The Hitchcock Conversations is an ongoing project between me and James W. Powell, in which we study Alfred Hitchcock’s filmography in chronological order. I’ll be publishing one conversation per week.
(By necessity, spoilers ahead!)
Synopsis: An American scientist publicly defects to East Germany as part of a cloak and dagger mission to find the solution for a formula resin and then figuring out a plan to escape back to the West.
Jason: If I had to give you my overall impression of Torn Curtain, it would be pretty lukewarm. There’s not much that makes me excited about this film. It’s hopelessly dated in its politics, being about a supposed traitor who seems to defect to East Germany in the time of the Iron Curtain. And even viewed with the appropriate historical perspective, it’s a somewhat naïve movie with two-dimensional villains and a very standard third act and resolution. That being said, I really like a few of the highlight moments in Torn Curtain—the few obviously Hitchcock touches.
James: I actually enjoyed this film. It’s certainly not one of Hitchcock’s best, but it gets the job done. You’re right, the last act does become a typical chase movie, but there are enough fun moments in the film for me to overlook some of the simplicity of the plot. I’m more pleased with Torn Curtain than not.
Jason: Now, before we delve into the Hitchcock touches that redeem this film, I wanted to ask what you thought about the film’s structure. The first act is told from the point of view of Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews), who’s increasingly confused and wary about the behavior of her fiancé, Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman), whose actions are mysteriously odd and distracted. When the worst seems to come to pass—Armstrong defects to the side of Communism in the interest of creating an “anti-missile missile” (this film’s MacGuffin)—and the second act begins, the point of view shifts solidly to Armstrong, and we learn the truth about him—that he’s an American spy pretending to defect in order to steal secrets from the mind of a professor in Berlin. So, the second act belongs to Armstrong. And in the third act, the story becomes the point of view of both Armstrong and Sarah, as they run for their lives, trying to return to the free world. The final act is disappointing to me—a standard chase film with nothing really special about it. All of that is to say, Does Hitch’s method of switching viewpoints affect this film’s storytelling for the worse, or is it an effective way to communicate the characters’ conflicting emotions and fears and mysteries?
James: The only real problem I have with the first part of the film being told from Sarah’s point of view is that we never see her really feeling anything. I hoped we’d see her debating between her country and her lover. Or we’d see her crying as she has to come to a horrible decision. Something. Instead, we’re seeing the action through her eyes, but not emotionally. I think giving her more ownership of that first part of the film could’ve helped me become attached to her. As it is, I didn’t really like her or know her. I was almost frustrated with her for doubting her fiancé. That’s a bit harsh, as it’s understandable that she’d do so, but until I got into her head emotionally, I just thought she was too doubting.
Jason: I see where you’re coming from, but the more I think about the structure of this film, the more I admire it. (Although, I’ve read that Hitch gave the film its switching points of view simply to satisfy his big stars and their respective audiences.) I would argue that, in the first act, we see a lot of thinking on the part of Sarah. But you’re right, Andrews doesn’t convey a great deal of emotion in these scenes. I definitely felt her character’s confusion, as she watches Armstrong’s behavior, but I didn’t feel her “heart breaking.”
James: Sure, Hitch shows Sarah thinking before she goes to Germany. But once she gets there, that’s when the emotion should’ve gone off the chart. Instead, we see very little of that. She stays in her room, and that’s about it. That’s when I wanted to see her break down or at least cry. Her only real emotion comes later, when she’s questioned in front of the scientists.
Jason: Good point. Just when we should be seeing Sarah really react emotionally to what’s going on, the film shifts to Armstrong’s point of view, and she’s left behind. Imagine how much more emotionally engaging this film would have been if we’d stayed with her point of view, as Hitch did in Suspicion, for example.
James: As far as the latter part of the film, I think the switching of viewpoints doesn’t completely work because this is always more Armstrong’s story than Sarah’s. In the end, we really don’t see through her eyes at all. She’s a bigger part of the secret, sure, but she never really acts. She’s just along for the ride. It would’ve been nice to see Sarah save the day in at least one scene, such as the scene in the post office late in the film.
