Sunday, July 24, 2011

Torn Curtain

Title: Torn Curtain
Year: 1966
Studio: Universal Pictures
Screenplay: Brian Moore
Source Material: This was an original screenplay
Running Time: 122 minutes

Sunday 24th July, 3:00pm
I left this one to a little late in the day, starting at 3:00pm. As I don't want to give up the majority of my evening writing it up, I will try and be brief with the synopsis. After all, as I write this, it's 5:30 and I want dinner around 6:00! I'm a man of routine, you see.

I missed lunch today as I was too busy messing around on the Internet. However, I'd had six rounds of toast for breakfast following a disturbing night of weird dreams and bouts of insomnia in between. Maybe I'd partaken a wee too much red wine the evening before.

Earlier this week, on my birthday, I watched The Sound of Music - please do not judge me. It was my birthday and I could do whatever made me happy, within reason, and this rather splendid family film was just what I was in the mood for. I still get a little bit over-excited when they start singing The Lonely Goatherd. Anyway, I mention this merely because of Julie Andrews. My dad always described her as "pornographic" (What's that about, Dad?) but I have always loved her thanks to Mary Poppins. It's been a Julie Andrews week!
So, here two great loves of mine collide - Hitch and Andrews - and although some critics may complain, I have no reason to, for I think it's as interesting pairing as Hitch and Doris Day in The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Cripes. Could I sound more gay? Jeepers!!

I am not looking forward to next week's blog - it's Topaz; a film I have never been able to sit through!! Wish me luck for next week...

Professor Michael Armstrong - Paul Newman
Miss Sarah Sherman - Julie Andrews
Countess Luchinska - Lila Kedrova
Heinrich Gerhard - Hansjörg Felmy
Ballerina - Tamara Toumanova
Hermann Gromek - Wolfgang Kieling
Professor Gustav Lindt - Ludwig Donath
Professor Karl Manfred - Günter Strack
Jakobi - David Opatoshu
Dr Koska - Gisela Fischer
Farmer - Mort Mills
Farmer's Wife - Carolyn Conwell
Freddy - Arthur Gould-Porter
Fraulein - Gloria Gorvin

We begin in Osterfjord, Norway as a cruise ship navigates through the fjords.
On board, delegates for a physicists' conference shiver as the heating fails to provide them with warmth. In one of the cabins, Professor Michael Armstrong and his fiancée and secretary, Sarah Sherman, make their own heat. He is there to present a spoeech at a conference.
They are interrupted by a telegram informing Professor Armstrong that a book is awaiting him at the Elmo Book Store in Copenhagen. He replies to the telegram but discretely away from Sarah.
Once at Hotel d'Angleterre in Copenhagen, Sarah takes a call from the book store. As Michael is showering, she takes the message and goes to pick up the book, much to Michael's dismay. She finds it with the help of a Professor Karl Manfred, who shares colleagues with Michael.
Once she arrives, the storekeeper named Freddy gives her the first-edition book wrapped in brown paper. She takes it back to Michael at the hotel who then disappears into the gents' toilets and proceeds to open it. Within the frontispiece, he is directed to go to page 107 and there he finds some letters underlines and the Greek letter for 'Pi' circled.
Over lunch, he tells Sarah that plans have changed. She is to cover for him at the conference and take notes whilst he will go on ahead to Stockholm. She is noticeably disappointed by this turn of events as she had noted how keen he was for her not to accompany him on this trip in the first place.
He has picked up his ticket already and there is nothing more to be said. She is upset and decides that instead she should return to New York. She goes to the travel agent, but also enquires about her fiancée's ticket. Apparently, it was not for Stockholm, but for East Berlin.

Michael is aboard the plane and soon he notices that Sarah is on it too - she has followed him. He tells her that upon landing, she is to find a flight directly out of East Berlin and not to follow him. She is also puzzled when she sees that Professor Karl Manfred is also on the plane.

