Hitchcock’s 50th Film: “Torn Curtain” (1966) starring Paul Newman & Julie Andrews

Prof. Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman- the hottest scientist ever) is heading via boat to Copenhagen to attend a conference w/ his assistant/fiancĂ©e, Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews). Once they arrive, Michael informs her that he’ll be staying for a while and she should go home. Sarah follows him and realizes Michael is actually going to East Germany (behind the Iron Curtain). She is shocked when Michael announces that he’s defecting; the U.S. government cancelled his project after 6 yrs. In truth, Michael is there to get info (which a professional spy couldn’t understand) from another nuclear physicist!

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. -Julie Andrews

The idea behind this film came from the defections of British diplomats (Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean) to the Soviet Union in 1951. Sir Alfred Hitchcock was very intrigued re: Maclean’s life in the Soviet Union, incl. about Melinda Marling (his wife) who followed her husband a year later w/ their three children. In the end, Hitch was so unhappy w/ this movie that he didn’t make a trailer w/ his appearance in it (as was his habit). Bernard Herrmann (composer) wrote an original score, but Universal execs convinced the director on something more upbeat. Hitchcock and Herrmann had a big fight and never worked together again! Steven Spielberg admitted on Inside the Actors Studio (1994) that as a young man he snuck onto the soundstage; he was there for 45 mins. before an assistant producer asked him to leave.

I think Hitch and I could have really hit it off, but the script kept getting in the way. -Paul Newman

The working relationship between Hitch and Newman was problematic; the actor came from a different generation than Cary Grant and James Stewart. He questioned the director re: the script and his characterization, which Hitch later said he found “unacceptable and disrespectful.” As a Method actor, Newman consulted Hitch about his character’s motivations; Hitch replied that his “motivation is your salary.” Also, no romantic chemistry developed between Newman and Andrews (another disappointment to the director). Though the screenplay drags along, the colorful Eastern European supporting actors do fine w/ what they are given. Many critics/viewers recalled the (memorable) killing scene where Gromek fights Armstrong and a housekeeper in the farmhouse.

[1] Pity. I love Hitchcock. There is a detachment here never seen before in a Hitch flick. As if the master was tired or uninterested.

[2] The main thing about Torn Curtain is the photography. It’s full of pretty pictures- one of the most beautifully filmed of all Hitchcock’s films, with lots bold swaths of primary colors and attractive and constantly changing locations…

[3] This was Alfred Hitchcock’s last star vehicle. At the time this was made Julie Andrews was fresh from Mary Poppins and had all kinds of roles offered her. …she and Newman really have no chemistry at all.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Hamlet at Elsinore” (BBC: 1964) starring Christopher Plummer, Robert Shaw, & Michael Caine

[1] Plummer’s performance, it is a very sensitive and reflective one.

[2] Plummer gives us the complete Prince where others have given us parcels. He has looks, presence, breeding, charm, athleticism, wit and consummate grace.

[3] Christopher Plumber is always fascinating, and Robert Shaw was by far the best Claudius ever filmed… 

[4] Robert Shaw… the first Claudius I ever saw who was not only sonorous and regal, but violent, and sexy enough to seduce the Queen and make her agree to kill her husband.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

I’ve been on a theater kick lately, and I’m a really into Shakespeare. I saw this BBC TV movie on YouTube (it’s free, so the sound/picture quality weren’t perfect). This adaptation will not appeal to a mass audience, or someone who’s not a fan of Christopher Plummer (a fine and fine-looking Hamlet). He knows the words and also gives them feeling, but nothing feels overblown. Most viewers know Plummer from The Sound of Music (1965), but he had a long stage career before. Aside from a 1910 silent film, this is the only production to be filmed in Elsinore, Denmark. It’s refreshing to see a few outdoor scenes- Hamlet meets the players in Kronberg Castle’s courtyard and sees Fortinbras’ soldiers heading off to Poland. Shots of waves crashing upon rocks look back to Olivier’s Hamlet (1948).

