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Alfred Hitchcock: Masterpiece Edition Vol. 12: Paul Newman and Julie Andrews go undercover in this cold war nail-biter....
Universal / 128 Minutes / 1966 / Unrated / Street Date: October 30, 2012
[As preparation for our comprehensive review of Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection, we're investing each of that massive Blu-ray sets films one by one chronologically. If you missed them, check out our reviews of Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, Rear Window, The Trouble With Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho. The Birds, and Marnie.]
During the cold war, a professor defects from the United States to work for East Germany's defense militia. His fiancee is shocked, but her love for him drives her pursue him no matter what. He remains secretive and resentful about her continued advances, though soon events reveal there is more to his defection than it seems. As the professor attempts to capture the top-secret information he has been pursuing turns dangerous, he and his unsuspecting fiancee must flee for their lives.
Stars Julie Andrews and Paul Newman were the hot actors at the time, yet their onscreen relationship comes off more as caring friends than lovers. True, Paul Newman possesses a brooding, explosive charge that kept me off-balance, and it is hard to dislike the charismatic Julie Andrews. For Andrews, the role proved to be controversial (as she was laughable criticized by conservative groups who forgot that she wasn't really Mary Poppins!), but it is a nice change of pace to see her in a slightly darker role.
Unfortunately, the regal aura that surrounds Andrews, no matter how unintentional, nearly undermines her game performance. I can't help but wonder how the film might have played had there been another actress; someone like Claire Bloom could have really dug her teeth into the role. Despite the pedigree of the cast, much of the dark and potentially exciting sexual tension Hitchcock certainly had hoped for seems diluted because of the leads.
Torn Curtain has some lofty pretentions in terms of its story and setting, but there is some wonderful dialogue, great cinematography and a sense of urgency required of any good thriller. Hitch fleshes out the characters well, with believable motivations and plotting. But despite his always sure hand at suspense, and some welcome comic relief, I never got as caught up in the picture as I had anticipated. Among Hitchcock's body of work, Torn Curtain is not rated that highly. Critics often compare it to North By Northwest, but despite my reservations I still feel it has been unfairly judged. I longed for something a bit meatier in the end.