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Luke, Mary and Hitch
by Asa Butcher
Issue 16
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Torn Curtain
Alfred Hitchcock
Cool Hand Luke and Mary Poppins in an Alfred Hitchcock film - what could be more intriguing? A spoonful of suspense helps the medicine go down, or at least it should have been a sweet experience, yet it left a sour taste in the mouth.

The tagline proclaimed, "It tears you apart with suspense!" The only suspense was how long until the end because even the two leads seemed bemused by it all, especially Julie Andrews' gravity-defying hair. The problem with sitting down to watch a Hitchcock film is the expectation that his entire catalogue of work are all masterpieces, well this one proved that conception to be a misconception.

This was Hitchcock's fourth to final film as director and it isn't terrible. The hitch - if you excuse the pun - is that the benchmark of quality had been set with North by Northwest, Psycho and Vertigo, so when you are presented with Paul Newman as the leading man and Julie Andrews as his co-star you imagine quality of the highest order.

The plot follows Professor Michael Armstrong, an American rocket scientist (Newman), who defects to Eastern Europe, but the defection is a fraud. His true aim is to obtain the missing mathematical formula from inside the head of a professor in East Germany. Armstrong's fiancée, Dr. Sarah Louise Sherman (Andrews), becomes suspicious of her husband and follows him to the East where she becomes caught up in the plot.

Julie Andrews, straight off the back of her Academy Award nominated role in 'The Sound of Music' is cast as the assistant of a rocket scientist, which is just plain wrong. She looks bored and underused throughout the whole film, with the occasional, "Oh Michael!" thrown in for good measure. It was sad to her wasted like that, especially after Doris Day's performance in The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Paul Newman later said about the movie, "We all knew we were working on a dog while we were making it," and you can see it clearly. For some unknown reason, half way through the film both Newman and Andrews play a secondary role to a number of other actors; it was though they had suddenly become the supporting cast or even extras at one point. You start wondering if another film has begun when they meet the desperate Polish countess because it has nothing to do with the overall story.

These sudden tangents damage the flow of the film and leave your brow firmly furrowed in confusion, although Hitchcock does serve up a couple of incredible set pieces. Torn Curtain has the honour of containing one of the most disturbing murder scenes I have ever scene. When Newman has to kill Gromek (Wolfgang Kieling), his East German bodyguard, in a farmhouse it takes such a long time that you have chills by the end.

A reputation is a difficult thing to have because when you fail to maintain such high standards for which you are renowned the critics will be severely disappointed. Torn Curtain is not a terrible film; it just does not do justice to the talents we all associate with Mr Hitchcock, Mr Newman and Miss Andrews.

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