CMBA Hitchcock Blogathon: Notorious

This reposting is in conjuction with the Classic Movie Blog Association’s  Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon. For more Hitchcock reviews by other CMBA members see list after the review or click on the Hitchcock Blogathon ad on the right. 

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 intelligence agents.  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.  


Please check check out other CMBA blogs that part of  Hitchcock Blogathon. Links to all the participating members are listed below.

  1. The Birds – Classic Film & TV Café
  2. Dial M for Murder – True Classics: The ABCs of Film
  3. The Lady Vanishes – MacGuffin Movies
  4. Lifeboat – Classicfilmboy’s Movie Paradise
  5. The Man Who Knew Too Much – Reel Revival
  6. Marnie – My Love of Old Hollywood
  7. Mr. and Mrs. Smith – Carole & Co.
  8. North By Northwest – Bette’s Classic Movie Blog
  9. The Pleasure Garden – Thrilling Days of Yesteryear
  10. Rear Window – Java’s Journey
  11. Rebecca­ – ClassicBecky’s Film and Literary Review
  12. Rope – Kevin’s Movie Corner
  13. Shadow of a Doubt – Great Entertainers Media Archive
  14. The 39 Steps – Garbo Laughs
  15. Three Classic Hitchcock Killers – The Lady Eve’s Reel Life
  16. Torn Curtain – Via Margutta 51
  17. The Trouble with Harry – Bit Part Actors
  18. Vertigo – Noir and Chick Flicks
  19. The Wrong Man – The Movie Projector

37 comments on “CMBA Hitchcock Blogathon: Notorious

  1. Rick29 says:

    John, I find that the most fascinating part of NOTORIOUS is that its dark themes (which you described well) are partially masked by the film’s romantic leads. What would the audience think of Devlin if he wasn’t played by charming Cary Grant? Devlin may be a good guy, but his means are certainly questionable, though Hitchcock tries to make us forget that with the film’s ending. Hitchcock was always concerned with casting, but in NOTORIOUS, the choice of performers was paramount to the film’s success. Claude Rains gives another fine performance here and Leopoldine Konstantin is marvelous as his controlling mother. A fine pick for the Hitchcock Blogathon!

    • John Greco says:

      Thanks Rick. I actually have been on a Cary Grant role lately having recently watched ROOM FOR ONE MORE, EVERY GIRL SHOULD BE MARRIED and THE AWFUL TRUTH, the last of which will be my next posting here. I also have HIS GIRL FRIDAY on top of my DVD player ready for spin this week, a film I have not seen in many years.

      Grant was such a versatile actor with an over flow of charm which Hitchcock knew how to use in an “evil” way.

      • PAge says:

        Admittedly it’s been such a long time since I’ve seen Notorious and it was when I couldn’t grasp the real genius that is Hitchcock but I watched it because Cary Grant is my favorite actor. I’m one of the very few who isn’t a big fan if Ingrid Bergman but that didn’t take away from my love for the film. As you so brilliantly pointed out, Hitchcock and is subtlety makes this film one of his greats and a must see.

        An enjoyable review!
        Page at My Love Of Old Hollywood

    • John Greco says:

      Thanks Page. Give this another try. BTW I too, years ago, could not warm up to Bergman but after seeing her in this film a couple of times I was converted.

