Premiering in 1946, Notorious was Hitchcock’s second film starring Ingrid Bergman. It is a spy thriller and a dramatic love story all at once, with Bergman forming a complicated love triangle with Cary Grant and Claude Rains.
After her father is convicted for being a Nazi spy, Alicia (Bergman) is sought out by a young government agent, Devlin (Grant). With her familiarity with some Nazis that have moved to Brazil, he hopes that she can infiltrate their organization. While waiting for details of her mission in Rio de Janeiro, the two fall in love. When Devlin gets word that Alice is to seduce a friend of her father’s and past admirer, Alexander Sebastian (Rains), he tries to convince the others that Alicia isn’t right for the job, but to no avail. He chooses their mission over their love and pushes Alicia to seduce Sebastian. But how far can Alicia go along with this false love, and worse, what will happen to her if Sebastian realizes she is a spy?
One of the most memorable scenes, that literally pushed some boundaries, is a love scene between Bergman and Grant. In the height of their romance, it seems the two can hardly stand to part when Devlin is called to get information on Alicia’s assignment. For two and a half minutes, Hitchcock uses a long shot, focusing on the two kissing and nuzzling in between a few lines and slowly moving Devlin towards the door. Since this film was made while the Hays Code was in charge of censoring film, kissing could not last for more than three seconds. To get around this, Hitchcock had Bergman and Grant break off kissing after exactly three seconds only to start up again and again between breathless lines.
While the film was not nominated for Best Picture, it was not completely forgotten at the Academy Awards. Notorious was nominated for Original Screenplay and Claude Rains was nominated for Supporting Actor. His portrayal of a secretive man seduced by an old flame and then realizing her true motives is startling and wonderfully believable.
In the grand scale of Hitchcock films, Notorious may not be one of the most essential films, but I believe that is an important one in Hitchcock’s filmography. While it’s a taught spy thriller, the element of romance is mixed in stronger than ever. There are smaller moments of mounting suspense, like Devilin and Alicia’s discovery in the wine cellar, that may not built to big moments, but keep the story moving in a more placid manner. Still, Notorious is an enjoyable and intriguing film perfect for any fan of Hitchcock, Grant, Bergman or Rains.
“A man doesn’t tell a woman what to do. She tells herself.”