Notorious (1946) Alfred Hitchcock

Who ever said Alfred Hitchcock was not a romantic? After all, what could be more romantic than the final scenes in “Notorious” where we see Cary Grant coming to Ingrid Bergman’s rescue just in time to take her away from the murdering Nazi Claude Rains. True for the past two hours Grant forced Ingrid to whore herself  by playing a 20th Century Mata Hari, seducing and sleeping with Rains in order to obtain secret information. He then resents her for agreeing to do this and hates himself for forcing her do it. Yep, no one knew how to treat a woman like Mr. Hitchcock, just ask Janet Leigh in “Psycho” or Grace Kelly in “Dial M for Murder.”

“Notorious” is a dark perverted love story. It is also a story of espionage, spies, murder and sex with Grant and Bergman as two of the most glamorous spies this side of James Bond, and wouldn’t have Grant made a great James Bond. In this seductive tale, Bergman is Alicia Huberman, daughter of a convicted Nazi spy, though Alicia herself is a patriotic American, a party girl who loves to drink and has a reputation for promiscuity, which just happens to make her a perfect choice for a dirty job planned by American agents (CIA, FBI?).  Agent Devlin (Grant) is selected to recruit her, by seduction if necessary, for the delicate mission. He does his job well, a little too well as she falls in love with him. One romantic evening, Devlin breaks the news on what she has been recruited to do. They want her to go to Rio de Janeiro where a known Nazi spy ring has congregated. There she is to ingratiate herself into the home and life of the spy rings leader, one Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), a man she has previously met. In a subtle (remember this is 1946) but still clear way, Devlin tells her to do what it takes, even to sleep with Sebastian if need be, to find out what he and his cohorts are up too.  Reluctantly she agrees. In love with Devlin, she practically pleads with him to tell her not to go through with this mission but Devlin never says the magic words, he has his orders. Poor Devlin, our dark hero is conflicted; he has feelings for Alicia yet resents her for accepting the job and hates himself for not stopping her.

 And so, Alicia not only sleeps with Sebastian, she marries him when forced to prove her love when jealousies arise.  During a reception in Sebastian’s home, to which Devlin was invited, he and Alicia make their way down to the wine cellar where by chance discover uranium hidden in wine bottles. A short time later, Sebastian goes toward the cellar to retrieve more wine for the party and spots the couple. When Devlin realizes Sebastian is watching them he puts his arms around Alicia and kisses her hoping to draw Sebastian’s thoughts away from thinking they are spying. Sebastian is not fooled and to his dismay realizes he foolishly married an American spy. Mortified that he has been duped, and scared of what would potentially happen if his cohorts found out, he acquiesces to his mother’s devious plan to get rid of Alicia by slowly poisoning her. When Devlin discovers Alicia is in danger he goes to Sebastian’s house, rescuing Alicia just in the nick of time from her slow demise, and in turn leaves Sebastian and his mother to face their fellow Nazi’s and most certain death.       

Cary Grant has played his share of dark characters, especially with Hitchcock. Here Grant plays Devlin the American agent as unlikable, cold, calculating and cruel, pimping the woman he has fallen in love with to sleep with another man. Alicia marries Sebastian partially in spite to get back at Devlin for forcing her into this life. She loves Devlin but willingly sleeps with Sebastian. Devlin loves Alicia but encourages her to seduce Sebastian (all for God and Country). Sebastian, a hen-pecked mama’s boy desires Alicia and resents Devlin. Hitchcock, ever the little devil makes Sebastian the Nazi come across as the gentler, more considerate, loving and more likable man while Devlin, our alleged hero is cold and despicable forcing the woman he loves to cheapen herself.