Jason: You make a great point about Sarah just being along for the ride in the final act. Hitch would argue that this film is really about the newfound trust and partnership between Armstrong and Sarah, and I can feel that to a certain degree, but you’re right again: Hitch just doesn’t give Sarah enough to do, except tag along with her man.
James: So, let’s start from the beginning. What did you think of the opening credits? I liked the use of images from the film, but let’s be honest, this opening doesn’t compare to the previous sequences created by Saul Bass.
Jason: I thought the credits sequence was pretty lame. I mean, I understand the inclusion of the rocket imagery and the technique of foreshadowing events from the film, but it felt very dated to me.
James: You know, it took me awhile to even realize that was a rocket. How silly. Anyway, moving into the actual film, I think the opening sequence really conveys too much fun. Seeing Armstrong and Sarah in bed instead of at their dinner table made me think the film would be more lighthearted or romantic than the film actually is. Even the music is a little too happy. Moving from this sequence to a mysterious espionage film doesn’t make a lot of sense. It sets up the characters fairly well, but we don’t really get to see this side of their relationship through the rest of the film.
Jason: I agree with you about the opening sex scene. It’s too playful. Apparently, Hitch relished the notion of subverting Andrews’ image as the goody-two-shoes character in such films as Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, which she was just coming off of. Good ol’ Hitch, wrecking actors’ images. But yep, it doesn’t make sense in the context of the rest of the film.
James: Julie Andrews still comes across as a bit too Mary Poppins, even seeing her rolling in bed with Paul Newman. Maybe it’s the hair, or maybe it’s her lack of emotion. But either way, she never really came across as fiery or sexy or anything. That’s not a bad thing, but I wanted her to have a little more ooomph.
Jason: I’m not sure what this says about me, but I think Julie Andrews is a complete hottie in this film (and, in fact, in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music). There are certain moments here, as when she smiles with those perfect teeth, and that pert little nose, and those gorgeous blue eyes … man, she’s plain delectable. One thing I did like about that opening sex scene, by the way, is Sarah’s line that they’re on the boat for a “serious congress of physicists.” Nice double meaning of “congress.”
James: You have a thing for Julie Andrews? Man, you need help. Anyway, what’s the deal with the ship not having any heat?
Jason: Come on, man, that cold ship clearly gets us in the right frame of mind for a story about the Cold War. In fact, cold versus warmth seems to be a symbolic motif throughout this film. In the theater toward the end, Armstrong yells “Fire!” to avoid capture. And at the very end, when our heroes are back in the land of the free, they’re huddling together in front of a fire, getting warm again.
James: D’oh! Man, I totally missed that cold/warm thing. So, on the ship, we begin to think something’s up with Armstrong when he gets the telegraph about a book that’s waiting for him, and he immediately turns the telegraph away. I like that, early on, we know he’s up to something and she doesn’t know anything about it. Since this is Paul Newman we’re talking about, we know he’s going to end up the good guy, but it’s still nice to have some doubt.
Jason: Agreed about the Armstrong character. I do like the seed of doubt that’s planted in our minds, because we see that he’s deceiving Sarah. What I never really understood, though, is why he has to lie to her. Why can’t he level with her? I know that deceiving her makes the plot more exciting, but does it really make sense? I mean, I like the way Armstrong keeps putting Sarah off, as if he never wanted her along on this little journey from Norway to Copenhagen, and further, we learn that he really doesn’t want her along on his trip to East Berlin. But if he loves her and trusts her, why lie to her?
James: Good point. What I don’t understand is why Armstrong didn’t tell her he wouldn’t be giving his speech earlier in their trip. I mean, I can understand why he wouldn’t tell her the truth about him being a spy, but why lie about going to Germany? Or why wait until the last second? Maybe he needed her to believe he was defecting too, just so his story had more credibility if he was ever questioned? Who knows?
Jason: Yeah, that’s still confusing to me. I mean, Armstrong is downright mean to Sarah on that plane, when he finds that she’s following him. “Stay away from me! Go home! Do you understand?”
James: I can actually understand why Armstrong would be mad at Sarah for following him. At this point, he’s doing something dangerous and she’s there to muck things up and possibly get hurt. And the fact that she follows him pretty much everywhere—maybe that’s why he never tells her what he’s really up to. If she were back home, sure, he should tell her. But now that she’s making these moves, first on the boat and then on the plane, I can see why he’d want to hide the truth from her.
