9
TORN CURTAIN

It is a pity that Torn Curtain is Hitchcock's fiftieth film: everyone expected a major landmark, a culmination. The Birds, despite weaknesses, was a culmination, and Marnie was another, beyond it. But Torn Curtain is no culmination, being unsatisfactory, episodic, lacking the really strong center we have come to expect. Yet, though more loosely constructed than any other recent Hitchcock, it is more coherent than may be immediately apparent. No doubt those who found evidence of failing powers in Marnie will find more here, but three things should make them pause before delivering a verdict of senility: 1) Torn Curtain, uneven in tone and in intensity as it is, contains sequences as fine as any in Hitchcock. 2) In certain respects which I shall go into, it continues the remarkably swift and consistent development traceable through Hitchcock's last half dozen films. 3) The denigrators should have had time by now to realize, in retrospect, how wrong they were about Marnie.

The movement of Torn Curtain follows the archetypal Hitchcock pattern: first, a world of superficial order (an international scientific conference) from which the protagonists (and the spectator) are plunged into a world of chaos through which they must struggle toward a new stability. But Hitchcock, deciding to return, after Marnie, to one of his favorite genres, needed a hero essentially different from those of any of his comparable earlier adventure films: a hero active and dynamic who plunges into dangers from choice (and a new actor to play him -- not Grant or Stewart, but the more aggressive and self-assertive Paul Newman).

The simplifications of popular fiction can, by a process of heightening and intensification, merge imperceptibly into myth. Like many heroes of mythology, Newman here sets out on a quest for something of vital importance; to get it and bring it back he must undergo various tests

-198-

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Hitchcock's Films Revisited
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction - (1988) 1
  • Book One - Hitchcock's Films 53
  • 1 - Introduction (1965) 55
  • 2 - Strangers on a Train 86
  • 3 - Rear Window 100
  • 4 - Vertigo 108
  • 5 - North by Northwest 131
  • 6 - Psycho 142
  • 7 - The Birds 152
  • 8 - Marnie 173
  • 9 - Torn Curtain 198
  • 10 - Retrospective (1977) 206
  • Endnotes for Earlier Editions 229
  • Book Two - Hitchcock's Films Revisited 237
  • 11 - Plot Formations 239
  • 12 - Symmetry, Closure, Disruption: the Ambiguity of Blackmail 249
  • 13 - Norms and Variations: the 39 Steps and Young and Innocent 275
  • 14 - Ideology, Genre, Auteur (1976) 288
  • 15 - Star and Auteur: Hitchcock's Films with Bergman 303
  • 16 - The Murderous Gays: Hitchcock's Homophobia 336
  • 17 - The Men Who Knew Too Much (and the Women Who Knew Much Better) 358
  • 18 - Male Desire, Male Anxiety: the Essential Hitchcock 371
  • Bibliography 389
  • Index 391
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