Torn Curtain (1966)

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Released 15-Nov-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Torn Curtain Rising (32:25)
Featurette-Music by Bernard Herrmann (14:37)
Gallery-Art
Theatrical Trailer-1.33:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (2:57)
Booklet
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1966
Running Time 122:29
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (84:22) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Alfred Hitchcock
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Paul Newman
Julie Andrews
Lila Kedrova
Hansjoerg Felmy
Tamara Toumanova
Ludwig Donath
Wolfgang Kieling
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music John Addison


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Screen, not known whether Pan & Scan or Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Dutch
Swedish
Danish
Norwegian
Finnish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    And the review pile finally brings to the top the final new release from the Hitchcock Collection Volume 2. That final release is of course one of Alfred Hitchcock's more "difficult" films. Difficult in that this was by all accounts not an easy film to make, not the least because of the problems with the casting. Indeed, the apparent problems with the leads were to lead to this being the last of the maestro's films to star anyone from what is nowadays called the A-list. Mind you, it would not be just problems with the leads that created issues here. Once again there were problems with the music, with Bernard Herrmann's scoring efforts being given the old heave-ho and John Addison brought in to provide something more acceptable to Alfred Hitchcock. Once again there were some problems with the screenplay. Once again, in the light of thirty odd years of film making since the mid-1960s, we might well conclude why did Alfred Hitchcock really bother? It is not like he needed the money, nor the addition of poorer films onto his extremely impressive curriculum vitae.

    Two films in a row set in the period of the Cold War, the later Topaz and Torn Curtain. Not a good place to start with the rather disappointing Topaz still very fresh in the memory. This effort starts on a cruise ship in the fjords of Norway, and more specifically a gathering of physicists for an international symposium. Unfortunately, the heating on the ship has broken down and it is freezing - which means that we have the obvious introduction of Professor Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman) and his assistant Sarah Sherman (Julie Andrews). We get to discover that these two are slightly more than co-workers and the mysteries of their relationship are slightly revealed over the course of Act One. We also get to discover that Michael headed a top secret project in the United States that was cancelled by the government and he is not exactly thrilled about it. But why does he deny that radiogram is for him? The action switches to Copenhagen and this is clearly a relationship not exactly based on trust and honesty, and increasingly Sarah becomes frustrated with Michael's secrecy and apparent change of mood. And exactly why is he buying first edition books from bookstores in Copenhagen? And why is he buying tickets from the travel desk at their hotel? And could he not have come up with a better story than the one that he gives Sarah - the one she does not believe, and the one that she sees as the final straw and decides to head back home over?

    So Act One is over and we get to the real guts of the film. That is of course that Michael is not headed to Stockholm as he says, but rather is headed to East Berlin - without Sarah. Of course, that never deterred a woman so she decides to tag along without Michael's knowledge. He is not real happy when he finds out, which is on the plane. The arrival in East Berlin is obviously of import for the government of the German Democratic Republic, since he is even bigger news than a returning ballerina (Tamara Toumanova). Indeed, the announcement of his defection is rather astonishing news, especially to Sarah, and this is emphasised by the presence of high official Heinrich Gerhard (Hansjoerg Felmy). But exactly why has Michael defected? Could he really be that p***** off over the cancellation of a project that by all accounts failed to achieve its aims? And exactly why is he spending his first full day in East Germany visiting a farm and trying to lose his minder, Hermann Gromek (Wolfgang Kieling). And even more importantly - why is he so desperate to work with Gustav Lindt (Ludwig Donath)?

    As you might have gathered, this story is very heavily filled with lots of "why the heck is he doing that?". Unfortunately, they only work once or twice and sooner or later it sinks in exactly where this story is going - the only suspense is really to see if everything works out (and given that it just about always does in an Alfred Hitchcock film, that is no great suspense). In truth, this film really winds up very quickly after taking for ever to get where it needed to get to. Again, this is not that unusual for an Alfred Hitchcock film it seems. But don't get the idea that this is a lousy story - it might not be terrific but it is fairly reasonable and does keep the interest up far more than say Topaz or Family Plot. However, it has to be said that it would have been a lot more intriguing with a slightly better performance from its female lead. This is not really the forte of Julie Andrews and she really lacks a fair amount of believability here and is a weak spot in the film. There is also a lack of real chemistry with Paul Newman, which makes the entire relationship lack in real depth. Some of the other characters are just a little too clichéd and this also does something to drag the film down a little.

    There is also the continuing use of processed shots that Alfred Hitchcock was so enamoured with - but plenty of segments really decrease believability because of the obvious false backgrounds. You might be able to ignore this on the old Very Hazy System but on DVD this becomes completely unignorable.