Jason: Yeah, I can see that.
James: And I also thought the deception would somehow save Sarah from harm, but that never happens. I kept waiting for her to be in danger. That’s actually something that’s missing from the film: danger. No one is ever really in any trouble. Well, Armstrong is, to a point, but Sarah never really is. Perhaps that’s because we never have a strong villain? We have a group of potential bad guys, but no one to pin our hatred on. Especially after that Gromek thug (Wolfgang Keiling) is killed relatively early on.
Jason: You’re right about the lack of a real bad guy, although I think Gromek is great while he lasts. We’ll get to the terrific fight scene at the farmhouse, but suffice it to say that I was sad to see him leave the film so early.
James: So, let’s talk about the “first edition” book that’s waiting for Armstrong in Copenhagen.
Jason: I like the introduction of the book as the film’s MacGuffin. There are many deliciously mysterious scenes involving this book, the best of which is probably the scene in the hotel restroom, in which Armstrong deciphers the code in the book and roots out the pi symbol. The symbol, we discover later, represents a secret anti-Communist agency in East Berlin that will help Armstrong get the information he needs about the “Gamma Five” project, which is the actual embodiment of the MacGuffin. This is a great MacGuffin, meaning nothing even as we get suspenseful scenes built around it.
James: I loved the whole aspect of the book, even the fact that Sarah goes to pick it up for him. (As a side note, what’s the point of the store owner complaining about the religious section being a mess?) But I thought it was the perfect embodiment of the MacGuffin, especially the way the camera kind of follows the book from place to place. It’s the center of the suspense, like a secret that’s hidden in plain sight.
Jason: I have no ideas about that religious-section thing. I’m sure it’s a little commentary about something—the religious leanings of Communist countries?—but it’s beyond me.
Jason: You know that creepy Professor Karl Manfred (Gunter Strack), who keeps hounding Sarah for an interview? Why is he cast as strange and suspicious when we come to find out that he’s in league with Armstrong the whole time? Seems like a bit of misdirection that Hitch plays unfair with …
James: He isn’t in league with Armstrong the whole time. He thinks Armstrong is actually defecting. He’s deceived the whole time. I actually thought he was going to play a bigger role as a villain. The more I think about it, the more disappointed I am with the fact that he didn’t turn out to be more of a bad guy.
Jason: Yes, but I mean that Manfred is “in league” with Armstrong’s supposed defection. In the first act, even though he’s supposedly the conduit through which Armstrong will defect, Manfred seems oblivious to everything Armstrong is working toward and is a weirdly menacing presence for Sarah. I do agree that here’s another opportunity for a strong antagonist, and yet he just fades away.
James: I got the impression that Manfred wants Sarah and is bummed to find out that she and Armstrong are engaged. He’s always asking for lunch. Who knows? The more I think about this film, the less reasoning there seems to be for a lot of it. But I thought for sure that he was going to become the primary villain and that Sarah was going to have to do something—anything—to him to help get them all to safety. But alas, we get none of that.
Jason: Man, I could have done without Sarah’s line when she finds out Armstrong’s not going to Stockholm for a speech but rather to East Berlin: “But, but, that’s behind the Iron Curtain!” Well, duh.
James: Hahaha. I think that line just gave a reason for the movie’s title. That’s probably the only reason it was thrown in. Well, that and to explain things to dumb American audiences.
Jason: And I read that it was Hitch who demanded that it be left in!
James: So, on the plane, we get our first glimpse of another minor villain, the ballerina (Tamara Tourmanova). I hated her instantly. Maybe it’s just the way she looks, but damn, what a bitch. I did enjoy the few times in the movie when she expects adoration from the press but instead is ignored. Is that a not-so-subtle view on celebrity?
Jason: Oh yes, the uppity ballerina. She’s horrible. The way she expects that the photographers are waiting for her when she arrives in East Berlin … the way she continues to bitch inside the airport when all attention is focused on Armstrong … I think you might have something about Hitch commenting on the nature of celebrity. In fact, it might be a comment on his two stars in this film, Newman and Andrews, who demanded a large percentage of the film’s budget. This was a time in cinema when star power really started getting financially out of hand.
