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Universal Studios Home Video presents
Torn Curtain (Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection) (1966)

"How long does it take to get a man's confidence?"
- Prof. Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: January 18, 2006

Stars: Paul Newman, Julie Andrews
Other Stars: Lila Kedrova
Director: Alfred Hitchcock

MPAA Rating: PG
Run Time: 02h:07m:43s
Release Date: October 04, 2005
UPC: 025192834622
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+CB B-

DVD Review

It's a curious thing about the political climate on the big screen—in a way, movies from World War II and earlier seem more relevant than Cold War pictures, which have taken on an almost binary quaintness. For all the anxiety that came with the US-USSR face-off, there was something to be said for knowing your enemy, and in the movies, that invariably meant a nefarious-looking character with a thick accent and, preferably, a bushy moustache. It's one of the marks of Alfred Hitchcock's lightness of touch that he situates this story in its time but doesn't lean too heavily on political specifics—as in so many other classic Hitchcock pictures, this one relies on a hero in the proverbial wrong place at the wrong time, a well-meaning man in a dangerous world in which power is never to be trusted.

For the rent fabric of the title isn't an interior decorating faux pas, but rather the Iron Curtain, and the man in question is Michael Armstrong, an American physicist fearful that his East German confreres may have beaten him to a crucial discovery, one that's vital for the implementation of a new missile system that's sure to make conventional nuclear weapons obsolete. We first meet Professor Armstrong on a Norwegian cruise, accompanied by his lovely assistant, Sarah, who is, not incidentally, also his fiancée—you can almost hear the Hays Code coming crashing down when we see the couple for the first time, between the sheets, brazenly discussing his refusal to set a date for their wedding. But this is a movie interested in making cold war, not love, and so the action is with Armstrong, engaging in classic cloak-and-dagger style stuff: receiving cryptic telegrams, scheduling rendezvous and picking up mysterious packages, offering improbable and unconvincing excuses to his increasingly suspicious girlfriend. Could it be possible? Could the right-thinking, standup guy really be entertaining the idea of defecting to the Communists? That's certainly the seed of suspicion that's sown in Sarah, and the notion blossoms when Michael boards the next flight bound for East Berlin.

By this time, James Stewart and Cary Grant had aged out of playing a young Hitchcock hero, but Paul Newman fits the bill awfully well—in the first act particularly, the notion that his upstanding Professor Armstrong could be engaged to Sarah but really sleeping with the enemy is a nauseous one. And though much of the role of Sarah is little more than fretting over the plight of her man, Julie Andrews handles it very well—every now and again, though, Hitch swoops the camera down over her shoulder, and you half expect her to twirl around and break out in song, to tell us that the hills are alive. But overall it works, as this is sort of Hitchcock's version of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. As you watch, the nostalgia isn't just for the Cold War, but for this style of filmmaking, and also for the notion that geopolitics could hinge on big science—it's the kind of thing that hasn't informed our politics almost since the Manhattan Project, and the idea that the balance of geopolitical power leans so heavily on a particular scientific formula is kind of a remarkable one.

There are of course a couple of terrific set pieces—one features our heroes trying to escape on an East German bus, inadvertently given their own police escort; even better is the final reel, in which, while attempting to create a diversion at a performance at the ballet, Armstrong literally shouts "fire" in a crowded theater, to just the sort of effect that Oliver Wendell Holmes feared. There's something modestly unsatisfying in the resolution of the story, and so if this film doesn't exactly scrape the heights, it's an indication that, even at this relatively late stage in his career, Hitch had lost little if any of his storytelling facility.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: There are some significant resolution problems—the movie wouldn't qualify as a cloak-and-dagger thriller if its hero didn't wear a trenchcoat, and Newman's seems to be a hound's-tooth check, which reads as shiny for much of the chase, which is most unfortunate.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: Generally well balanced and audible, though with a bit more hiss than you might care for.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. photo gallery
Extras Review: Torn Curtain Rising (32m:24s) is a thorough if a bit dry look at the making of the film; unlike other accompanying features in this boxed set, this one doesn't include any interview footage with the participants, relying instead on a narrator to lead us through. There's an emphasis on the development of the script, particularly with regard to notes from the leading man. For reasons not made clear, frequent Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann was replaced by John Addison at some point as the film's composer; we're given the chance to hear Herrmann's discarded work over several scenes (14m:36s), and it bears obvious affinities to his score for North by Northwest. The gallery of production photographs is full of candid snapshots from the set, both during and between takes.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

A strong effort from the height of the Cold War, demonstrating that the Master of Suspense's bag of trick were nicely malleable, as historical circumstances warranted.


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