tip over

Film Even at this late stage in his career Alfred Hitchcock experimented with what’s possible and how the audience can be misled, especially in relation to narrative technique. Torn Curtain is essentially split into three sections. At first the story – of the wife (Julie Andrews) of a US scientist (Paul Newman) who discovers that he is defecting to the Soviet Union – is presented almost exclusively from her point of view which means that we’re as bewildered as she is. Then, when we find out why he’s gone over to the other side, that point of view switches to Newman so that the main exposition of the story can be revealed, with the last section joining them together on the usual dash through the countryside now that we understand what is at stake.

Hitchcock originally wanted to see Cary Grant and Eve Marie Saint to repeat their North by Northwest partnership for Torn Curtain, but Grant was nearing retirement and the studio all but forced him to go another way, so he was “stuck” with Newman and Andrews who were the two biggest film stars of the period. Predictably there was tension on set and in places it does seem to tip over onto the screen. Newman clearly wants to be giving one kind of performance but is self-consciously blasting himself elsewhere with Andrews taking some of the collateral damage. But it’s nearly impossible to imagine Grant in the farmhouse scene just as it’s exciting to see Andrews in one of her first straight dramatic roles almost acting him off the screen.

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