Torn Curtain Review and Blu ray Features
Behind the Scene and other Major Plot Points
Is “Torn Curtain” based on a novel?
No. Torn Curtain is based on a screenplay by Irish novelist Brian Moore.
Why did Professor Armstrong defect to East Germany?
The cover story is that Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman) had been working for six years on Gamma 5, an anti-missle program, when the U.S. government terminated the project because of people in high places who don’t want to see atomic war abolished. Because he believes that continuing with this research is more important than the considerations of loyalty to any country, he has decided to offer his services and knowledge to Professor Gustav Lindt (Ludwig Donath) at the Karl Marx University in Leipzig. His true purpose is to get access to Lindt, the designer of the Soviet missle system, and to find out what Lindt knows before he leaves for Leningrad in a few days.
What does the symbol for Pi stand for in the movie?
Pi is a letter from the Greek alphabet that is used to represent the mathematical ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, expressed numerically as 3.14. In the context of the movie, Pi is the escape network that Armstrong must use to get himself and his fiancée, Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews), out from behind the Iron Curtain.
Was any of “Torn Curtain” actually filmed behind the Iron Curtain?
No. Much of the movie was filmed on a Universal lot in Hollywood with some scenes and exterior shots taken in Denmark and West Germany. Even the sets for the Berlin Museum were comprised almost entirely of matte paintings by matte artist Albert Whitlock.
Why did Armstrong go to that farmhouse?
Armstrong needed to get the code name of his contact. Many viewers complain about the absurdity of that plan. His first day as a defector behind the Iron Curtain, and he is made to leave his hotel, take a bus, go into the Berlin Museum and out the back door, then take a taxi, and drive directly to the farmhouse where the two agents live, just to find out that his contact will be a university clinic physician named Dr. Koska (Gisela Fischer). On top of that, all the while he is en route, he doesn’t notice that he’s being followed by Hermann Gromek (Wolfgang Kieling), the Stasi officer assigned to follow him. Of course, Gromek discovers that the defection is fake, so Armstrong is then forced to kill Gromek, which sets up the impetus for the rest of the movie…getting Armstrong and Sarah out of East Germany.
Does Armstrong get the formula for which he “defected”?
Yes. He tricks Lindt into showing him the formula by writing the formula for Gamma 5 on the blackboard, but he does it incorrectly so that Lindt’s ego drives him to make the corrections while Armstrong memorizes it.
Why did the Pi woman on the bus get so upset to be helping Americans escape?
The purpose of the Pi bus was to help Germans escape from the eastern bloc to the western bloc. Professor Armstrong had been on television in East Germany and was the subject of a massive search. His face would be well known and very hard to explain if they were stopped by a police search squad. Apparently, the police tend to shoot first and then ask questions
How does it end?
After Armstrong gets the formula out of Lindt, he and Sarah meet up with Dr Koska, who has set up a plan for their escape. First, they are to take a bus filled with Pi members from Leipzig to Berlin. Along the way they are stopped by roadblocks and bandits, eventually being escorted by the police, who believe this to be the regular bus on the Leipzig-Berlin route. They make it to Berlin and manage to get off the bus just as the police learn it was not the regular bus. Trying to find their way to their next contact, Albert at the Friedrichstrasse Post Office, they run into Countess Kuchinska (Lila Kedrova) who helps get them there in return for their promise to sponsor her in her attempts to go to America. Albert sends them on to their next contact at a Travel Agency. That contact tells them to go to the Czech Ballet that evening at 8pm and wait to be met by a man wearing a red wig. Unfortunately, Armstrong is recognized by the prima ballerina (she was on the airplane when he flew from Copenhagen to East Berlin), and she alerts security. As the security agents block the entrances and start coming down the aisles, Armstrong yells, “Fire!”, and everyone in the German-speaking audience jumps up in panic. The surging crowd carries them to a back room where they meet the man in the red wig. He packs them into two costume baskets which are taken to the East German boat bound for Sweden that the balllet company is using. However, when they arrive at the Swedish dock and their baskets about to be lifted to the pier, that same ballerina suspects that the baskets are holding Armstrong and Sarah. She starts screaming, the East German police on board the boat open fire on the baskets. When they are opened, the baskets contain only costumes. Fortunately, the Pi agent unloading the baskets remembered that the “costume basket ruse” had been used before and had loaded those baskets to detract from the baskets that contained our heroes, who jump overboard in the commotion and swim to shore. In the final scene, Michael and Sarah are seated before a pot belly stove with a blanket around them.
