Torn Curtain

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Torn Curtain
File:Torn curtain.jpg
Theatrical release poster by Howard Terpning
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by
Screenplay by Brian Moore
Music by John Addison (rejected score by Bernard Herrmann)
Cinematography John F. Warren
Edited by Bud Hoffman
Universal Pictures
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • July 14, 1966 (1966-07-14) (USA)
Running time
128 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3 million[1]
Box office $13 million[1]

Torn Curtain is a 1966 American political thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Paul Newman and Julie Andrews. Written by Brian Moore, the film is about an American scientist who pretends to defect to East Germany as part of a clandestine mission to obtain the solution of a formula resin and escape back to the United States.


Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman), an esteemed American physicist and rocket scientist, is to attend a scientific conference in Copenhagen. He takes a cruise ship to Copenhagen along with his assistant and fiancée, Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews). Armstrong tells Sherman that he did not want her to come along, and en route to Copenhagen, he receives a radiogram to pick up a book once in Copenhagen. The book, allegedly a first-edition of one of Armstrong's book, actually contains a message that says, "Contact π in case [of emergency.]" He tells Sherman he is going to Stockholm, but she discovers he is flying to East Berlin, and she follows him there. When they land, he is welcomed by representatives of the East German government, and Sherman realizes that Armstrong has defected to the other side. Sherman, however, is extremely uncomfortable with this move, realizing if the apparent defection is in fact real, given the circumstances of the Cold War of the period, she would likely never see her home or family again. They are constantly accompanied by Professor Karl Manfred (Günter Strack), who took part in arranging Armstrong's defection to the East.

Armstrong visits a contact, a 'farmer' (Mort Mills), where it is revealed that his defection is in fact a ruse to gain the confidence of the East German scientific establishment in order to learn just how much their chief scientist Gustav Lindt (Ludwig Donath) and by extension, the Soviet Union, knows about anti-missile systems. While Armstrong does not inform the U.S. government of his plan, he has made preparations to return to the West via an escape network, known as π. However, Armstrong is followed to this farm by his official body man, Hermann Gromek (Wolfgang Kieling), an East German security officer assigned to him. Gromek realizes what π is and that Armstrong is a double agent, and as Gromek is calling the police to report his suspicions, a tortuous fight scene commences that ends with Gromek being killed. So as to not arouse the suspicion of the taxi driver who brought Armstrong to the farm, a gun is not used to kill Gromek, but instead he is choked, stabbed, hit with a shovel, and, ultimately, gassed to death by Armstrong and the farmer's wife (Carolyn Conwell). Gromek and his motorcycle are then buried by the 'farmer' and his wife. The taxicab driver (Peter Lorre Jr., uncredited) who drove Armstrong to the farm, however, reports on Armstrong's behavior to the police when he sees Gromek's missing person ad in the newspaper. The remains of Gromek are found; the fate of the farmer's wife is not given.

Armstrong visits the physics faculty of Karl Marx University in Leipzig, where his interview with the scientists is abruptly ended when he is questioned by security officials about the missing Gromek. The faculty try to interrogate Sherman about her knowledge of the American "Gamma Five" anti-missile program, but she refuses to cooperate and runs from the room even though she had agreed to cooperate and defect to East Germany. At this point, Armstrong secretly confides to her his actual motives, and asks her to go along with the ruse. He finally goads Professor Lindt into revealing his anti-missile equations in a fit of pique over what Lindt believes are Armstrong's mathematical mistakes. When Lindt hears over the university's loudspeaker system that Armstrong and Sherman are being sought for questioning, he realizes that he has given up his secrets while learning nothing in return. Armstrong and Sherman escape from the school with the help of the university clinic physician Dr. Koska (Gisela Fischer).

They travel to East Berlin, pursued by the Stasi, in a decoy bus operated by the π escape network, led by Mr. Jacobi (David Opatoshu). Roadblocks, highway robbery by Soviet Army deserters, and bunching with the "real" bus result in the police becoming aware of the decoy bus and everyone fleeing. While looking for the Friedrichstraße post office, the two encounter the exiled Polish countess Kuchinska (Lila Kedrova) who leads them to the post office in hopes of being sponsored for an American visa. The police find Armstrong and Sherman at the post office, and Kuchinska throws herself in front of the police so they can go to their next destination, a travel agency.

