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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Friday, September 15, 2006 - 05:54 am:   

Will be collecting my occasional movie comments here, as I post them in my more-active newsgroup.

Our recent purchase, a boxed set of 13 Hitchcock films, allowed me the opportunity
to catch TORN CURTAIN, one of a very small handful of Alfred Hitchcock movies
I've never seen.

This is the cold-war tale with Paul Newman as a physicist who defects to East
Berlin, which is actually a dodge to pick the brain of an East German physicist
who has developed the math behind a missile defense system. Julie Andrews plays
Newman's fiance, who is not pleased by these events but goes along in what seems
to be a state of shock.

The extras on the disk reveal that the very small production window, dictated
by the availability of Julie Andrews, forced Hitchcock to start filming before
he was completely satisfied with the bland and colorless script.

Oh, boy, does it show. The characters are cyphers. They are more acted upon
than participants in their own story. Newman is as stiff and characterless as
he has ever been. There is absolutely no chemistry between him and Andrews;
the romantic kiss scenes look very much like two strangers to one another, pretending
to kiss. Compare them with, for instance, Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly, in
REAR WINDOW, Stewart and Novak in VERTIGO, or Cary Grant and Kelly in NORTH
BY NORTHWEST. That was chemistry. There is none here.

There is one classic scene: Newman and a farm woman must kill a state policeman
who has stumbled onto their spying. (Eventually, they drag him across the floor
and force his head into a gas oven.) The grapple takes several minutes, and
is one of the more cold-blooded, methodical, ugly killings any movie "good guys"
ever committed upon any movie "bad guys". It's four to five minutes of Hitchcockian
narrative at its best, one reason why it's so often included in career retrospective
reels.

There are two or three other scenes that work almost as well, but are not connected
to anything. The energy level does ramp up, eventually, but it's not connected
to anything, and the story is totally forgettable.

That said, Hitchcock and company blew a sure bet. According to the documentary
on the disk, they excised a scene where Newman and Andrews encounter the older
brother of the policeman he has killed. Played by the same actor, here wearing
white hair and a grandfatherly white mustache, it featured the kindly older
man delighted to meet the famous American his brother has been assigned to "protect",
talking about what a great guy his brother is, and showing pictures of his brother's
wife and young children, all while Newman, seeing his victim of circumstance
as a person for the very first time, squirms with intense guilt. Hitchcock deleted
this sequence on the grounds that it rendered Newman's character less sympathetic.
He missed a sure bet. Newman's character is an unemotive stiff NOW. Giving him
guilt would have given him something, and driven some serious ambiguity into
a story that otherwise has damned little. The moment would have been classic.

The movie as a whole is bad Hitchcock, dull for long stretches, and crippled
by the void at its center, but dotted here and there with moments of genuine
cleverness, and thus worth watching as a historical document. I can't imagine
taking out this particular DVD again, except to show those isolated moments.
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Adam-Troy Castro
Posted on Wednesday, October 04, 2006 - 05:18 am:   

Have dipped into my Hitchcock set again and seen MARNIE, another of the small
handful of Hitchcock movies I hadn't seen.

This is the one with rich guy Sean Connery blackmailing compulsive thief Tippi
Hedren into marriage, mostly because he wants to know why she acts the way she
does.

It's a lot better than TORN CURTAIN, even if any realistic view of the Connery
character reveals him to be a rapist prick.

The DVD extras include an interview with the late Evan Hunter, who did a version
of the script, and rebelled at the rape scene. He wrote an alternative scene
and was fired for his troubles. I think Hunter was correct, but I also think
the movie works, with a truly troubled performance by Tippi Hedren.

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