    So as we come to the end of this voyage through the new release films from the Hitchcock Collection Volume 2, the real quality has long been left behind. This effort really falls into the category of ordinary with a capital O. This is really only for serious Alfred Hitchcock fans only.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The original theatrical presentation of this film was in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, as seen in the excerpts of film seen in the extra package. Yes, I know that this sounds like a bunch of earlier reviews, but since the problem is the same, obviously the description sounds the same. There obviously is some reason as to why so many releases have not been given widescreen releases, especially since the Region 1 releases have, but this really is so very disappointing, and I am still no closer to knowing whether this is a pan and scan abomination or not. Gut feeling based upon checking out the excerpts in the extras package and comparing them to the feature transfer suggests Full Frame but that is definitely unconfirmed.

    Like the previous three 1.33:1 efforts reviewed, grain is heck of an issue here. At its best this is mildly grainy, but at its worst this borders on being really bad and visually difficult to watch. The grain makes this a less than clear transfer in all respects. Definition is not terrific either and there would seem to be some evidence of edge enhancement to attempt to lift the transfer. At times the transfer is really soft, especially when Julie Andrews is on screen - far more so than afforded the appearances of say Grace Kelly in Rear Window. Shadow detail is fairly good, but then again there was little filming here that really brought this issue into play. There appeared to be some instances of low level noise in the transfer.

    The transfer is reasonable in terms of colour - not in any way vibrant and with a rather muted palette that highlights the cliché of the dour nature of life behind the Iron Curtain. How accurate this is I cannot attest to, but it does mean that whenever a bright colour is encountered in the transfer it tends to have some problem with over saturation. Nothing really grotesque but just enough to make the issue noticeable. This is especially so with the dressing gown at 34:45. There could perhaps have been a little more depth to the blacks again, but nothing that bothersome. There is some problem with marginal bleed in the transfer, notably in facial skin tones such as at 40:58.

    There seems to be the odd problem with some pixelization in the transfer such as at 2:10, which only adds to the problems with grain and noise. Because of the relative lack of sharpness in the transfer, there is not much of a problem with noticeable film-to-video artefacts. There are however some obvious issues with film artefacts that do detract just a bit from the film.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD, with the layer change coming at 84:22. This is an excellent change as it occurs during an extended shot on a closed door, just before the end of a scene.

    There are six subtitle options on the DVD, and the English subtitles are good, missing a little bit too much in the dialogue for my taste, but nothing that is really essential.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There is just the one soundtrack on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack.

    The dialogue comes up well in the transfer and easy to understand. There are no significant audio sync problems in the transfer. It should be noted though that the scene in the hotel room in East Berlin around the 32:00 mark features some fairly ropey ADR work that sounds decidedly unnatural.

    The original music score comes from John Addison, whose work replaced that of Bernard Herrmann. We get a chance to hear some of Bernard Herrmann's music in the extras package and an interesting enough difference it is. I cannot say that either score inspires me to rapturous delight, but with Alfred Hitchcock being such a brilliant user of the sounds of silence there is probably nothing that much required of the score anyway.

    There again is not much to say about the sound. It could have been remastered to better effect, with a bit more air in the sound, and the continuing use of mono sound in such comparatively recent films continues to puzzle. This one obviously is more of a dialogue-based film though, so the lack of stereo effect is not really noticed that much.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    I think I might have worked something out here - the poorer the film, the shorter the documentary included in the slightly less than stellar extras package. Another of the poorer efforts in the extras department on one of these releases from the Hitchcock Collection.

Menus

    The same as we have seen plenty of times by now.

Documentary - Torn Curtain Rising (32:25)

    Another big disappointment - shorter length again and presented totally in a narrative fashion with no interviews with cast or crew. Not exactly inspiring after some of the terrific efforts seen in the two collections. Presented in a Full Frame format, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Technically it is quite good, but suffers somewhat from aliasing that at times gets a tad too obvious.

Featurette - Music By Bernard Herrmann (14:37)

    Wherein we get the chance to hear some of the music score composed by Bernard Herrmann for the film before he was sacked by his long term collaborator Alfred Hitchcock. Whilst it is a pity that the opportunity was not taken to play each sequence straight after the same segment using the John Addison score, to make comparison easier, this is a reasonably interesting presentation. Obviously the music plays over the relevant scenes from the film, which are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, not 16x9 enhanced. The sound is Dolby Digital 2.0.

Gallery - Art

    Comprising 133 publicity shots, behind the scenes photographs and some poster stills, this is not really an art gallery but rather a photo gallery. Once again there are some significant cross colouration issues here.

Theatrical Trailer (2:57)

    Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with rather hissy Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The technical quality is fairly wishy washy, of reasonably poorish quality and blessed with some colour bleed issues in the red titles. Nothing especially great about the trailer either.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 release misses out on:

    The Region 1 release misses out on:

    Once again we have a fairly clear preference in favour of the Region 1 DVD.

Summary

    Torn Curtain is a disappointing note upon which to finish this voyage through the collection of films making up the two volumes of the Hitchcock Collection. Another disappointing transfer in many ways, and an extras package that is no better than that.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Thursday, October 11, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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