  2. Dave Crosby says:

    Many of Hollywood’s films had excellent elements all tied up neatly in a concise script and then beautifully handled by stars and their director, but Hitchcock was, in his best films, capable of elevating popular movies into a true art form. William Wyler was another such artist, and there are others, but few did as many great films as Hitch. Why so much excellence? What few understood about this “suspense” master was his artistic seriousness. He thought of film as a great medium, and that philosophy moved him to achievement on the highest level. And of course, he completely grasped that movies had to make money. This balance of understanding helped him immensely. He wasn’t the one to go off and make an art film. Perhaps Hitch’s anxiety is a good indicator of an artist at work— in Notorious, although he liked to brag that everything, all the editing, compositions, etc., were worked out on paper and since he could see the film in his mind, actually shooting it was a bore, he managed to hide or at least put off any worries with that idea. In this case he spent some time with the editor fussing with the scene in which Cary Grant kicks Bergman’s stirupped foot to force her horse to take off running so Claude Rains would rescue her. This attempt to get perfection visually is certainly indicative of an artist at work. In VERTIGO he revealed the secret of the plot two thirds of the way through the film in the scene with Kim Novak as the plain shop girl Judy writing a letter to confess she masqueraded as Madeleine, the mysterious blonde. This was a bold device. The novel reveals the girl was actually involved in the murder only at the end, and the hero strangles her. There is no suspense. Just a shock. Hitch chose to have us know the truth so we could watch and study the reactions of both Judy and the hero. At the end, when the hero finds out, his furious reactions understandably result in a profound sense of tragedy. But after the film was sent to major national theaters, Hitch called for the copies to be returned so the letter-writing scene could be removed. It was done, but his people argued against this vehemently and Hitch eventually relented and the film was restored and returned for exhibition. Once again, we see his seriousness about attempting art in a popular medium. The sad part of all this is that it took so long for Hitch’s artistry to be acknowledged.

    • John Greco says:

      thanks so much for this exquisitely detailed input. Your passion, as well as your knowledge of Hitchcock shines through in every word.Hitchcock, as you say, knew that filmmaking was a business as well as an art and no one combined the two so seamlessly.

  3. Top-notch review, John. Every time I see Notorious I find something I missed in the previous viewing and your argument about how this movie is really one of the most romantic films ever made despite the espionage trappings is so strong you can’t beat it with a stick. I still maintain that Notorious contains Bergman’s all-time best screen performance, Oscar for Gaslight be damned.

  4. The Lady Eve says:

    I am always torn between “Notorious” and “Vertigo” when it comes to the top of my “best Hitchcock” list. “Notorious” is exquisite, from Ben Hecht’s script to Roy Webb’s music, the cinematography and on and on. I think this is the best of Cary Grant’s roles – such depth & dimension! I didn’t find Devlin unsympathetic, though, he was so obviously tortured by his mixed emotions and backward priorities, plus it was clear he loved her (and he was, of course, Cary Grant). Claude Rains, as usual, a Nazi mama’s boy – and Leopoldine Konstantin as the mother…chilling. Thanks for a great tribute to a masterpiece, John…

    • John Greco says:


      “Nazi mama’s boy” what a great description! A special thanks just for that commment (lol). NOTORIOUS would definitely rank in my top five. It is the kind of film one can watch over and over and never be bored with. Hail Hitchcock!

  5. Brian says:

    Great post! I have a love-hate relationship with this film. Sometimes when I watch it, I’m enthralled. At other times, I’m distracted. I think you have to be completely in tune with it to see where this is going and how dark Hitchcock could be. Cary Grant the actor was exploring so many types of roles during the late 1930s into the 1940s, and I love how Hitchcock uses him here with a “hero” that some would find repulsive if it was someone else playing him.

    • John Greco says:

      Brian, the good/bad Devlin is arguably a more realistic type character than the pure good or all evil. I come to appreciate Grant as an actor more and more with each film of his I watch. he makes it look so easy…

  6. Brandie says:

    Cary Grant plays Devlin so perfectly–the perfect combination of charm and smarm. He so easily plays a preeminent a-hole in this movie–it angers me somewhat to read about studio heads not wanting to give Grant the chance to play truly villainous characters due to his public image as a prototypical “good” guy. His performance in this movie shows that he definitely had it within him to play the “bad” guy, had he only been given the chance to spread his acting wings.

    Excellent review of one of Hitch’s best!

    • John Greco says:

      Thanks Brandie, I would of loved to see Grant play a truly evil killer, of course he would have been a charming evil killer. I believe Hitchcock wanted Grant’s character in REBECCA to really have killed his wife but the studio heads would not allow it. After all, he was Cary Grant!