When they arrive at the airport, there are reporters and photographers. One aging starlet is disappointed to discover that the press is not intended for her, but for this Professor Armstrong! It is announced that Michael has decided to live and work for peace in the people's Democracies.
Michael is taken to speak with Heinrich Gerhard of Inland Security - they note that they were expecting him to come alone.
At a press conference, Michael announces that he is here to work on a defensive weapon to oppose the offensive nuclear weapons. The U.S. government had shut down his project, so he intends to continue the work on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Sarah is horrified knowing her fiancée has defected.
The couple are assigned a 'personal assistant' named Gromek who is amused by a lot of Americanisms which he continues to question them about.
At the Hotel Berlin, Sarah has it out with Michael but he continues to stick to his position and asks her to go home without him.
The next morning, she is woken by Karl Manfred and she finds a note from Michael saying he's gone for a walk and (again) that she should head home.

Michael takes a taxi out to a farm. When a farmer's wife answers the door, he draws the Greek 'Pi' symbol in the dirt with his foot. She lets him in. She then directs him to her husband on a tractor in the field. He goes out and speaks to him. He is actually part of the 'Pi' organisation which assists spies in escaping the country. It is revealed that Michael is, in fact, under cover and is here to get the final secrets of the Gamma Five project out of Professor Lindt, as his own experiments had come to a dead end. His only way to do so was to pretend to defect to the other side.
The farmer tells him his next contact is Dr Koska in Leipzig.

When he returns to the farmhouse, Michael is confronted by Gromek who has followed him on his motorbike. Having noticed the 'Pi' sign outside in the dirt, he realises that Michael must be a spy. He is about to ring for help when the wife and Michael attack him and, due to the situation, are forced to kill him. It's not such an easy task, but they eventually stab him and gas him in the oven. The wife of the farmer will bury the body and the motorbike but Michael has to leave immediately. The taxi driver is waiting outside, none-the-wiser.

When he returns to the hotel, he is met by some Inland Security men who say that Gerhard is waiting for him - they take him to Gerhard and he discovers that Sarah has decided to stay and work alongside Michael. Gerhard is also distressed to discover that Gromek has gone missing.

Later, they are at Leipzig at the Karl Marx University. Whilst being shown around, Michael is tripped up and he falls down the stairs. This was merely an awkward way to get him alone with Dr Koska, a widow whose role was to assist them escape with new identity papers. She patches him up and tells him to return after seeing Gustav Lindt.

When Michael has the meeting with the associate Professor's regarding Gamma Five, he is interrupted when asked about the farm he visited. Due to the suspicions and the implications of his possible nefarious activities, they have to abandon the meeting. However, Professor Lindt is at the back of the room and he says that he can always speak to Sarah instead.
Sarah is brought in, but she refuses to co-operate. Michael talks to her outside and in private, tells her the whole truth about his undercover status. She agrees to go along with the plot.
Back at the farmhouse, the police have discovered the buried motorbike and Gromek's body.

Over dinner, Karl, Michael, Sarah and Gustav share company. Sarah takes Karl to dance whilst Michael tries to illicit the information he needs from Lindt - however, Lindt never mixes work with pleasure.
Koska arrives and tells Michael that Gromek's body is found and they have to get out of the country tomorrow - secrets or no secrets. they have to be at her clinic at 10am tomorrow.
In a final arrangement, Gustav and Michael arrange to meet at the barbershop the following morning.

The next day, it's 10:10 and Sarah is anxiously awaiting Michael at Dr Koska's clinic. He is busy playing a game of bluff with Gustav Lindt - persuading him that he knows enough and trying to get him to provide the ultimate equation for the Gamma Five project. As Lindt finally writes up the answer on the blackboard, the university is swarmed with Police searching for Michael. Lindt is furious that he has been fooled in this way and calls for security. Michael flees and rejoins Sarah and Dr Koska. The doctor takes them to a man named Jakobi who takes them away on a bus which is reserved for the 'Pi' organisation and is a decoy to help spies travel - it's heading back to Berlin. They are stopped by two roadblocks - one a genuine security measure (which fails), the other a ploy by bandits to get money from innocent passengers of vehicles passing by. The bandits are seen off by soldiers who then proceed to act as escort for the decoy bus. The people on board are amused but also distressed that, after two road blocks, the real bus will be following behind very shortly. They escape by the skin of their teeth upon their arrival in Berlin and are briefly helped by a woman from Poland who claims to be Countess Luchinska - she says she will help them find their next destination if they agree to sponsor her and get her away to America. They agree. She takes them to the Post Office where they meet their next contact, Arthur, who passes on the information taht they need to get to a specific travel agency. The police arrive and as they flee, the countess hurls herself at their pursuers and aids their getaway.