“Notorious” is one of Hitchcock’s most visually stunning films, brilliantly photographed with exquisitely arranged camera work. In a very early scene we  see Alicia waking up the following morning from an alcoholic binge to find Devlin at her bedroom door with the camera, from her POV spinning 180 degrees to simulate her hangover. There is a superb crane shot during the reception scene at Sebastian’s home where Hitchcock’s camera begins at the top of the stairs and slowly zooms in and down to first floor continuing to an extreme close up of Alicia’s hand and a key (to the cellar) she is holding. Then of course, there is the famous kissing scene where Hitchcock out foxed the censors with their rule of  “no kisses lasting longer than three seconds” which he managed to make more erotic than the most blatantly steamy scenes we see in today’s films.  Needless to say, “Notorious” is a beautifully choreographed film.

You can add Sebastian to the list Hitchcock’s mama’s boys, which include Roger Thornhill in “North by Northwest” along with good old Norman Bates. Speaking of “Psycho” Hitchcock  uses a similar opening here with  the location, time and date appearing on the screen, as he would use again  in opening scene of the  1960 horror classic. Hitchcock was forced to change the ending by Selznick. In early versions of the script Alicia dies, Hitchcock does manage to come up with a “happy ending” that is still one of the smoothest, thrilling and satisfying ending. The film opened at Radio City Music Hall in 1946, and was an immediate hit. The story was exciting and had the audiences smoking with the sexual heat generated between the two stars.  

*****

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13 comments on “Notorious (1946) Alfred Hitchcock

  1. Sam Juliano says:

    “Notorious” is a dark perverted love story. It is also a story of espionage, spies, murder and sex with Grant and Bergman as two of the most glamorous spies this side of James Bond, and wouldn’t have Grant made a great James Bond.”

    Indeed John, indeed. There is so much to say here, but I’m really not sure where to start. I wanted to with the crane shot that finishes on the key, but I knew you wouldn’t be so foolish as to leave that out of the discussion. It’s a Hitchcock masterpiece, one that works over an over again as the truly great films do. I loved the performances of Claude Rains and Leopoldine Konstantin among others, but there’s just so much to revel in here, and you’ve done your traditional exemplary job is assessing this film masterpiece.

    • John Greco says:

      Thank you Sam, This is one film thatI seem to appreciate more and more each time I watch. There is so much there that additional viewings seem to reveal something new.

  2. Dave says:

    A wonderful post, John, of a Hitchcock that is widely considered to be among his very best. I go back and forth on exactly where to place in comparison to Hitch’s other work – it instantly grab me as many of his other classics did (Psycho, Rear Window), but it does possess the ability to draw you back in. I’ve been meaning to revisit this one for quite some time and for whatever reason haven’t lately. If I can squeeze it in between noir things as I approach the homestretch of the countdown, I’ll stop back in in the near future.

    • John Greco says:

      Dave, like I just mentioned to Sam, the film seems to reveal something new with each viewing. It also seems to move up on my list of favorite Hitchcock films. Please stop by and mention your thoughts when you get around to watching it, Thanks!!!

    • Dave says:

      The line in my original post should have read “it DIDN’T instantly grab me as many of his other classics…” Thankfully, John, you understood what I meant despite the typo! LOL

  3. adamphilips says:

    One of Hitch’s best – and nice post, too! I’ll be reviewing NOTORIOUS later this year on my Hitchblog, http://hitchcockandme.wordpress.com – where I’m watching and blogging about an Alfred Hitchcock movie every week for one year!

    • John Greco says:

      Adam,

      Thanks for stopping by! I have done a few other Hitchcock reviews here, THE 39 STEPS and PSYCHO, so far, that you may be interested in. I will be checking out your blog shortly. What a great project!

  4. Judy says:

    A great review, John – I have seen this movie at least twice and admired it a lot, but reading your review makes me realise there are still a lot of nuances which I didn’t catch and that I should give it another look. I’m especially interested in what you say about Rains’ character deliberately being made sympathetic in contrast to Grant’s.

    • John Greco says:

      Thanks Judy, it has been a while since I watched this myself and was surprised at what I did not remember. The three main characters are really fascinating as are the three leads who portray them.

  5. I Just found this blog and I am very glad about it. J’adore films and film related stories. Thank you.

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