  7. Clara says:

    I discovered “Notorious” only last year. It blew my mind, I love it. I think it’s one of the darkest films by Hitch, even when there’s no crazy birds around. The way Cary and Ingrid hurt each other, when you know the truth (they really love each other) is so emotional, plus that detestable old woman and this pathetic mommy’s boy trying to poison our heroine and nobody noticing it, OMG :) Loved the ending. Cool review.

    • John Greco says:

      Glad you enjoyed it so much Clara. With Hitchcock it is always a rollercoaster ride of emotions for the characters and the audience. Thanks!!!

  8. Caroline says:

    I love this movie so much. I normally don’t care that much about romance in movies, but the chemistry between Grant and Bergman is so perfect here. I haven’t seen this one in such a long time and this review reminds me that it’s time I revisit it. Thanks for a great contribution to the blogathon!

  9. ClassicBecky says:

    Wonderful review of a wonderful Hitchcock film! I know that for me, along with the obvious Bergman/Grant chemistry, Claude Rains brings his own brand of unique presence and acting talent. He is a lot of the reason for the film’s impact.

    I enjoyed your article very much.

  10. Dawn says:

    Wonderful review. All of my favorite Hitchcock’s favorite emotional and visual talents are used here. The icy blond, the sexual tension, the weakling bad guy with a overbearing mother. Of course the legendary kiss and the happy ending.

    • John Greco says:

      Thanks Dawn. There is Hitchcock and then there is everyone else. I don’t think there is another filmmaker who combined art and commercialism so seemlessly.

  11. You sum up the film so well while dropping bits of character information and backstory. If this were my first time reading of the film, I’d definiately want to see it after this review.

    Indeed, Cary Grant would have made a marvelous Bond. In fact, EON Productions were looking for a Cary Grant type when first casting the spy, but finally went for a more roughhewn Bond.

    Notorious was certainly popular enough to have been adapted into a radio version more than once, including in Lux Radio Theater 01/26/48 (in which Ingrid Bergman reprises her role opposite Joseph Cotton)

    and Screen Guild Theater 01/06/49

    • John Greco says:

      Sorry for the late reply,s omehow you commemt was picked up as spam. Grant would have made a cool James Bond. Ifthe film series would have started in the 1950’s instead of the 60’s I could definitely see hin as Bond. Thanks Java!

      …and thanks for the links to the radio broadcast!!!

  12. Lobosco says:

    Great review of a terrific film. Alfred Hitchcock could do no wrong, and in my personal opinion the best actor that worked with him was Cary Grant. Just great!

    • John Greco says:

      Certainly Grant was the quintessential Hitchcock male lead as was Grace Kelly his ideal female, though Bergman arguably is a close second.Thanks!

  13. Dave Crosby says:

    Dear John, With thanks for allowing us all to participate in the blogathon, I’d like to make onem further observation about Hitchcock. Of course there have been many great directors in Hollywood, but few actual creators. Most directors were, as Gore Vidal commented, the “brother-in-law.” They were handed a script by the producer and told to get busy. Well, they did what they could, much of it exquisite in effects, but certainly they were not the creators of the film as much as the screenwriter. A completely collaborative effort, one producing many truly great films. No objections. But Hitchcock worked with the writer, as far as I can tell from my extensive investigation into this, in a way that allowed Hitch to create the visual aspect of the story as he constructed it along with the writer and then ultimately having the writer doing some character development and supplying dialog for the scenes already sketched out. All of this was done on a day-to-day basis in his office. Many writers were a bit disturbed that Hitch had the very same lunch every day, a small steak and salad. One of them made some trifling objection and the next day Hitch had his steak as usual and Chasen’s restaurant brought in for the writer a multi-course meal. But my point here is that this method of writing caused another writer to suggest that Hitch put his own name on the credits as a co-author and Hitch refused. He had great respect for writers, no matter how many he hired to polish up a script. The notion of a movie ‘auteur’ was not yet popular. But I think when you can observe that this director could sit down with a newly hired writer and describe what the camera was going to do in the opening sequences, he is an ‘auteur.’ Also, the consistency of themes, the graphic dynamism of his pre-sketched camera work, the typical humor, the use of suspense elements, the characteristic trust in montage as he learned it from the Russians (the camera, that is, showing a face, then what the face is observing, then the
    reaction of the face as a method of creating meaning in the spectator’s mind as opposed to the camera simply observing action), all of this in movie after movie, and indeed in movies generally from good to superb, mark Hitchcock as an ‘auteur.’ His consistency and great volume of work evidence him as the great master of the medium of film in the 20th century.