Is it true that Hitchcock wanted to use a different ending?
Yes. In this other ending, Armstrong tosses away the formula. In the book Its Only a Movie: Alfred Hitchcock – A Personal Biography (2005), author Charlotte Chandler writes: “There was an ending written for ‘Torn Curtain’, Hitchcock said, ‘which wasn’t used, but I rather liked it. No one agreed with me except my colleague at home [his wife Alma]. Everyone told me that you couldn’t have a letdown ending after all that. Newman would have thrown the formula away. After what he has gone through, after everything we have endured with him, he just tosses it. It speaks to the futility of all, and it’s in keeping with the kind of naivete of the character, who is no professional spy and who will certainly retire from that nefarious business.”
RT/Meta Critic Review
In the middle of the Masterpiece Collection‘s more baffling, issue-ridden presentations — The Birds, Marnie, Frenzy andFamily Plot — comes Torn Curtain and its carefully tailored 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer. The movie may not be the greatest, but the image delivers and looks better than it ever has before. There are a few small problems (some errant noise and print blemishes), but nothing in the way of the debilitating nonsense that’s yet to come. Colors and contrast, though intentionally subdued, are dialed in nicely, with well-saturated, lifelike skintones, vivid splashes of red, natural shadows and satisfying black levels. Detail is excellent as well. While a prevailing softness limits the end result, edges are cleanly defined, many a fine texture is showcased beautifully, and noise reduction and other digital techniques are used judiciously and transparently. As it stands, it’s a filmic presentation, a striking rejuvenation and altogether an unexpected surprise.
Hitchcock did as much with sound as he did with visuals, and Torn Curtain, for all its faults, is a masterclass in subtle sound design that elevates otherwise routine genre scenes into something far more unnerving. Or distressing. Serene. Exciting. Intense. Whatever Hitchcock chose to deploy. Thankfully, Universal’s two-channel DTS-HD Master Audio Mono mix doesn’t deviate from its source; it only makes it that much more effective. Dialogue is clean, clear and perfectly prioritized, John Addison’s punctuates the soundscape nicely, and every effect, however hushed or deliberately delicate, has been drawn out of hiding for all to hear. (Armstrong’s struggle with Gromek is a highlight made all the more gruesome by way of the all too clear lossless audio.) The verdict? No complaints from me.
- Torn Curtain Rising (SD, 32 minutes): “Ordinary and sluggish.” That was just one of many criticisms leveled at Torn Curtain upon its original release, and “Rising” doesn’t attempt to sidestep such harsh reactions. Instead, it tackles the film’s reception head on, detailing its troubled development, rushed shoot, soundstage and location challenges, Hitchcock’s resistance and uncertainty in casting Julie Andrews, his clashes with Paul Newman, filmmaking techniques that defied current trends, and Hitch and composer Bernard Herrmann’s falling out. And yet the documentary retains a respect and appreciation for the movie and delivers a compelling argument for Curtain‘s value, even in the wake of classics like Vertigo and Psycho.
- Scenes Scored by Bernard Herrmann (SD, 14 minutes): View scenes with music cues and arrangements from Bernard Herrmann’s original score (among them the murder sequence), composed before he was replaced by John Addison.
- Production Photographs (SD, 22 minutes): Movie posters, vintage ads, production photos and more.
- Theatrical Trailer (SD, 3 minutes)