At the travel agency, they meet the farmer again. He has set up plans for them to escape in costume baskets after the last performance by a touring ballet company. Sarah and Michael attend the ballet and await the interval with patience as they acknowledge the red-haired man who is to be their aid.
However, the ballerina on stage is the woman from the airport in East Berlin and she recognises Michael in the audience. She alerts the authorities off-stage and the theatre begins to fill with police. Michael, in a blind panic, yells 'Fire!' at the top of his voice. Panic ensues and as the crowd storms for the exits, they escape to the dressing room where the red haired man helps them hide in the baskets.

Aboard the East German boat to Sweden, they remain hidden, but the ballerina is also on board and as the baskets are being lifted by crane, she alerts the authorities (again - bitch!) and they fire upon the baskets with a machine gun. The baskets fall to reveal nothing but tutus. Meanwhile, the red-haired man, Sarah and Michael have leapt overboard and climbed up the Swedish dock in safety.

Back on safer soil, they huddle together in a cabin, trying to get dry by a stove - a reporter tries to get pictures of them, but they snuggle under the blanket away from prying eyes.

The End

Great Lines
This isn't exactly packed with witty one liners or anything, but there were some nice moments which made me grin...

Henrich Gerhard to Michael on the presence of Sarah in East Berlin: "I hear you brought a little excess baggage!"


Michael to Karl: "Give me five minutes with her. After all, she's my girl."

Sarah: "Put that in the past tense!"


Lindt, in a moment of pure randomness: "Did I tell you that my sister Emily got knocked down by a tram in Vienna?"


The Countess: "It will be undrinkable. Disgusting liquid they call coffee!"

This is only the second time I have watched Torn Curtain but I did enjoy it just as much as the first time. Paul Newman and Julie Andrews are both incredibly likable people on screen and they do have a certain chemistry between them.

Other notable cast members include Lila Kedrova as the countess (whose role in the movie could easily be done without, but she does provide some much-needed comic relief, even if tinged with a poignant back-story); Günter Strack as the somewhat creepy Karl Manfred and Wolfgang Kieling as Gromek. I could see the latter role also being played by Peter Lorre in a different decade.

Some wonderful scenes include the bus ride and the tension as they try desperately to get away - the fraulein's repeated hysteria highlighting the nervousness of the passengers and the ever-nearing 'real' bus. It's genuinely exciting.
I also love the scene in the post office where the countess is desperately trying to get hold of Arthur, but time after time, she is declined. It's made almost unbearable because we as an audience know that a gentleman has become suspicious and alerted the police. The longer they wait for Arthur, the more danger they are in.

Another little moment I approve of whole-heartedly is a terrific over-head shot of Michael crossing the lobby whilst a number of char ladies scrub the floor. It's one of those images which sticks in one's head.

The climax in the theatre is reminiscent of both The 39 Steps and The Man Who Knew Too Much but it is still effective. Especially the fake flames on the stage giving Michael the idea of how to escape. I was hoping he might actually start a real fire using Gromek's lighter, which he had kept post-execution, but maybe he was too considerate about the theatre's architecture.

Finally, let's mention that brilliant murder scene. The non-English speaking farmer's wife and Michael gang up against this 'heavy' in order to stop him from ruining their plans. The farmer's wife is superb, first stabbing him then attempting to cripple him with a few whacks of the shovel against his shins - and then dragging his weaker body to the gas oven to smother him finally.
It's all done so intimately with the camera and the silence of the soundtrack almost punctuates the brutality of the moment.
There are moments where you feel Hitchcock is purposefully paying homage to his own films! Look out for references to Blackmail and Psycho in particular.
It is easily the best scene in the whole film.

My Verdict
There are moments which could have benefited from slicker editing, but on the whole, it's a fun thriller in which the 'secrets' are merely the macguffin. Not perfect, but enjoyable 7/10

It is now ten to seven in the evening. So much for keeping it brief!

1 comment:

  1. Sound of music is amazing, I've not seen this all the way through, but I do have it, and Paul Newman is so very handsome.