Directed and Produced by Alfred Hitchcock
August 15, 1946 (Premiere-New York City) / September 6, 1946 (U.S.)
A government agent enlists the aid of the daughter of a convicted German war criminal to infiltrate a Nazi organization in Brazil. The situation becomes complicated when the two fall in love and she is ordered to seduce one of the leaders of the group.
Notorious stars the legendary Cary Grant as T. R. Devlin who is the government agent and Ingrid Bergman as Alicia Huberman who is about the daughter of a convicted spy and tasked with infiltrating a spy ring run by Nazis. This here is a dream screen pairing. These two talented people were at the height of their fame being helmed by a director who is said to have come into his own in this film.
Notorious is said to be the film where Hitchcock finally got his style right. While I am only now going through the Hitchcock catalog, I can clearly see the signatures of his later work in this film. This is a serious and complicated story with twists and turns and a palpable danger throughout. Hitchcock certainly got fortunate to have two talents such as Grant and Bergman together in one film. For a director at that time this would be a stroke of extreme good fortune.
Cary Grant was and still is the epitome of suave and debonair. Some have come close but none have ever equaled him. Then again nobody gives as much of a shit about how they dress in Hollywood anymore as he did. But that is a discussion for another time. Cast as government agent T. R. Devlin opposite Ingrid Bergman as Alicia Huberman I think he is perfect. He is an intensely photogenic agency handler and I do question that a little. Then again Devlin looks just like Carey Grant. In that respect he works well with his compatriots but not so much when it comes to Ingrid Bergman as her handler. When the moments cross from him being her handler to the moments when he is in love with her that is when it truly clicks between them.
Perhaps my issue with the scenes involving Devlin and Alicia is that it appears more often than not as if Bergman is reading her lines. I was into the film when I started noticing her eyes darting back and forth but let it slide until the next scene she had with Grant and she did it again. And it became a serious distraction in the movie as I started LOOKING for her to do it yet it was only noticeable with Grant. I could not find it happening anywhere else with any regularity.
Bergman is one of the great actresses. She played women and not disposable girls during her career. Her delivery and actions are fantastic. My issue is with her eyes and that feels a little silly to be writing. I know Brando hid notes around the set with his lines on them but I cannot find any mention of Bergman doing the same.
Interestingly in Notorious the original Invisible Man can be quite easily seen. Claude Rains was one of the great actors and it is ironic that such a talent’s most famous role is a role you never saw his face or him in until the final moments. Here he can be clearly seen and stars as the film’s chief villain Alexander Sebastian. Sebastian is among the leadership of an organization of Nazis who have located themselves in Brazil following the events of World War II. Sebastian had been infatuated with her and Alicia is tasked with seducing and investigating him.
Despite the issue with Berman’s eyes Notorious is a well-acted and well written movie. Notorious is less of a thriller and more of a romance with espionage as the backdrop. Devlin and Alicia are drawn to each other almost immediately. Things get complicated when Devlin must ask her to seduce Alexander Sebastian. And how could it not? You are asking a woman you want to sleep with another man.
This film is filled with passionate emotion and twists and turns. It is a game of cat and mouse among the characters as they try to unravel the plot of the Nazis and Sebastian tries to outwit Alicia and Devlin but ultimately comes up short because he plotted himself into a corner and the villain gets his just desserts in a rather creative manner.
The finale is one of the better disposals of a villain I have seen in a movie. Devlin has been making regular contact with Alicia during her time with Alexander but after she misses five meetings Devlin who has been posing as an old acquaintance of Alicia goes to her home and realizes that Sebastian deduced she was a spy and has been slowly poisoning her because he could not outright kill her. Doing so would have told the other members of the group that he had failed and put his life in danger. Poisoning offers him plausible deniability since she could have an illness.
Alexander cannot refuse Devlin’s offer of taking Alicia to the hospital without all but confessing to what he did. This was death by damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The closing moments are Sebastian being called back into the house by his compatriots because his inaction was as much of a confession as his action would have been. Brilliant!
In this film you got the likes of Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, and Claude Rains all in one film helmed by a legendary director. But this was almost NOT the cast we got. Originally the film was to be produced by David O. Selznick who sold the property to RKO for some quick cash. Even so he lobbied the new studio to replace Grant who was not available for three months with Joseph Cotton. The atomic bomb had just been dropped at the time and Selznick was convinced the film would be a hit since the plot involved smuggling uranium. Hitchcock and RKO executive invoked a clause in the sale contract and stopped Selznick’s efforts. Clifton Webb was Hitchcock’s original choice Alexander Sebastian, but Selznick won there.
There is a rather famous kiss in the film between Devlin and Alicia. There was a rule in the Production Code that limited screen kisses to three seconds so during the scene Hitchcock broke it every three seconds only for them to resume for another three seconds. Grant and Bergman thought it felt strange and would look bad but received assurances from Hitchcock it would look good on screen. He was right because nobody has ever really complained about it and I did not take note of the breaks in kissing and I noticed Bergman’s eyes moving back and forth.
My only other gripe with this film beyond Bergman’s eyes is the use of rear projection. I am not a fan of it, but I do get it was a thing in films of the past. It just does not look natural here. The perspective is either off in comparison to the action in the foreground or it just looks flat while being used in the background.
Notorious is a classic film with early iterations of the usual Hitchcock touches. It is a great story that was timely when made that still works today. Watch it!
2 thoughts on “Notorious”
“Notorious is said to be the film where Hitchcock finally got his style right.”
I’d never heard that before, but I can totally believe it. If I think through the Hitchcock films I’ve seen from before and after this one… well, okay, I love Rebecca, but that is also a very different kind of Hitchcock movie. Notorious is the first movie that really feels like classic Hitchcock. That winecellar scene is great.
“Perhaps my issue with the scenes involving Devlin and Alicia is that it appears more often than not as if Bergman is reading her lines.”
I can’t say I ever noticed that, though it has been a few years since I watched this movie. Is it possible Alicia’s just shy about making eye contact?
“Even so he lobbied the new studio to replace Grant who was not available for three months with Joseph Cotton.”
Interesting! Now I’m trying to imagine Joseph Cotton in the role. Actually, going by his performance in Shadow of a Doubt, I can’t help thinking he might have done Devlin’s weird combination of charming-affable and creepy-controlling better than Cary Grant does!
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If Alicia was simply looking away I might agree with your thought on eye contact but in my opinion it appears as if Bergman is reading.