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Michael Armstrong (Newman) is an esteemed American physicist and rocket scientist. He is supposed to attend a scientific conference in Copenhagen, but instead heads for East Berlin. Apparently defecting to East Germany. He is soon followed by Sarah Sherman (Andrews), his assistant and fiancée. She is very reluctant in doing so but remains loyal to him.
The defection is actually a ruse. Armstrong wants to meet Gustav Lindt (Ludwig Donath), the chief scientist in the East German military, to establish the extent of the Eastern Bloc's knowledge on anti-missile systems. He supposedly has a way to exit the country at will. Stasi, the East German state security service, has a very different view on the matter. Armstrong and Sherman are about to find out that entering East Germany was easy. Leaving East Germany is another matter entirely.
Hitchcock was not entirely happy with the casting of this film. He wanted Cary Grant as the male lead, with either Eva Marie Saint or Tippi Hedren as the leading lady. Grant turned him down. He was preoccupied with filming Walk, Don't Run and intended to retire after that. Universal Pictures executives insisted on casting Newman and Andrews, in the belief that more famous stars would result in better box office results. Newman had starred in several hits the 1950s. Andrews was a younger actress who was mostly known for theatrical work prior to starring in Mary Poppins. After that film turned to a box office hit, she became one of the most famous actresses of the 1960s. Hitchcock and Newman had a difficult working relationship, the chemistry between the leads was rather poor. Nevertheless, it was a modest box office hit.
- Cold War: The entire premise.
- East Germany: The location of most of the film.
- Fake Defector: Michael Armstrong.
- Rasputinian Death: Hermann Gromek, the first Stasi agent Armstrong attempts to kill, takes a good long while to go down, including spending most of the climactic fight with a butcher knife sticking out of his chest. Hitchcock's main goal with the film was to show how hard it could really be to kill someone.