Jason: Now, we learn the specifics of the “anti-missile missile” that Armstrong has come to East Berlin to “promote.” He says he wants to “abolish the nuclear threat.” Do you think this is an underhanded anti-United States comment on the part of Hitch, who probably hated our rush to nuclear armament? Sure, this film is ultimately anti-Commie, but I sniff a little criticism of our government, too.
James: “Anti-missile missile.” I love it. I thought there was a little something against the United States there. Especially since Armstrong has to sneak out and do his duty as a spy instead of getting the funding on his own. That says a lot about his country. By the way, I really liked the scene in which Armstrong reads his statement and Sarah watches him through the crowd. She’s just like everyone else, not knowing what he’s going to say. Gradually, she realizes that her fiancé is defecting from his country. My only problem with this scene: How about some emotion here? Or shock? C’mon!
Jason: That’s a nice moment. And I agree that we could’ve used some emotion from Sarah. At this point in the film, I’m getting a little tired of her confused, deer-in-the-headlights expression. Where’s the outrage? The tears?
James: I also liked the introduction of Gromek, who seems to be the most vibrant character of the bunch. When he tells Armstrong that he used to live on 55th Street in New York, and Armstrong just kinda blows him off—that’s fun stuff.
Jason: Speaking of Gromek, gotta say I loved the bit with the lighter. He can never get that thing to light. Of course, later, Armstrong can light the thing just fine. More “fire” symbolism.
James: Nice catch!
Jason: Now we come to a really great sequence, of Armstrong trying to throw off Gromek as he walks through the Museen zu Berlin. A terrific, pure-Hitch scene, played silently except for the characters’ footfalls.
James: That scene screams Hitchcock. And like you say, all we hear are the footsteps. What a great idea. It’s like these two are the only people in the world, which makes this huge, wide-open museum feel completely claustrophobic. I also love how Gromek is like some horror-flick bad guy: No matter how fast or far Armstrong goes, he turns around and there’s Gromek. What a great scene.
Jason: And the scene brings to mind other big Hitch sequences that take place in museums, including the ones in Vertigo and even Blackmail.
James: From the museum, Armstrong heads to the farm to meet the “pi spies.” I loved this entire sequence, from Armstrong leaving the hotel all the way through the murder of Gromek. Great stuff throughout these moments. Loved watching Armstrong draw the pi symbol in the dirt with his foot.
Jason: So, yeah, the sequence at the farm. Here’s where we figure out Armstrong’s true motives. Of course, he’s not really defecting but rather pretending to defect in order to gain the trust of the East German government, from which he will steal a vital state secret. Yes, the drawing of the pi symbol in the dirt is nicely done.
James: Did the farmer’s wife (Carolyn Conwell) remind you of Margaret (Peggy Ashcroft) in The 39 Steps? I saw this woman as a sort of redemption for Margaret.
Jason: I, too, drew comparisons with Margaret. However, there’s none of the same desperation here, and this “farmer’s wife” is quite capable, helping Armstrong in what must have been a stunning murder sequence for its day. Apparently, Hitch wanted to show that, in real life, it’s actually quite difficult to kill a man.
James: The murder scene is the best in the film. Loved it. It’s pretty much silent, it isn’t easy to kill him, they work together to get it done, and Gromek is the perfect villain … I loved the way he chews his gum. He deserves to die for that reason alone. Interesting, too, that this German dies in an oven. Even the fact that the knife breaks off in his chest is cool. That bugger just won’t go down.
Jason: Yeah, it’s this great, chaotic free-for-all. The moment that knife breaks off in his upper chest—OW! Man, I flinched. Wow, what a great connection, killing the German in the oven. I didn’t catch that. I like the way the scene progresses. At first, Gromek thinks Armstrong isn’t even being serious, then the scene gradually becomes deadly serious. Loved the moment with the farmer’s wife grabs the gun but realizes she can’t use it, because of the taxi driver waiting outside. This has to be a silent kill. So she grabs a shovel and starts brutally slamming his legs. Damn! One question: Why are Armstrong and the woman not affected by the gas at all?
