Notorious review by Tom Blain
Notorious is a twisted film even for Alfred Hitchcock. TR Devlin (Cary Grant) is an FBI agent who has fallen in love with Alecia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) the patriotic, party girl daughter of a Nazi. They meet when Devlin has to trail Huberman to watch her for the bureau. They arrive in Rio, fall in love and moments later, Devlin finds out the mission is put to Huberman in the bed of current Nazi leader, Alexander Sebastian in order to get information about their upcoming plans.
Alicia accepts as she feels Devlin doesnt really love her. They constantly play these games to one-up each other in cruelty in order to drive the other one crazy. She even ends up marrying Sebastian (as part of the job). Tension and anxiety builds up between Devlin and Alicia as they inhumanely deny their true feelings for each other.
Bergman and Grant are the real draw of the film. In the opening, there is a wonderful shot that introduces them. Bergman is juggling guests at her party after her fathers trial. In the right corner is the silhouetted back of Cary Grant. We dont see or hear from Cary Grant (although he is spoken to) until the next scene after everyone else has left. During the initial shot though, there are plenty of subjects to focus on in the party, but we naturally focus on Ingrid Bergman (Dont be silly, the important drinking hasnt started yet.). She is the center of attention and demands the camera. We see her put on a fake smile, and when nobody is looking (except us) she painfully sucks back a strong drink to forget her troubles. The grin once disappeared, soon returns in an alcoholics denial as she must entertain her party guests. Cary Grant maybe the leading man, but this movie was made for Bergman.
But that doesnt make Cary Grant uninteresting, in fact his character is quite intriguing. Instead of playing his gentlemanly stereotype, here he is rough around the edges and insecure. He hits Bergman when she is drunk to get her out from behind the wheel (a true gentlemen would have found another way). The normal Cary Grant charm is hidden by his fear of being hurt by this charming socialite (Ive always been scared of women he admits). As a defense he offends her to break her down, to let her know she is not in control of him. He consistently brings up her scarred past, degrading her into thinking that she cannot be the nice girl she wishes she could be.
Much of the suspense in the film is created by their love (or lack thereof). Their flaws prevent them from truly sharing their feelings and their actions invoke such a painful hurt on one another. Bergman, while not necessarily forced, takes the job as Sebastians girlfriend, hoping Grant will come in and force her not too. She wants to be saved by him. Grant is angered by these types of action but tries not to let it affect him on the outside. He just jabs at her with cheap shots when he gets his chance.
In the finale, Grant does save her in a sort of modern day, Sleeping Beauty exit. He walks into the house of Claude Rains, and carries his poisoned yet loving Ingrid Bergman. As they leave in his car, you see a smile on her face because her prince came to save her. What happens to her after that is anyones guess as she is possibly poisoned beyond repair.
How could I leave a Hitchcock review without discussing a few more camera shots? While some of his camera work isnt extremely flashy or gimmicky, it does quite a trick. To work around production codes (as he often did), he created one of the longest camera kisses, that wasnt a complete kiss. It consisted of 45 seconds or so, of pecking and nipping. Grant and Bergman held tight to each other but moved around in order to not break the 3-5 second rule. The result was what appeared to be a true moment between a man and woman (I know I will hear it full barrels from my buddies for saying that). And as always his attention was paid strictly to the beautiful Ingrid Bergman, shot for shot. If she was in the scene she was the focus of the audience and the camera flattered her with brilliant black and white.
Although somewhat of a darkhorse and not entirely respected by some (namely one reviewer of this website) Notorious is probably my favorite Hitchcock film. It displays not just a dark side of humans when it comes to murder, but darkness when it comes to love. This is a deep story that tells us a lot about the psyche of Hitchcock, and is performed flawlessly by two of Hollywoods greatest actors playing roles we rarely see them in. It is a tragic drama that every true film buff should see.
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IMDB Link: Notorious
DVD Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
DVD Extras: Audio Commentary, music tracks, Radio Theatre adaptation (Its a criterion so there's tons more)
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