The filming of Torn Curtain was reportedly one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most unhappy directing jobs.

“I think that Torn Curtain was miscast,” Hitchcock said. “I should have had a hero who was a singing scientist, to go with Julie Andrews. “Casting is important, and it’s very difficult to go against wrong casting. I had two stars, but they weren’t right for their characters. “At the beginning of shooting, [Paul] Newman sent me a several-page memo offering suggestions about his character. I took it quite personally and found it insulting. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was not behavior uniquely designed for me. He was given to the practice with other directors. I gather they took it better than I did. Perhaps I suffered from a case of memoitis, after my time served with Selznick.”

Neither Andrews nor Newman was pleased by Hitchcock’s light-touch style of directing actors. Andrews looked for more help and some encouragement. Newman wanted to try it more than one way to see how each performance played. Hitchcock felt he should do that at home. “The Method actor may be all right in the theater,” Hitchcock said. “He has a whole stage to move about on. But when it comes to film and you cut from the face to what he sees, the subjective camera, there must be discipline. I remember discussing this with a Method actor, not Newman, and he said, ‘We’re given an idea, and then we’re supposed to interpret it any way we want.’ And I said, ‘That’s not acting, that’s writing. —It’s Only a Movie: Alfred Hitchcock, A Personal Biography

For Torn Curtain, a gifted writer, Irish novelist Brian Moore, was recruited for the screenplay, but unfortunately, the story—a Cold War melodrama about an American scientist’s attempts to smuggle a weapons secret out of East Germany—was not his kind of material. Moore later admitted that the screenplay was mostly Hitchcock’s work. With little real collaboration between writer and director, the result was not atight script but a long, meandering mishmash. Moreover, Universal insisted that Hitchcock cast two major stars in the leads, Paul Newman and Julie Andrews. Their high salaries sent the budget soaring—something Hitchcock especially resented. During filming, Hitchcock’s relations with the actors were chilly, and when Newman sent him a memo outlining problems in the script, the director was furious. Ironically, it was the star power of Newman and Andrewsthat helped save Torn Curtain from commercial failure. Despite its high cost of $5 million, it managed to make $6.5million, thus showing a small profit. —Alfred Hitchcock: Filming Our Fears

Hitchcock on Direction. Hitchcock wrote a substantial portion of the entry on motion pictures in the 1965 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. In the following excerpts from that article, he offers his own description of what a film director does—or should do.

Film direction was born when for the first time a man held a motion picture camera and turning it on his friend said, “Do something.” This was the first step in creating movement for the camera. To create things that move for the camera is the aim at all times of the storytelling director. Documentary direction is different. Its directors are primarily editors or, rather, discoverers. Their material is provided before hand by God and man, noncinema man, man who is not doing things primarily for the camera. On the other hand, pure cinema has nothing in itself to do with actual movement. Show a man looking at something, say a baby. Then show him smiling. By placing these shots in sequence—man looking, object seen, reaction to object—the director characterizes the man as a kindly person. Retain shot one (the look) and shot three (the smile) and substitute for the baby a girl in a bathing costume, and the director has changed the characterization of the man.

Motion pictures would be a source of much richer enjoyment, as is the case in other arts, if the audience were aware of what is and what is not well done. The mass audience has had no education in technique of cinema, asthey frequently have in art and music, from their school days. They think only of story. The film goes by them too fast. The director, then, must beaware of this and must seek to remedy it. Without the audience being aware of what he is doing, he will use his technique to create an emotion in them. Suppose he is presenting a fight—the traditional fight in the bar room or elsewhere. If he puts the camera far enough back to take in the whole episode at once, the audience will follow at a distance, and objectively, but they will not really feel it. If the director moves his camera in and shows the details of the fight—flaying hands, rocking heads, dancing feet, put together in a montage of quick cuts—the effect will be totally different and the spectator will be writhing in his seat, as he would be at a real boxing match. —Alfred Hitchcock: Filming Our Fears

Hitchcock on Actors. Extracted from one of Hitchcock’s after-dinner speeches, the following remarks were obviously played for laughs, but they also suggest why Hitchcock was never considered an “actor’s director.” For him, the actor’s performance was but one element—though a crucial one, to be sure—in the overall design of a film. Also, his joke about the air-plane from North by Northwest hints at the resentment he often felt about the soaring salaries of star performers.

There is a dreadful story that I hate actors… I can’t imagine how such a rumor began. Of course it may possibly be because I was once quoted as saying that actors are cattle. My actor friends know that I would never be capable of such a thoughtless, rude, and unfeeling remark; that I would never call them cattle. What I probably said was that actors should be treated like cattle. I will admit that I have, from time to time, hoped that technology would devise a machine that would replace the actor. And I have made some progress of my own in that direction.


In Foreign Correspondent Joel McCrea played a scene with a windmill and in North by Northwest Cary Grant’s vis-a-vis was a crop-dusting airplane. I believe the airplane had real star quality, for it drew an amazing amount of fan mail. However, when I attempted to sign it up for my next picture, it was already asking too much money. This leads to the next logical step when I reduced the human element still further in The Birds. Now there are some actors I would call cattle! You have heard of actors who have insisted that their names be abovethe title; these demanded that they be the title! As a result I am definitelyin favor of human actors. As far as I am concerned birds are “strictly for the birds”—or for Walt Disney. —Alfred Hitchcock: Filming Our Fears


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E. Thompson

I make movies. Sometimes people see them. I have been a martial artist for a very long time. I'm in a personal war with the Oxford comma.

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