James: I’m assuming the gas is just more concentrated in the oven. The gasses are pouring into him, basically, while the others are standing in a big open room. My question is, How did Gromek trace Armstrong to the farm in the first place?
Jason: I asked the same question about Gromek! Armstrong appeared to get away cleanly after the museum.
James: I’m getting a bit lost on the timeline here. Armstrong hasn’t been tripped on the stairs yet, has he?
Jason: That’s the next scene. Armstrong finally makes it to Karl Marx University, where Professor Gustav Lindt (Ludwig Donath) teaches. This is the guy whose head contains the secret that Armstrong needs. But before he reaches Lindt, Armstrong is tripped down a flight of stairs. What were you going to say about this scene—how awful it looks? Or how unlikely it is that the pi group would risk injuring or killing him just to catch his attention?
James: Well, I don’t know that a stumble would kill him. But yeah, I was going to point out how it looks. I actually don’t mind the fact that this is how he’s introduced to his contact, but man, that effect looks pretty bad. Not as bad as the horses in Marnie, but bad nonetheless.
Jason: I guess the flight of stairs isn’t very steep or long, but I still think it’s a stupid way to get his attention. More like a quick excuse for a suspenseful shot. Felt a little lazy. And the effect … okay, I’m forgiving of a lot of shots in these older films, but this one—sort of in the vein of Arbogast’s fall in Psycho—just looks terrible. I guess part of me wants Hitch to keep up with the progress that’s no doubt being made in the field of special effects. It just looks so old-school. Kind of embarrassing. Almost as embarrassing as this film’s cruddy background process shots. Oh, man, those looked totally low-rent, probably because Hitch needed to save money to pay for his stars.
James: Did you watch the DVD’s documentary? It talks briefly about Hitch’s process shots. They are pretty dated. I don’t mind them as much as you do, but I certainly wish Hitch would’ve cut back on them a bit.
Jason: I’ve grown used to Hitch’s process shots, but these were plain crappy, shaking all over the place, looking like they were shot on 8mm. Just cruddy.
James: Okay, so at this point, the story kinda takes on a race-against-time element. The Germans are hunting for Gromek, and Armstrong knows he has to get out fast. I think this works for the film. Adds a little more drama and suspense. Particularly since we get to see something Armstrong doesn’t along the way: the Germans’ progress at finding Gromek. When they’re in a group and ask, “Where’s Gromek?” and we know that Armstrong has killed him, that really sets the stage for the rest of the danger of the film.
Jason: Yeah, there’s a general increase in suspense here. But I really felt the lack of a powerful villain at this point. When everybody’s saying, “Where’s Gromek?” I’m thinking, Good question! A damn good villain is dead and gone!
James: What did you think of the interrogation scene, in which the scientists ask Armstrong what he knows? Granted, he never gets to really say anything, but I like the way the five of them sit looking down on him, and expect him to tell all.
Jason: That’s a very good scene, full of portent. What’s he going to tell them? And then we get the added wrinkle of the scientists suddenly not trusting him, and Professor Lindt, materializing from a high row in the auditorium, insisting that Sarah, Armstrong’s “assistant,” be the one to spill the Gamma Five secrets. But at this point, she doesn’t know what we know—that Armstrong is faking his defection—so the fear is that she really will spill the beans. I admired the way that Hitch just lets long moments of silence go by as we watch Sarah try to decide what to say.
James: Sarah’s response is probably her best character moment in the film. Finally, we see her show some emotion. She doesn’t explode, exactly, but she does get mad. And for that, I’m thankful.
Jason: Yes, it’s a nice moment when she decides not to bend, and I like Armstrong’s look of relief when she stands tall. But Andrews’ most infectious moment as an actress is up on that hill, directly afterward, when it’s her turn for enormous relief and happiness. It’s finally a great moment for them as a couple, recalling the first moments of the film. This sounds corny, but you get the feeling that love can conquer all, even Communism.
James: I really like how Hitch doesn’t let us hear Armstrong tell her the truth when they’re on that little hill. We only see what’s happening. For whatever reason, that silence works well.