Robert Shaw plays Claudius w/ a lot of presence (and gets several close-ups); he’s a character actor maybe best known for Jaws (1975). It’s cool to see (young/cute) Michael Caine; he plays Horatio w/ reserve and speaks softly (which works well). One viewer commented that Horatio isn’t well-developed, b/c Caine was working hard to suppress his (natural) Cockney accent. Well, I felt he did well w/ Shakespeare’s language; his role is primarily to listen. Horatio is (of course) emotional at Hamlet’s dying scene; he wants to drink from the poison cup himself! Today, there are UK-based actors (incl. people of color, immigrants, etc.) who use their natural accents and have a strong grasp of Shakespeare. I didn’t know what to make of Donald Sutherland’s accent for Fortinbras- LOL!

There are some odd editing cuts and misdirection. The “get thee to a nunnery” scene is filmed in the chapel w/ Hamlet standing above (and away from) Ophelia. Fans of the play may be puzzled by this; the scene isn’t done this way in the theater. The distance lessens the drama and their connection. “The Mousetrap” is seen as a “dumb show” (mime), so Gertrude’s “the lady doth protest too much” makes no sense! Ophelia doesn’t get her second mad scene (w/ the flowers). Hamlet is kind, quiet and clear-minded w/ Ophelia, so that her “O what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!” has little effect.

“Planet of the Apes” (1968) starring Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowell, Kim Hunter, & Maurice Evans

It raises a lot of questions about our modern day society without letting social commentaries get in the way of the drama and action.

The movie based on this book [La planet de singes by Pierre Boulle] is an “Americanized” adaptation of it. Rod Serling did the first drafts of the screenplay, simplifying the plot by fitting it into the mold of his “Twilight Zone” TV series and introducing an anti-nuclear war theme not present in the Boulle novel.

Pierre Boulle raises such issues as balance of power, racism, the role of government, and evolution… 

The film is philosophical, creative, absorbing and scary. Excellent commentary on religion and just about everything else.

-Excerpts from comments on IMDB

This movie tells the story of George Taylor (Charlton Heston), when he and his fellow astronauts find themselves stranded on a seemingly unknown planet. It seems to have no life. After travelling across a desert, they discover plenty of life (incl. apes that are human-like and humans that are ape-like). The (orange) orangutans are the leaders; the (grayish) chimpanzees are intellectuals and technicians; the (black) gorillas are guards/police (or do grunt work). Taylor is shot in the neck rendering him unable to speak. He is taken to a human-ape study lab, where he meets Zira (Kim Hunter), a chimpanzee scientist. She notices that Taylor’s intelligence goes far beyond that of any other human she has seen; she encourages him to speak. However, the orangutan leader, Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans), sneers at Zira’s and her fiancĂ© Cornelius’ (Roddy McDowall) belief in any human intelligence. He (and his council) won’t listen to reason. Despite Cornelius’ conflicted feelings towards Taylor, he agrees to help prove his intelligence.

As many critics and fans have noted, Heston basically played himself. This role is not unlike those he played before; he is often shirtless, tan, and bearded. Heston uses his physicality, as is needed for a action hero role. There are few moments (w/ Nova, the young woman who will be his “mate”) where his vulnerable side comes out. Zira and Cornelius are quite interesting characters. Hunter’s portrayal of Zira was considered very powerful by many viewers; she is the most developed character in the film. Hunter manages to make Zira what she was meant to be, more human then ape. The intelligent and curious Cornelius (Roddy McDowell) has a bit of a rivalry w/ Taylor (as they constantly challenge each other like males of any species).

Planet of the Apes is considered a pivotal work of American cinema. Modern viewers will be surprised (not only by the ending), but by the fine camera work, unique soundtrack (by Jerry Goldsmith), makeup (by John Chambers), and good performances. After the film’s success, there were sequels, a TV series, a remake and a prequel (2011). There were also toys/models, comics, cartoons, and T-shirts to sell. I think even those who avoid the sci-fi genre should check it out! The Simpsons (my younger brother was a big fan) did a parody of this film, so you know it left it’s mark on pop culture.