Notorious review by Tom Blain
For lack of a better introduction paragraph: Notorious has always been my favorite Hitchcock film. Ive had a hard time answering the whys around that because there is a lot of competition in the category of great Hitchcock films.
Part of the reason has to do with the characters themselves and how they are expressed by their characters. There is a pain expressed by both Devlin (Cary Grant) and Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) that runs deep in both of them and in both cases when they revisit the pain and react with walls of self defense that are counterproductive to bringing themselves together. Devlins wall is that of a bitter, jealous teen more than a grown man. He lashes out with hurtful comments; looking to hurt more than heal. Alicia reverts back to the behavior that is expected of her: that of a drunken party girl who will play with a mans feelings. Both defenses are setup to protect and torture the other and there are probably a whopping 90-120 seconds in the film (30-45 during the extended kissing scene, 20 seconds of a drunken dalliance in the cellar, and 45-60 final seconds of the film). The resilience and withholding of passion until the final give the film high emotional payoff at the end.
The pain of bad relationships past and the vulnerability of both mega actors is one of the components that makes this film ultimately relatable. For the first time in my life I felt like I could relate to Cary Grant instead of just purely envy him. There is no Cary Grant charm in this movie; he is like an abused animal who knows no other way to react to pain than to lashout and hurt right back.
In place of this passion for the other 90 minutes is business and common sense for accomplishing a task of infiltrating a Nazi group in Rio. Instead of entering a relationship with Devlin, Alicia agrees to do what she was brought to Rio for; to trick one of the Nazis, Sebastian (Claude Rains) into falling in love with her. As mentioned at one point by Devlins boss, she has managed with great intelligence. The passion between Devlin and Alicia has been replaced with sensibility and intelligence for accomplishing a goal.
Along the way there are some Hitchcock signatures such as the stair case crane shot. Starting at the top of the staircase during a party thrown at Sebastians house the frame shows people filling up the entrance way and it zeros in/ zooms in on Alicias hand which shows the viewers just a glimpse of the key she holds to the cellar (where uranium sand is being held secretly). There are also many moments of brilliant lighting/shadow effects:
- Opening of the film we see Alicia throwing a party from behind a silent, motionless Devlin; we dont even see his face until a cut to post party activities.
- After Devlin comes to see Alicia and tell her the job, in disappointment she turns back to the bottle and is seen drinking it through the kitchen window in the haze of a lacey white curtain.
- In the final scene when Devlin finds out what happens to Alicia his face moves into a complete shadow.
The films conclusion is like a warped Snow White. Alicia is fed poisoned coffee by her evil mother in law (in place of the evil step mother/queen/hag). She is near death and Devlin comes to carry her away gloriously. There is uncertainty whether she does actually survive. Unlike North by Northwest there is no train going through the tunnel to indicate happier times ahead. But even in her hazy state Alicia is smiling in Devlins car as they ride off into the night to find a hospital. That seems to be enough to satisfy.
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