the two Cold War films of Hitchcock's that I saw, I would go with Topaz. It's a much tighter film, and it has no big stars to distract from a great story.

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I really didn't think either lead worked in Torn Curtain. Julie Andrews and Paul Newman are simply not believable as spies, at least for me. They seem to lack a gravitas, a world-weariness, that seems necessary to pull off a spy role convincingly. I think the scene where Newman, as Michael Armstrong, is trying to get the formula out of Professor Lindt could have summed up my reaction to his and to Julie Andrews's performances: "You give me nothing!" says Professor Lindt, and I thought the same.

 

Torn Curtain is not a horrible movie, by any means. The supporting characters are well worth the time, and Hitchcock's attention to detail is phenomenal. How about that scene in Gerhard's office? The view outside his windows is one of World War II destruction that lingered in both East and West Germany after the war.

 

But between the two Cold War films of Hitchcock's that I saw, I would go with Topaz. It's a much tighter film, and it has no big stars to distract from a great story.

 

I've still got to watch Topaz. I only saw it once when I was about 11 and I barely remember much about it besides that it had a lot of dialogue.

 

That's a good catch with the outside the office backdrop.

 

To be fair, neither Newman or Andrews are career spies. They're both everymen/scientists drawn into government spy roles.  Newman is a scientist who becomes a spy to find out more information for the government. That's one thing that underscores the prolonged killing scene. Newman isn't an expert at any of this, beyond his science background. Andrews is also a scientist, but also works as Newman's assistant and doesn't know why he's doing what he's doing until 2/3rds of the way through. But they're too different too really buy as either a longterm, nerdy couple who are engaged or a passionate romance. To me, Newman can come across as world weary, but it's not suited to this role. Newman, despite being a perenellial leading man and a heart throb, has always has iffy sexual chemistry with many of his leads. His kind of sneering, sexual swagger--I've got it I'll flaunt it and project it--doesn't exactly gel with Andrews...well...Mary Poppins proper...type of persona. I thought Newman was alright in the Lindt scenes. He's not really believable as a brainiac scientist. But I can at least some of his touches to his acting like how he mouths things to himself as he tries to memorize Lindt's giving him the MacGuffin formula. To me, this is a movie where casting two stars against type didn't work for casting.

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I've still got to watch Topaz. I only saw it once when I was about 11 and I barely remember much about it besides that it had a lot of dialogue.

 

That's a good catch with the outside the office backdrop.

 

To be fair, neither Newman or Andrews are career spies. They're both everymen/scientists drawn into government spy roles.  Newman is a scientist who becomes a spy to find out more information for the government. That's one thing that underscores the prolonged killing scene. Newman isn't an expert at any of this, beyond his science background. Andrews is also a scientist, but also works as Newman's assistant and doesn't know why he's doing what he's doing until 2/3rds of the way through. But they're too different too really buy as either a longterm, nerdy couple who are engaged or a passionate romance. To me, Newman can come across as world weary, but it's not suited to this role. Newman, despite being a perenellial leading man and a heart throb, has always has iffy sexual chemistry with many of his leads. His kind of sneering, sexual swagger--I've got it I'll flaunt it and project it--doesn't exactly gel with Andrews...well...Mary Poppins proper...type of persona. I thought Newman was alright in the Lindt scenes. He's not really believable as a brainiac scientist. But I can at least some of his touches to his acting like how he mouths things to himself as he tries to memorize Lindt's giving him the MacGuffin formula. To me, this is a movie where casting two stars against type didn't work for casting.

 

. . . which actually makes them less believable in their respective roles. For me. Paul Newman I can see, sort of, as a scientist trying his best to be a spy. But it is harder for me to believe Julie Andrews in that role.

 

Again, I just want to say that Torn Curtain has plenty of other reasons for seeing it. I happened to enjoy it and watched it all the way through. But Topaz . . . that was the better of the two Cold War films for me.

