Saturday, February 5, 2011

Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious

Here is my first review of a classic movie. Notorious is an Alfred Hitchcock film noir/suspense/romance starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. It was made in 1946, just after the war, and tells the story of a woman of loose morals, Alicia (Bergman), daughter of a German Nazi, who is hired by American agents to infiltrate and spy on a group of her father's friends in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Her assignment: get in close to a formerly infatuated wannabe lover of hers, keep her mouth shut and her eyes and ears open, and do whatever it takes to keep him close, even if it means marrying him. But Alicia has changed her ways and fallen in love with Devlin (Grant), the agent who is her contact. Their love is tried, and Devlin closes his heart to Alicia, unknowingly abandoning her to an ill fate.

This movie boasts the longest on-screen kiss of the times. Apparently there was a rule about how many seconds a kiss could last on-screen, and Hitchcock got around it by interrupting the kiss with dialog and walking. Compared to movies of our time, this is child's play. Yet the thematic material is anything but.

Hitchcock proves you can do suspense and romance without showing a thing, even in a format that is all about showing. Hitchcock does suspense with shadows and dialog and waiting. You need good actors for that, and Grant and Bergman were among the best of the time. They could even be compared to today's actors. Kate Winslet, for instance, reminds me of Ingrid Bergman.

As for romance, no abandonment cuts worse than Devlin's of Alicia, and we barely see their romance, let alone its blossoming, which so many romances today are all about. We see them meet, and then, bam, they are in the middle of hot and steamy without more than a few kisses and whispered words lip-to-lip. But you believe it. Goes to show that you don't need immorality to make a good movie, especially if a movie where immorality is a central plot point doesn't show any.

My husband made me watch this movie, but I wouldn't have caved unless it sounded remotely interesting. I was not surprised that it was good, being an Alfred Hitchcock film some claim his best. And I was so intrigued I barely noticed the black and white after awhile.

If you are going to watch classics, put this on the list! A big thanks goes to Nick's friend Brian for suggesting this to him.


  1. I love Hitchcock! He just a an interesting way of capturing emotions and a great use of scenery to create moods. Haven't seen this one though...might have to watch it!

  2. Great review! Some of the things I like to note the most about this film are:

    Though I have about 15 or 20 favorite Hitchcock films, this is definitely one of them. There is a powerful argument for why this is his greatest.

    Just a sidenote: This is Bergman's second Hitchcock film out of three. This is Grant's second Hitchcock film out of four.

    The great combination of Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, and Claude Rains as the three biggest characters. Rains' performance as the Hitchcockian villain enhances this film's gravity.

    Ingrid Bergman brilliantly being cast "against type" (as a prostitute no less, though the word is never mentioned).

    Cary Grant's amazing ability to REact as well as to act. He shows his emotions so well.

    The romance - especially the LONGING for romance - that all three main characters have.

    Even though Rains' character is a villain, he's not a cardboard cutout villain, as Hitchcock avoided creating them. Arguably, all three characters are not all good and not all bad either.

    This definitely isn't a typical film-noir, as that component is only a part of the story. Hitchcock mixed elements of noir, suspense/thriller, a spy story, and a romance all in one.

    Sometimes it's amazing how much classic films don't show. They have to imply things, and sometimes the implication leaves more to the imagination.

    The kissing scene in "Notorious" is quite long, and is shot in one piece. Grant and Bergman had to memorize a considerable amount of programmed movements (blocking). The dialogue is significant, and there's kind of a lot of lines to memorize and do in one take. The entire scene is executed in such a professional and polished way.

    I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Brian, thanks for the insider info on this movie! Really interesting stuff! I hadn't put it into words before, but I agree with you about the villain. You really get a sense that he is in love, which gives him more depth than many villains have.


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