Hitchcock-a-thon: Torn Curtain (1966)

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The Golden Age of Hitchcock couldn’t last forever. With New Hollywood on the rise, the ground was shifting.  Now in his sixties, there was a danger that Hitchcock would be shafted by the studios like other old-time directors such as Frank Capra and John Ford. This meant that for Torn Curtain Hitchcock was forced to do something he hated almost more than anything. Compromise.

American physicist and rocket scientist  Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman), travels to Soviet-occupied East Berlin for reasons he conceals to his to his fiancée, Sarah (Julie Andrews).  Sarah secretly follows him to Berlin to get some straight answers, worried that he’s defected to the other side. But Armstrong is, of course, secretly working for Uncle Sam; gaining the confidence of his communist hosts in order to uncover a crucial anti-missile equation. Armstrong struggles to escape the watchful eye of Soviet goon Gromek (Wolfgang Kieling), to get the crucial information back home.

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There’s one particularly good scene, both tense and darkly comic, where Hitchcock shows just how long and arduous it would be kill someone by strangulation. Other than that, there’s little to pull Torn Curtain out of mediocrity

Brian Moore’s plodding screenplay is the film’s biggest fault, but the cast don’t help matters. I’ve never quite understood the appeal of Julie Andrews in a non-singing role. Her short, prim delivery makes every line sounds same-y to me. As for Newman, well, I love Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as much as the next person, but here he just looks lost. There’s a blankness to his performance that leaves him completely unconvincing as a man caught between duty and his personal feelings. Someone bring back Cary Grant!

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Actually, Grant was exactly who Hitchcock wanted, as well as Eva Marie Saint for his leading lady, but Universal refused, claiming the pair were too old. Accustomed to the wide production control the studio had granted him with The Birds and Marnie, Hitchcock now found himself grappling with Universal over key creative decisions which also led to to an irreparable falling out with his long-term collaborator Bernard Herrmann, who had composed the score for every Hitchcock film since 1955. Hitch despised the process and later wrote it off as the least enjoyable production he’d ever worked on.

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Hitchcock-a-thon: The Paradine Case (1947)

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In 1934 Hitchcock went from his worst film of the decade to one of his best. Now in the ’40s he reverses the trend. Straight off the back of the magnificent Notorious, Hitchcock began work on his final collaboration with Selznick – The Paradine Case. While it’s still miles better than the string of crap Hitch produced in the early ’30s, it’s a ponderous film that doesn’t live up to the potential of the premise.

In his second and final film with Hitchcock, Gregory Peck plays Anthony Keane – a London attorney hired to defend Mrs. Paradine (Alida Valli) against accusations that she murdered her husband, a blind war-veteran. Keane starts to fall for his mysterious client which threatens both his career and his relationship with his wife, Gay (Ann Todd). Is Mrs. Paradine as innocent as he believes, or is she playing him like a chump?

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The Paradine Case cost over $4,000,000, a monumental sum for the time. It ended up nearly as expensive as Gone With the Wind,  which was on a huge blockbuster scale. But this is a low-key courtroom drama; where the hell did all the money go?

Not on the script, I hope. The screenplay (which Selznick constantly rewrote much to Hitch’s annoyance) hints at some interesting relationships and themes, but feels over-stretched and flabby.

At least some of the acting is strong. Especially from Ann Todd as Keane’s love-suffering wife and Charles Laughton turns in a surprisingly underplayed performance as Judge Horfield.

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I’m very sad to say that it’s Peck who sticks out as the weak link. Based on other Peck films- not least of all his phenomenal performance in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) – we know the man can do much better, but here he feels awkward and stilted. Initially Laurence Olivier was signed on to play Peck’s part before dropping due to other commitments. It would have been great to see him work with Hitchcock once again and he light have been able to add some va-va-voom to the role. Unlike Peck, he would have certainly been able to give a convincing English accent.

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Overall, The Paradine Case is bland and forgettable, but isn’t as awful as many critics make it out to be. The fact it stands as Hitch’s weakest film of the decade only goes to show how great the ’40s were for Hitchcock hits.

Hitchcock-a-thon: Notorious (1946)

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In a way it’s hard to say what’s so good about Notorious because it’s kinda everything. The film offers so much in terms of pure drama. Sexual jealousy, espionage, exploitation, romance, mistrust, fear…it’s a powerhouse of a movie.

The daughter of a convicted Nazi spy, Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), is recruited by the American government to infiltrate an organization of Nazis who escaped to Rio after the War. While awaiting her orders she falls in love with fellow agent T. R. Devlin (Cary Grant). But when she’s ordered to seduce a Nazi suspect, Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), her life becomes an emotional turmoil as she pretends to love one man while really loving another.

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“Don’t sulk. Yours is bigger.”

Both Grant and Bergman give some of the strongest performances of their careers (no mean feat given their incredible outputs) as we watch their characters try to balance their duty with their true feelings.

But, in acting terms, the film’s secret linchpin is Claude Rains, who delivers a wonderfully understated performance. Despite his political immorality and suspiciously close relationship with his domineering mother (a superb performance by Leopoldine Konstantin) his love for Alicia is genuine. It’s hard not to pity him.

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Guys, I’m right here

As for camerawork, Hitchcock gives some of his most elegant cinematography and editing to date, most famously in the kissing scene. The Hays Code – Hollywood’s chief censor – forbade a kiss lasting longer than three seconds, and so Bergman and Grant break away from each others lips every few seconds to speak softly to each other as the gliding camera follows them. It’s one of the most intimate moments in Hitchcock’s canon and, proving how arbitrary censorship regulations can be, it’s profoundly more erotic than if they had held a single kiss for the two and a half minute shot.

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Grant and Bergman regret playing with glue

Without spoiling anything, the film’s final scene is absolutely superb. There’s no daring chase, or scuffle atop a landmark but the emotional drama of the scene make it one of Hitchcock’s tensest climaxes.

Notorious was met with critical acclaim, but perhaps the best review came from Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia: “What a perfect film!” She ain’t wrong. It’s the most tightly constructed film in what was a phenomenal decade for Hitchcock. Unmissable.