When Armstrong and Sherman arrive at the travel agency, however, the police were performing a raid. Two men from the travel agency walk up to them on the sidewalk - one is the 'farmer' - and give them tickets to the ballet, with the plan being to travel with the troupe to Sweden later that night. While they are attending the ballet and waiting for the pick-up, the are reported to the police because they were spotted by the lead ballerina (Tamara Toumanova), who bears a bit of a grudge: she flew to East Berlin on the same airplane as Armstrong, and mistakenly believed the press were there to greet her, rather than Armstrong. Armstrong and Sherman escape through a crowded theater by shouting fire, and after Armstrong and Sherman hide in a crate of props belonging to a traveling Czech troupe, they cross the Baltic Sea to Sweden on a freighter. The ballerina makes a mistake in uncovering where Armstrong and Sherman are hiding on the ship, the wrong crates are fired on when already dangling over the pier (thus, Swedish crane operators technically have control over the property once it was off an East German boat), and Armstrong and Sherman are able to escape by jumping overboard and swimming to a Swedish dock.




By the time Torn Curtain, his fiftieth film, was conceived, Alfred Hitchcock was the most famous film director in Hollywood, having already reached the pinnacle of commercial success six years before with Psycho (1960). Audiences eagerly expected his next film. To find a gripping plot, Hitchcock turned towards the spy thriller genre, which was greatly in fashion since the early 1960s with the success of the James Bond series starting in 1962 with Dr. No.[2] Hitchcock had already found success in that genre in 1959 with North by Northwest.[2]

The idea behind Torn Curtain came from the defection of British diplomats Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean to Russia in 1951.[3] Hitchcock was particularly intrigued about Maclean’s life in the Soviet Union and about Melinda Marling, Maclean’s wife, who followed her husband behind the Iron Curtain a year later with the couple’s three children.[3] With these facts as a starting point Hitchcock created a plot line involving an American nuclear physicist, Professor Michael Armstrong, defecting to East Germany.[4] Against his will, the physicist is followed to East Berlin by his fiancée and assistant, who decides to remain loyal to him regardless of his intentions. The twist of the story is that Professor Armstrong is in fact a member of a secret spy ring and he has defected only with the idea of stealing a formula from an East German scientist.[4]


In the fall 1964, Hitchcock offered to let Vladimir Nabokov, the famous author of Lolita, who had successfully helped adapt his own novel to a well regarded film directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1962, write the script.[5] Although intrigued, Nabokov declined the project, feeling that he knew very little about a political thriller.[6]

As the original focus of the plot was on the female lead, the spy's girlfriend, the script was commissioned early in 1965 to Irish-Canadian writer Brian Moore, who was known for successfully tackling female characters.[7][8] His well regarded first novel, Judith Hearne, centers on an alcoholic Belfast spinster. In addition to this, Moore had adapted his own novel The Luck of Ginger Coffey into a film the previous year.[8] Moore moved to Hollywood to work on the script. His five-page synopsis, completed on 26 March 1965, already contained two key scenes of the film: Torn Curtain's opening aboard a cruise steamer in the Norwegian fjords, and the brutal killing of undercover agent Gromek by the American scientist and a farm woman.[8] Moore's final draft, completed by June 21, pleased neither Hitchcock nor Universal. It lacked the humor and sparkle characteristic of a Hitchcock film. On his part, Moore complained that Hitchcock had "no concept of character"[9] and that he had "a profound ignorance of human motivation".[9] Brian Moore's own dissatisfaction with the project was reflected in his novel Fergus (1970), which features Bernard Boweri, an unsympathetic character based on Hitchcock.[10]

