Starring-Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman
Reviewed August 10, 2015
Notorious is a classic Alfred Hitchcock film from 1946, a time period that preceded his golden age of 1950’s and 1960’s brilliant works, but is a marvel all the same. Perhaps not as wonderful as future works, but that is like comparing prime rib to filet mignon, if you will. Shot in black and white, the subject matter is a familiar one for Hitchcock fans- political espionage. The film contains elements common with Hitchcock’s films- a romance mixed together with a suspenseful plot.
Starring two greats of the time (and Hitchcock stalwarts), Carey Grant and Ingrid Bergman, one is immediately enthralled by the chemistry between the characters they play- T.R. Devlin and Alicia Huberman. Devlin, a government agent, recruits Alicia, per his bosses, to spy on a Nazi sympathizer, Alex Sebastian (Claude Raines), who is affiliated with her father. Her father, having been convicted and sentenced to prison, has committed suicide. Alicia’s allegiance is clearly questioned as she goes to drastic measures to prove her loyalty and complete the hated assignment. The film gloriously is set between Miami and the gorgeous Rio De Janiero, where much of the action takes place at Alex’s mansion.
Clearly a blueprint for his later works, Hitchcock experiments with creative camera shots and angles- specifically the wide and high shot overlooking an enormous ballroom. I also love the airplane scene- subtle, Hitchcock treats the audience to background views of Rio, from the window of the airplane, as Devlin and Alicia carry on conversation. The plane is slowly descending for landing, which allows for a slow, gorgeous glimpse of the countryside and landscape in the background. Subtleties like these that may go unnoticed that make Hitchcock such a brilliant director.
The character of Alicia is worth a study. Well known for his lady issues, did Hitchcock hint at her being an oversexed, boozy, nymphomaniac? Personally, I did not think the character was written in a sympathetic fashion, though to be fair she is headstrong and loyal in the face of adversity. She parties hard, drives at 65 miles per hour while intoxicated, and falls into bed with more than one man. It is also implied that she has a history of being promiscuous. Made in 1946, this must have been controversial during that time period. The sexual revolution was still decades away.
Notorious also features one of the most sinister female characters in Hitchcock history in the likes of Madame Sebastian (Leopoldine Konstantin). The woman is evil personified and her actions are reprehensible. She is arguably the mastermind behind all of the dirty deeds as well as a fan of slow, painful death by poisoning.
My favorite scene is without a doubt the wine cellar scene. To me, it epitomizes good, old fashioned suspense and edge of your seat entertainment. A cat and mouse game involving a secret rendezvous, a smashed bottle, a key, champagne, and the great reveal enrapture this scene, which goes on for quite some time and is the climax of the film.
Perhaps Notorious is not quite as great a film as Vertigo, Psycho, or The Birds, but is a top-notch adventure/thriller in its own right, that ought to be watched and given its due respect.