Hitchcock's Defective Defectors
"Torn Curtain" is not a great Hitchcock movie but the irony of it is that even a less than great Hitchcock movie is not bad. The problem with "Torn Curtain" is not the duplicitous storyline about a defecting American scientist but the casting of Paul Newman and Julie Andrews as lovers. Whilst singly Newman and Andrews sort of works, together it just doesn't feel right and there is no chemistry between them to convey the romance of the story. It makes "Torn Curtain" uncomfortable and often dull when the storyline focuses on their less than sizzling relationship whilst also having a knock on effect to the actual thriller aspect of the storyline as it cascades into basically one long chase movie.
U.S. scientist Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman - Hud) and his assistant/fianc√©e Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews) are on their way to Copenhagen to attend a convention but when Michael starts to act suspiciously Sarah becomes concerned. Having reached Copenhagen Michael says he has to leave immediately and when Sarah follows him she soon discovers he is defecting to the East where he can obtain better funding for his science experiments. But is everything as it seems?
"Torn Curtain" doesn't start very well thanks to the initial scenes focussing on Armstrong and Sherman supposedly in a romantic moment aboard a boat. There is no passion to these opening scenes and makes it rather dull and as such it takes some time to get going. Once it does get going the storyline creeps towards being good as we get this mystery as to why Professor Armstrong is defecting to the East and the whole duplicity of it all is interesting. It draws you in and whilst you suspect all is not as it seems it keeps you interested especially as to why Armstrong is so opposed to Sherman joining him.
Unfortunately once the mystery as to why Armstrong is defecting is cleared up "Torn Curtain" then descends into one long chase movie as we watch Armstrong and Sherman trying to evade capture as they try to escape from East Germany. There are some nice moments in this over long chase element such as the journey by bus which is fraught with danger but it is also rather repetitive as every time they come close to getting an escape route things go wrong. As such "Torn Curtain" is not the cleverest of Hitchcock's movies and whilst he adorns it with some nice touches especially in the scene where Armstrong manages to get the secret formula he wants from Professor Lindt it does end up all about whether or not Armstrong and Sherman will both evade capture. The problem is that it never really gets exciting and the outcome of it all is pretty obvious. Even an earlier scene which sees a rather mucky murder never really gets the heart racing but then there is an authenticity to is as it shows that murder is neither quick nor easy.
But the big issue is the casting of Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, both brilliant actors but together in "Torn Curtain" fail to work. Newman just doesn't really come across as a scientist type and seems to be playing the role as cool and sexy rather than delivering a believable character. And sadly Julie Andrews comes across as all nanny like in her tenacity when it comes to being with Armstrong. But it is the lack of sexual chemistry between Newman and Andrews which really causes issues and there is something uncomfortable about watching them in close moments. And because Newman and Andrew are central to everything it has a knock on effect of making the story feel weak.
What this all boils down to is that "Torn Curtain" is by no means a bad movie but more a very average one from Alfred Hitchcock. Much of what is wrong with "Torn Curtain" boils down to the wrong casting of Paul Newman and Julie Andrews who just don't gel and that has a strong knock on effect when it comes to making the story work. But it is also that the story descends into basically one long chase sequence which never really delivers the excitement you would expect.