To polish the dialogues and improve the script, Hitchcock hired British authors Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, known for their screenplay for Whistle Down the Wind (1961), A Kind of Loving (1962), and Billy Liar (1963), the latter based on the novel by Waterhouse.[11] They worked rewriting some dialogues, on a day-by-day basis, as the film was shot.[12] However, their contribution was restricted by the director's resistance to change and concern for detail. His notes to them were like these: "Scene 88. We should eliminate the floor concierge. My information is that they do not have these in East Berlin"; "[11] "Scene 127 C. I would like to discuss the place where the sausage is carved";[11]" On Scene 139, where we had someone describing the Julie Andrews character as beautiful... do you think beautiful is perhaps too much, and cannot we say lovely instead?[11]

Submitted to arbitration, the Writers Guild gave sole script credits to Brian Moore.[13]


Hitchcock had to compromise in his casting choices. Initially, he wanted Eva Marie Saint, the blonde star of North by Northwest for the female lead. Hitchcock also spoke in 1965 to Cary Grant about appearing in the film, only to learn that Grant intended to make just one more film and then retire.[9] Universal Pictures executives insisted on famous stars being cast for the leads. Paul Newman and Julie Andrews were imposed on Hitchcock by Lew Wasserman, the studio executive, rather than being his real choices.[14] The director felt that the stars were ill suited to their roles, while their salaries of $750.000 took a big part of the film $5 million budget.[14] At the time Julie Andrews was Hollywood's biggest star after the back to back successes of her films Mary Poppins (1964) and The Sound of Music (1965).[9] As she was much in demand, Andrews was only available for a short period of time, and that meant that the production of the film was rushed, although Hitchcock was not yet satisfied with the script.

Hitchcock surrounded Newman and Andrews with colorful supporting actors: Lila Kedrova, fresh from winning an Academy Award for Zorba the Greek, as the eccentric and flamboyantly dressed Countess Luchinska who helps Armstrong and Sherman in their escape in return for their sponsoring her to go to America; Tamara Toumanova as the haughty prima ballerina whose limelight Armstrong steals when he arrives in East Berlin; Ludwig Donath as the crotchety professor Lindt, eager to cut the chat and get down to business; Wolfgang Kieling as the sinister Hermann Gromek, the gum-chewing personal guide the East German authorities provide to shadow Armstrong's every move.


Principal photography of the film began on 18 October 1965 on Stage 18 at Universal back lot.[15] The shooting schedule lasted three months, including a two-week hiatus while Paul Newman recuperated from a chin infection.[16] Filming was completed in mid-February 1966.[16]

Although unexcited about his leading actress, Hitchcock was always very polite with Julie Andrews.[15] About her experience making the film Andrews commented: " I did not have to act in Torn Curtain. I merely went along for the ride. I don't feel that the part demanded much of me, other than to look glamorous, which Mr Hitchcock can always arrange better than anyone. I did have reservations about this film, but I wasn't agonized by it. The kick of it was working for Hitchcock. That's what I did it for, and that's what I got out of it.[17]

The working relationship between Hitchcock and Newman was also problematic.[15] Newman came from a different generation of actors from the likes of Cary Grant and James Stewart. He questioned Hitchcock about the script and the characterization throughout filming. Hitchcock later said he found Newman's manner and approach unacceptable and disrespectful. Newman insisted that he meant no disrespect towards Hitchcock, and once said, "I think Hitch and I could have really hit it off, but the script kept getting in the way." When Newman, a Method actor, consulted Hitchcock about his character's motivations, the director replied that Newman's "motivation is your salary." Furthermore, as Hitchcock discovered, the expected onscreen chemistry between Newman and Andrews failed to materialize.[15]

Unsatisfied with the actors cast in the leads, Hitchcock shifted the point of view of the plot from the defecting scientist's wife to the American amateur spy and he centered his attention in the colorful international actors who played supporting roles in the film.[7] Lila Kedrova was Hitchcock's favorite among the cast; he ate lunch with her several times during filming and invited her home for dinners with his wife.[7] Although the length of the film was shorten in post-production, Hitchcock left intact Countess Kutchiska scenes in the final film.[7]

The film's climax in a theater was filmed on Sound Stage 28 at Universal Studios. Stage 28 was also used in the 1925 and 1943 versions of The Phantom of the Opera with Lon Chaney, Sr. 41 years earlier. The set was demolished in 2014.[18]

