Bleeping For Your Country (Part 2): Notorious

Jul 5, 2007 (Updated Jul 5, 2007)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, Story, Direction, Cinematography

Cons:Corny process shots - see review

The Bottom Line: One of my favorite Hitchcocks, Notorious pushes the envelope of female sexuality far beyond anything of its time and far more tastefully than anything after

Notorious (1946)

"The important drinking hasn't started yet." Alicia Hubermann

Ingrid Bergman plays the dishonored daughter (Alicia Hubermann) of an unrepentant Nazi who is convicted of treason and then takes poison to avoid serving his sentence. Cary Grant is the mysterious American agent, Devlin, who recruits Bergman to infiltrate a Nazi cabal in Rio de Janeiro in hopes of redemption. Bergman's alcoholism, loose morals, and apparent German sympathies make her an acceptable member of the group, led by Claude Rains, as the spymaster.

Although this was made during the 40s, the craftsmanship in Notorious is readily apparent and actually a notch above some of his more famous works, the over-praised color epics Rear Window and Vertigo, for example. Bravura camerawork by Gregg Toland (Citizen Kane) gives full scope to the saga as often shown through the alcoholic haze of Alicia's point of view. Beautiful low key lighting in the film noir style and swooping crane shots are among the masterful effects lavished on the film. The one con is Hitchcock insisted on studio action placed over process shots of the backgrounds. They look like H-E-L-L but the acting is so good you can overlook it in this case.

The story is above average for a Hitchcock, penned by Ben Hecht, one of the great screenwriters with Scarface, Wuthering Heights, Gone With the Wind, and many more great hits to his credit.

The screenplay is a character study of Alicia and how she reacts to the various situations it puts her in, usually in an alcohol fueled state. Ingrid Bergman is remarkable in her characterization of the flawed character which is probably a career best – far better than her crowd pleaser in Casablanca - and that was not bad. Cary Grant, a superior actor, has to put himself in second place and allow Bergman to work her sensual magic, and he does – and she does.

The story puts you in a quandary, because – I defy you not to fall in love with Alicia – Bergman decides to literally "go to bed" with the enemy to probe for secrets for the government. I know the vomit probably rose into your mouth at the thought, like it did mine, and you can see it did in Cary Grant's performance because he really falls in love with her – at least for the duration of the movie; yet he distances himself from his desire and forces her to go through with the deadly charade for the sake of "Old Glory." The screenplay and the actors' performances push the boundaries of female sexuality far beyond anything contemporary and in far better taste than anything since.

The villains are not typical one-note Nazis, with Claude Rains a conflicted spymaster, hounded by a castrating mother, as Hitchcock's characters often were. Leopoldine Konstantin, as the mother, is a chilling influence and is the prototype for the meddlesome domineering mother that spoiled many a boy, according to Freud. Louis Calhern also plays a villainous spymaster, but for the "good" side (if there is one).


Calhern induces Grant to induce Bergman to prostitute herself, then Grant hates her for doing what her told her to do; totally repulsive yet totally captivating.


The DVD is available from Anchor Bay or Criterion and the VHS is available from Fox. The Anchor Bay is a nice well preserved movie with no extras and is well worth having while the Criterion is more expensive and aimed at the true aficionado, with a digitally restored movie and having a commentary track by Hitchcock scholar Marian Keane and quite a few extra features, as well. I also have the old Fox VHS and that is still a fine way to get a dose of Notorious.

More Hitchcock –

Rear Window
The Birds

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