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I liked both "Torn Curtain" and "Topaz," but I agree "Topaz" is probably the stronger of the two.  Maybe it is because there are not any major movie stars in it, but other spy thrillers have worked with major stars.  As far as Newman and Andrews not being believable as spys in "Torn Curtain," they are NOT spys!!  That's one of the main factors in the story!  They weren't even recruited for this mission -- Newman's character came up with this plan and managed to find someone who had a contact to the spy network in East Germany.  Washington doesn't even know what he is doing, they will assume he is actually a defector.  All of that comes out in his discussion with the spy on the tractor in the middle of the field!  So, neither of them know anything about being a spy.  Of course, they are "unbelievable" in the role of a spy -- they are supposed to be unbelievable as spies!  However, I do agree that there is not much romantic chemistry between Newman and Andrews (unlike many of Hitchcock's other couples).

 

Question:  Does anyone remember seeing a post that had the killing scene in "Torn Curtain" with the accompanying Bernard Herrmann score that Hitchcock rejected?  I watched it several days ago.  The difference in the scene is amazing!  I really think if Hitchcock had used Bernard Herrmann's score, "Torn Curtain" would have been a much better movie!  I just read the article about Herrmann that Prof. Edwards recommended and I wanted to see that clip again, but I can't find it!  I'm pretty sure it was on this  message board, but now I can't find it!  Any ideas?

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Here's a comparison of Addison and Herrmann's unused scores.

 

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/xte7y3

 

I'm with Hitch. I don't think the Herrmann score works for this scene. It's at odds with the scene's attempted realism, brutality, and suspense...and it's very showy, when the images already tell most of what Hitchcock wants to convey about the difficulty of this killing.

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I liked both "Torn Curtain" and "Topaz," but I agree "Topaz" is probably the stronger of the two.  Maybe it is because there are not any major movie stars in it, but other spy thrillers have worked with major stars.  As far as Newman and Andrews not being believable as spys in "Torn Curtain," they are NOT spys!!  That's one of the main factors in the story!  They weren't even recruited for this mission -- Newman's character came up with this plan and managed to find someone who had a contact to the spy network in East Germany.  Washington doesn't even know what he is doing, they will assume he is actually a defector.  All of that comes out in his discussion with the spy on the tractor in the middle of the field!  So, neither of them know anything about being a spy.  Of course, they are "unbelievable" in the role of a spy -- they are supposed to be unbelievable as spies!  However, I do agree that there is not much romantic chemistry between Newman and Andrews (unlike many of Hitchcock's other couples). . . .

 

Thanks for your perspective. I think perhaps we are more in agreement than we think.

 

Spy . . . Professor . . . Professor trying to be a spy . . . Major film star playing the role in Torn Curtain. . . . I just didn't buy Paul Newman in the role, no matter what he was trying to do. And I didn't buy Julie Andrews either. It really had nothing to do with their star status. For me, the roles and the film stars just didn't work.

 

That didn't stop me from enjoying the film, however. I liked both Cold War films from Hitchcock. I just happened to enjoy Topaz more. The back story of the three leads in Topaz working as Resistance fighters in World War II France made it a better story for me.

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Both Torn Curtain and Topaz have more than a few very good moments.  I was surprised that I enjoyed them as much as I did.  For me, Hitchcock put a lot of his touches together to make them really good stories on film.  They were not as intricate as his Golden Years but, it was as if he just wanted to have fun making these films.  I'll include Family Plot and The Trouble with Harry in this group.  These two especially deal with the fun of the situations.  I swear Barbara Harris is a whack job.  The ride down the mountain and her climbing up Bruce Dern was the stress in the dumbest, Jerry Lewis, way.  It was fun not to have them yelling at each other because they were both scared.  Dern accepted Harris' for who she is and they knew (not being fooled) who was really responsible.  Yea,  I really enjoyed them all including Frenzy.  All different but if you watch closely, all Hitchcock.  By the way, did anyone notice how much Carolyn Conwell looks like Liv Ulmann?

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