Jason: Does this moment at the top of the hill remind you of the moment between Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine in Suspicion, when Grant confronts her and seems to be hurting her at first? It’s also a silent moment, glimpsed from far away …
James: Yeah, that scene on the hill totally reminded me of Suspicion, but the more you think about it, there are many romantic Hitch scenes on hills or in the countryside. There’s a moment like that in The Birds, there’s one in Spellbound, many more.
Jason: You have a point. Hitch loves his romantic moments in nature, at the top of hills. Hmmm.
James: And at the same time, I wanted more villainy from Manfred. I wanted to see him take over for Gromek and start questioning and worrying and making trouble.
Jason: I agree. This is Manfred’s opportunity to become the central baddie, but he remains inconsequential. So, just as Gromek’s body and motorcycle are found buried at the farm, Armstrong is at the university, racing against time to squeeze the secret out of Professor Lindt. You know, for a scene about incomprehensible math equations that we only see glimpses of, this is a fantastic scene. I think it’s the best moment of suspense in the film. Who would have thought complex math would be thrilling? The scene is great mostly because of Paul Newman’s acting. I love the moment when we see that he’s memorizing Lindt’s equation, and Lindt looks at him puzzled for a moment, then cries out, “You know nothing!” What a great scene!
James: Hahaha. Yeah, that was great. I loved watching Lindt figure out that he’s been had. This whole time, Armstrong is just doing enough so that Lindt spills it out. He plays him perfectly. He tugs at his weaknesses and makes him share his secrets. That’s so cool.
Jason: A candidate for best moment of the film.
James: Now, at this point, the only thing Sarah does is look out the window and spot the troops coming in. She’s so pointless for the remaining scenes. I think that does a major disservice to the story. She really has no reason for being there. Hell, looking back, even her scene with Lindt is off camera. (Granted, it’s better that way, but still …) As you’ve said, it becomes a chase movie from here on out, but it’s too bad that Sarah is relegated to the background even while she’s right there the whole time.
Jason: Yes, it’s a shame what happens to Sarah at this point. Through the first part of this film, she’s shown initiative and has spoken her mind. She’s proven herself to be a strong person who stands tall against the ultimate challenge. And now she’s just along for Armstrong’s ride, relying on him to get her to safety and freedom. She’s just in the background.
James: Too bad.
Jason: The long bus sequence is where the horrible process shots come into play. In a scene like this, I’m just unable to suspend my disbelief enough to get energized by the story. I just imagine a bunch of actors in a fake bus with film ratcheting along behind them on a big screen. If this scene had had any sense of realism, I might have gotten into it more. You can tell Hitch is trying to generate some genuine suspense. I mean, the whole idea of this bus being a decoy followed more and more closely by the real bus is exciting. Involve some German military escorts, and you have the recipe for great suspense. But it’s too long and too fake.
James: Hmmm. At first, I didn’t mind the bus sequence. Sure, it should’ve been shorter and contained no process shots, but I thought it still worked okay. But the more I think about it, that bus sequence is rather bland for a chase scene. It’s like a slow car chase.
Jason: I did enjoy the little bit about the glacially slow old lady boarding the bus as everyone’s in a hurry to avoid detection.
James: For me, it’s what happens after the bus sequence that boggles my mind. Who the hell is this red-haired lady suddenly thrust into the center of their escape? Ridiculous. I don’t care one iota for her. And I don’t even understand what she says half the time. Just plain stupid. Right now is where Sarah should’ve taken center stage and helped them escape.
Jason: Totally agree. This woman—Countess Kochinska (Lila Kedrova)—baffled and irritated me. Her constant tearful whining about needing sponsorship to escape to the United States just grated on me. I guess I can see that Hitch wanted to show how desperate people were to escape from behind the Iron Curtain, but this whole encounter grinds the film to a halt. Also unnecessary is the post-office scene, in which Kochinska calls out endlessly for a man named “Albert.” God, I just wanted the film to be over by this point.
James: Wow, you really didn’t like it much. I wasn’t overly enjoying it, but I wasn’t disliking it either. I thought the whole Albert scene was somewhat humorous, but it just wasn’t the time for it.
Jason: No, I just meant that the third act is very disappointing. I’d call the film as a whole pretty good. If it had an effective final act and a great climax, this would be a damn good film. But everything after the great scene in the college falls flat for me.