Perhaps the best-known scene is the fight to the death between Armstrong and Gromek, a gruesome, prolonged struggle. In conversation with François Truffaut, Hitchcock said that he included the scene deliberately to show the audience how difficult it can be to kill a man, because a number of spy thrillers at the time made killing look effortless.[19]

Alfred Hitchcock's cameo is a signature occurrence in most of his films. In Torn Curtain he can be seen (8 minutes into the film) sitting in a hotel lobby holding Julie Andrews' young daughter, Emma Kate. His presence is signaled by a trombone playing the theme of his TV series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents.[19]

Steven Spielberg told James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio that as a young man he sneaked onto the soundstage to observe the filming, and remained for 45 minutes before an assistant producer asked him to leave.


The film had two scores. The first was written by Bernard Herrmann, a recurrent contributor to Hitchcock's work. Hitchcock and Universal, though, asked Herrmann for a soundtrack that was more upbeat than the material initially provided by the horror-genre veteran, from whom a pop- and jazz-influenced composition was requested for this latest project. Universal hoped Herrmann might even write a song for lead actress Julie Andrews to perform. However, even when Herrmann revised his score, it still was not as Hitchcock or the studio had wanted. Hitchcock and Herrmann ended their long-time collaboration and John Addison was approached to write the score.

In the climactic scene involving the ballet at the East Berlin theatre, the music was excerpted from Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini.


Torn Curtain was released without any rating on 14 July 1966 (see original 1966 movie poster above). However, the film was given an "M" (for "Mature"—later changed to "PG") under the MPAA film rating system that took effect November 1, 1968.


After its premiere in 1966, the film was criticized, especially in terms of its production technology as being old-fashioned. The film, although not at the level of the director's best works, was a minor hit for Hitchcock, making $7 million in the United States alone.[19]

Hitchcock's anniversary work was not the darling of the critics. Penelope Houston, writing for Sight & Sound, commented: "What went wrong here, one suspects, was something basic in the story line."[20] The reviewer in Variety said: "Some good plot ideas are marred by routine dialogue, and a too relaxed pace contributed to a dull overlength,” adding "Hitchcock freshens up his bag of tricks in a good potpourri which becomes a bit stale though a noticeable lack of zip and pacing."[19] "Awful," "preposterous," and "irritating slack," concluded Renata Adler in The New Yorker.[20]

Richard Schickel, writing in Life, concluded: "Hitchcock is tired to the point where what once seemed highly personal style is now repetitions of past triumphs."[20]

Writing in Punch, Richard Mallet asserted: "The film as a whole may be a bit diffuse... but it has some brilliant scenes, it's pleasing to the eye, and it is continuously entertaining."[19]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Torn Curtain, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved May 22, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Mc Gilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, p. 657
  3. 3.0 3.1 Mc Gilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, p. 659
  4. 4.0 4.1 Maxford, The A - Z of Hitchcock, p. 264
  5. Mc Gilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, p. 658
  6. Mc Gilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, p. 661
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Mc Gilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, p. 665
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Mc Gilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, p. 662
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Mc Gilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, p. 663
  10. Busby, Character Parts: Who's Really Who in CanLit, p. 32
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Mc Gilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, p. 669
  12. Mc Gilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, p. 670
  13. Mc Gilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, p. 671
  14. 14.0 14.1 Maxford, The A - Z of Hitchcock, p. 265
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Mc Gilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, p. 672
  16. 16.0 16.1 Mc Gilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, p. 673
  17. Maxford, The A - Z of Hitchcock, p. 31
  18. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 19.4 Maxford, The A - Z of Hitchcock, p. 266
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Mc Gilligan, Alfred Hitchcock, p. 675


  • Busby, Brian. Character Parts: Who's Really Who in CanLit. Knopf, Toronto,2003. ISBN 0-676-97578-X.
  • Maxford,Howard. The A - Z of Hitchcock: The Ultimate Reference Guide, B.T Batsford, London, 2002. ISBN 0-7134-8738-0
  • McGilligan, Patrick. Alfred Hitchcock: A life in darkness and Light. Regan Books, New York, 2003. ISBN 0-06-039322-X
  • Perry, George. The Complete Phantom of the Opera. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1987. ISBN 0-8050-1722-4.

External links