    • John Greco says:


      Excellent! Years ago back in the 1970’s I was always for the director as “auteur”, not giving the writer much credit. These days my feeling are pretty much in synch with your thoughts expressed here. It is a collorative effort, director, writer, cinematographer, composer, though it is the director who is in charge and makes the final decisions. Hitchcock, as you mention, were always involved in the creation, the shaping of the script and he never took credit.A true master.

  14. R. D. Finch says:

    John, a wonderful and really perceptive post on a film that took a couple of viewings to grow on me but which is now in my top 10 Hitchcocks. Your analysis of the three main characters is right on the mark: Grant cold and business-like on the outside but repressing his true feelings for Bergman because that’s what is necessary to get her to do her job (is this a projection of Hitchcock vis-a-vis his leading ladies?), Bergman allowing herself to be used because of guilt and her growing attraction to Grant (the way he inspires her to go from bitterness to selflessness is a marvel–love really does conquer low self-esteem!), and poor Claude Rains as the “mama’s boy” both sinister and pathetic. And as you point out, the many technical feats are a pleasure in themselves to be savored over and over. A post that does justice to its subject.

    • John Greco says:

      R.D. – thanks very much. I am about to post a listing of my top Hitchcock films as kind of a wrap up, at least for me, of the blogathon. NOTORIOUS came in as my 4th favorite. I admire this film more and more with each viewing. It is like seeing a master as work.

  15. Dave Crosby says:

    Dear John, (How many times have people written you the joke that they never expected to be writing Dear John letters?) In reference to your compiling a list of 10 favorite Hitchcock films, I’m wondering if you might consider making a mention of a film of his that I think is not only ignored but also misunderstood. It’s “The Wrong Man,” which I consider a masterpiece. Its been criticized, even by Francois Truffaut in his book with Hitch, because it doesn’t stick to true realist style. Because it contains expressionistic elements like the swiveling camera in Fonda’s cell when he feels overwhelmed by it all, the film strays from true realist style. I think that’s false criticism. Hitch never said or implied he was going to do a documentary. He did a drama, and a very powerful one in which we see the transference of guilt of a man (who actually isn’t guilty of anything) to his wife, who is also guiltless. And we watch her mental disintegration portrayed by the director in a most painful fashion, especially in the scene in which with brilliant editing we see her cut Fonda’s forehead and the mirror with a blow from a hairbrush. In the mirror we see reality smashed and divided up into pieces. Further, there are a number of sequences of utter bleakness highlighted with images such as their Ford stopping by a bleak tenement and shutting off its lights (!)with an ancient bridge in the background. A bridge for the crossing to the nether world? Hoping to find witnesses for his alibi in this tenement he and his wife find only children in the apartment and the witnesses moved on. Then Hitchcock gives us a close shot of the smiling faces of the children a moment before they go back into the apartment laughing and shouting in play. Fonda and his wife are desolate and increasingly so as their chances for winning his trial play out one by one.
    There are many expressionistic facets, specifically one in which Fonda is put into a van with other inmates for transport. He does not look at the others and we see only the feet. He is too ashamed to meet their glances. The bleakness of this film is utterly justified because of its theme of existential despair. The film builds a sense of impending doom out of the most ordinary most ordinary elements of daily life— and ambiguity is emphasized in almost every scene. For example, Fonda is forced to walk into shops for identification. At one store a man who looks like Fonda emerges carrying a package in a way that seems suspect. Who is he? A criminal? Who really knows anything about the city and its people? There is danger lurking everywhere. And only at the very end does Fonda pray, but at the insistence of his mother. Is he sincere? Over his face as he mutters the prayer we see a fade to a street and an approaching man whose face superimposes itself over Fonda’s. There is a vague resemblance. He enters a store and attempts a robbery but is caught. The ending seems religious to many, but I think it is ambivalent. Once more we are seeing coincidence. Perhaps the film was also rejected by critics and audiences because of its bleakness and despairing tone, which I think is the mark of a true master at work,entirely suitable for the subject. I hope you’ll consider at least making a comment about it.