James: Now, once again, we get a theater scene. This one doesn’t really have as much suspense or drama as many of the others do, but I like how Armstrong gets them out trouble. I wasn’t expecting him to yell “Fire!” but I liked the outcome. I even enjoyed the little old man who helps them escape.
Jason: Yep, another theater sequence. It’s yet another Hitch moment in which our heroes are in mortal danger in a public place, while the rest of the public or audience is unaware of what’s going on. Hitch loves that stuff. But again, the “Fire!” moment does work perfectly for the film’s warm/cold motif. What better way to survive the Cold War than by warming things up with a little fire? Nicely done, symbolically, I must admit.
James: What did you think of the moment when the ballerina recognizes Armstrong? I thought that technique was a bit odd. Stopping the film to show their eye contact worked, but not well.
Jason: I like the reintroduction of the ballerina, on stage, as the one who recognizes Armstrong, but I didn’t care for the effect that you mention. And I still absolutely despise her as a character. I guess I’m supposed to.
James: I thought the best part of the ending was the machine-gun fire aimed at the basket that Armstrong and Sarah are supposedly hiding in. I liked that final touch. Especially since it makes the ballerina look stupid. Good stuff.
Jason: Speaking of the basket and the whole idea of a boat escape, were you reminded of Raiders of the Lost Ark at any point? I mean, there’s a misdirection involving wicker baskets, there’s a boat carrying cargo that the “enemy” is after …
James: You know, I didn’t really make that full connection with Raiders of the Lost Ark, but there was something at the back of my head. Hmmmm.
Jason: You know Spielberg was influenced by a few Hitch flicks.
James: That final sequence, with Armstrong and Sarah huddling under blankets—I love how Hitchcock’s films usually come full circle. It’s just how we meet them on the boat at the beginning, and now we see them under covers at the end. Nice.
Jason: That final scene does come full circle, and as I mentioned, it’s a nice touch that they’re warming themselves again, having survived the cold of Communism.
James: What are your thoughts on the score? I think Bernard Herrmann would’ve done much better. That’s pure speculation and impossible to prove, but I think he might’ve added an edge to the whole film.
Jason: You know the whole story with the score? The studio wanted Hitch to provide a more contemporary “pop” score than usual, so Hitch went to Herrmann requesting a jazzier, up-tempo score. Herrmann said okay, but after viewing the film, went ahead and produced one of his usual orchestral, classical scores. The moment Hitch heard the opening theme, he fired Herrmann, and he would never work with him again. Pretty amazing story. The Herrmann score is very much available, though, so you can compare the two. In fact, I’ve been listening to the Herrmann effort lately, and I like it. The John Addison score is fine, but not particularly memorable.
James: That’s too bad. I thought Hitch and Herrmann worked extremely well together. Well, at least artistically.
Jason: Well, to wrap up, I thought I’d throw in a few tidbits from the biography. Hitchcock’s focus for this film was to make a movie from the point of view of a woman involved with a traitor: What’s her take on the situation? Of course, in this film, it only seems that Armstrong is a traitor, but we still see what she’s going through. Hitch compared that aspect of the story to the Mrs. Drayton character in the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much. She’s one of the more powerful characters in that film, just because of her situation. So Hitch wanted to expand on that.
James: Unfortunately, as I said before, Sarah’s lack of any real emotion hampers this character study.
Jason: Hitch had problems with both of his stars. He clashed with Newman’s method-acting style, and Newman had serious doubts about the script, sending Hitch long letters about changes that he wanted. Later, Newman said, “We all knew we had a loser on our hands.” Hitch also hated that audiences were just waiting for Andrews to sing. He hadn’t wanted her for the part at all.
James: Yeah, the documentary mentions Newman’s feelings about the script. It’s unfortunate that Hitch was so set against making changes. And I can see why he wouldn’t want Andrews. Too bad that first scene doesn’t include some lingerie to get her out of that goody-two-shoes mentality.
Jason: One more thing: It’s interesting that in Notorious, Hitch anticipated the atomic bomb, and in Torn Curtain, he anticipates the “anti-bomb” missile, and idea that Ronald Reagan promoted as the “Star Wars” project.