Freda Bruce Lockhart writes on
ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S first 50 films span the wide range of a great virtuoso director from enfant terrible to old master. It has not been a straightforward chronological development; the different phases of Hitchcock having run as it were concurrently.
Many of his admirers think his richest original inspiration went into those early English films from the first distinguished British talkie, "Blackmail", to "The Man Who Knew Too Much" or "The Lady Vanishes".
He went to Hollywood and became one of the leading commercial directors: of comedy-thrillers of course, with varying emphasis on the macabre or the bizarre, but of great stars, too, like James Stewart, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman and of his special brand of smooth, blonde, Englishtype beauty, from Madeleine Carroll to Grace Kelly, who merged into the "Hitchcock Girl".
There have been pictures which made him seem in danger of being gimmicky: "Rope", for example, where he originated the "tenminute take", in an atmosphere of glossy perversion which seemed peculiarly to his mischievous relish.
There were near enough a dozen great, straight thrillers like "North Northwest", highlighted by some scene dispraying Hitchcock's special ability to make our flesh creep.
To many "The Birds" seemed an overdose of the artifice which Hitchcock loves to indulge, of the self-consciousness which has made him over the years sign his films with a brief personal appearance recognisable to all.
I thought "The Birds" a brilliant and satisfactory entertainment of the kind Hitchcock has made his speciality.
Now at the Odeon, Leicester Square, his 50th movie, Torn Curtain ("A") makes a real piece d'occasion. Hitchcock has not done anything so obvious as to turn round and make a too abruptly solemn work to mark his jubilee.
He has given us a sober, straightforward. topical thriller, using one of the neglected themes, or rather contexts, of our hideous times—the everyday terror of life beyond the Iron Curtain.
Attending a congress of physicists in Copenhagen is Paul Newman as an Ameri• can delegate with his secretary-fiancée, played by Julie Andrews in her "Americanisation of Emily" mood. When instead of giving his star lecture, he takes off secretly for East Berlin, we (and she) at first suppose he is defecting to the Communists. He takes the earliest opportunity—a rather curiously contrived, speeded-up country stroll—to tell her that he is instead the most respectable kind of spy and enlists her services too.
The spring is not so much the thing here as the variety of people—peasants on lonely farms, Communist officials, the inevitable quaint cropper-up—who are drawn into the web of international insecurity. It is a vivid sketch of a visit into divided Europe, where anything may happen.
Hitchcock's 50th is no great masterpiece, except in the sense that it is the sober work of a master. Paul Newman I thought rather better than ever. Julie Andrews is not exactly the cool Hitchcock blonde, but as an English lady in manicland she is quite the right star.
And Hitchcock is sensitive enough to the realities to make the strange little Polish countess, who tries to come to the rescue, a figure of the old-world poignancy in which Lily Kedrova specialises.
Actors, presumably, have their own motives. These may vary between money, vanity, judgment—good or bad—of the quality of a script or more likely of a part, friends at court or a persuasive agent. They are not always easy to understand, and since I saw Big Deal at Dodge City ("U", Warner) I have wondered what mixed or misguided motives could possibly have persuaded such a distinguished cast into such an undistinguished little Western.
Most likely seems the frequent misconception that a neat story twist means promising movie material. Gambling always has fascination, in fiction as well as in fact, and the action (very sedentary) is almost exclusively a poker game in a familiar Western saloon.
The twist which makes the disapproving wife (Joanne Woodward) the only person who could retrieve the fortune on the edge of its being lost by her gambling-addict husband (Henry Fonda) is neat indeed—and redoubled. But that is all.
None of the characters has anything to develop, except Paul Ford's Mr. Ballinger the bank manager, and perhaps Burgess Meredith's "Doc Scully". But why such topmost stars as Henry Fonda (who has made so many great Westerns), Joanne Woodward (the Bette Davis of her day plus glamour) and Jason Robards (all-American prestige producer) chose this poor little shopwindow to disport their glittering talents is really difficult to judge.