    Dave Crosby

    • John Greco says:


      You bring up some excellent points though I have always had mixed feelings about this film. I don’t think it is bad (Hitchcock does not make bad films) but I do think it is a bit uneven mostly due to the Vera Miles character. The film does contain the typical Hitchcock themes (wrong man accused and his conflict with Catholicism). It certainly is a bleak brooding film and you can feel the desperate hopelessness of Henry Fonda’s character. Fonda is always a terrific actor and his brooding look in this film does it justice. Frankly after reading what you wrote here and what R.D. Finch wrote about it on his blog I probably need to revisit it.

      I highly recommend you check out R.D.’s blog THE MOVIE PROJECTOR. As part of the blogathon he selected THE WRONG MAN and gave it a fantastic review. Below is the link.

  16. Sam Juliano says:

    I come late to the party here due to circumstances the past few days that were beyond my control, but lo and behold you John (and the commenters on this fantastic thread)have enhanced the Hitchcock literature in a spectacular way. I agree with you on this great masterpiece, which ranks among my favorite Hitchcocks. You have made a yeoman contribution here John, combining a scholarly approach with a clear appreciation of why the film is so beloved by so many. I guess I can talk about that opening crane shot that ends on the key for eternity, and it will never lose it’s grand regard among cineastes. Likewise, that famous ‘kissing’ scene you broach is fondly-remembered, and the film is as perfectly choreographed as any in the master’s canon. The film is amazingly economical and the film is delivered crisply and unself-consciously. The film is also marked by a nearly complete lack of humor (unlike Hitch’s other suspense films) but that just shows how seriously the actors are negotiating their characters (who are one minded) The cast is great from top to bottom, though Rains is priceless.

    • John Greco says:

      Thanks Sam, Yes this is one of his greatest, a visually stunning work. Rains as you point out is priceless, a wonderful actor who I don’t believe ever gave a bad performance. Thanks again Sam for your wonderful heartfelt thoughts.

  17. Judy says:

    A great review and a great thread of comments, John – I can’t think of much to add, but just to say this is one of my favourites by Hitchcock, with brilliant performances by Grant, Bergman and Rains. I know Cary Grant is best-known for comedy, but I always enjoy seeing him in more dramatic roles too, like ‘Only Angels Have Wings’ and his great Oscar-nominated role in ‘None But the Lonely Heart’ which I saw recently. Anyway, reading your review has made me want to see this one again soon!

    • John Greco says:

      Grant was just good at everything he did. I have been watching a few of his films lately, (Room for One More, Every Girl Should Be Married, His Girl Friday, Bringing Up Baby and The Awful Truth) and just admirer his talent more and more. Thanks again!!!

  18. SKW says:

    Grant worked for the FBI.

    We know this because he flashes her a badge early on in the film, and Bergman routinely refers to him, for a time, as a kind of policeman.

    We also know this for historical reasons. There was no CIA in the Second World War. There was the OSS, but it was not allowed to operate in South America, per a deal it cut with FBI and Hoover (that was his turf). So Grant would have been a Fed.

  19. John Greco says:


    Thanks for the info. Yes, the CIA did not come into existance until after WW II. Appreicate it.

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