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.”
I love this film! One of my favorite of Hitchcock’s. The performances are all fantastic, and I love a lot of the things Hitchcock does in it. Like that shot of Cary Grant in the doorway, and how he rotates around because Alicia has a hangover. The drink she had there really reminded me of the glowing milk in Suspicion, because it kind of looked glowing a bit as well, and both films have Cary Grant in them so… Don’t know if that was on purpose or not, but I though it was cool. Also that shot when Hitchcock takes forever to zoom in on the key in Alicia’s hand, that was awesome. And then you have the ending. They are walking down those stairs FOREVER, and then they totally leave Claude Rains there. You know what’s gonna happen, but they don’t show it. I thought the ending was pretty clever. Sorry for all that babbling, I just really love this film.
That scene made me think of the glowing milk in Suspicion too. So many great things about this film.
Hunter just said everything I was going to say. 🙂
Definitely in my top ten Hitchcocks, maybe edging toward the top five. One of my favorite Grant performances, and absolutely my favorite by Bergman. Hitchcock did something here with both of them that he also did (more than once) with Jimmy Stewart. He took actors who usually played heroes and had them play apparently-heroic roles, then he nudged them toward nastiness, knowing they’d bring the audience along with them. Nobody ever did this like Hitchcock.
I never really noticed how he takes heroic actors and slowly turns them toward less heroic deeds before, how intriguing!
Another example would be Marnie, where Sean Connery’s character rapes his wife. The first screenwriter quit (or was fired, I forget which) because he couldn’t imagine how to write that without losing tthe audience’s identification with the character. His replacement, Jay Presson Allen, said that she never worried about that, because she knew that it wasn’t going to come from the writing — it was in the star power of the actor.
That is such a good call! Never really realized that before! I just watched Spellbound the other day and I realized that there was no way Gregory Peck killed that guy because, like Suspicion, they wouldn’t want such a big name actor playing a bad guy… but you’re right, Hitchcock totally got around that in his later films!
In Notorious, they are still working against Nazis so I guess that’s how they could get away with it…