Thursday, 12 April 2012

Notorious: Hitchcock at his most romantic!

"Notorious" (1946) was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains. The story centers around Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), the daughter of a convicted Nazi spy, who is asked by American agent T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant) to spy on a group of her father's Nazi friends in Brazil. Devlin arranges for Alicia to meet Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains), one of the Nazis, who once had a crush on her. Alicia has to get close to Sebastian in order to spy on him and his Nazi friends, and for that cause even ends up marrying him. Meanwhile, Alicia has fallen in love with Devlin, but believes Devlin doesn't love her back, that he just pretended to love her as part of his job. Being married to Sebastian, Alicia now lives in his house and soon discovers there's something wrong with the wine cellar. Will she uncover the Nazi plot, that involves a wine bottle and its contents, without being found out and get the man she loves in the process? For the full plot, click here.

Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman
Ingrid Bergman
Rains, Grant and Bergman
This is one of those Hitchcocks that I had only seen once or twice before. Seeing this film again, I was actually surprised how much I liked it and wondered why I hadn't seen it more often. This is a very stylish, suspenseful and above all romantic Hitchcock, beautifully photographed by Ted Tetzlaff and with a great script by Ben Hecht. The movie has a thrilling storyline. Alicia goes undercover in the Sebastian household to spy on Alex and his Nazi friends, and for me most of the suspense of this film comes from the fear of Alicia being found out. We see really fine performances by the two leading actors. Although I like Cary Grant best in his romantic comedies, he is also excellent in this serious role as the seemingly cold-hearted Devlin, who has to surpress his feelings for the sake of the job. Ingrid Bergman is great as the loose-living Alicia and her best scenes are when she's at her most vulnerable. It is also in those scenes when Bergman, with her hair down (in some of the other scenes she has a dreadful hairdo!), is at her most beautiful. And of course the two leads are amazing together, some of the scenes between them really are terribly romantic. Claude Rains was one of the greatest supporting actors of his time. In "Notorious" he is once again splendid, now playing the villain. Rains' portrayal of Alex Sebastian is a nuanced one, and you can't help feeling sorry for him at the end of the film when he is forced to admit defeat. Finally, special mention needs to be made of Madame Konstantin, who is quite frightening as Sebastian's evil mother.

Here are some photos of Hitchcock with his leading actors:

There are two scenes that "Notorious" is best known for. In my previous post on "The Letter" I already mentioned Hollywood's censorship. The Hays Code dictated what was acceptable in movies. For example, kisses were not allowed to last more than three (!) seconds. In "Notorious" there is a famous kiss between the two leads that lasts two and a half minutes. Hitchcock had the two stars kiss for three seconds, then talk and nuzzle each other a bit, and then kiss again etc. This kissing scene really is one of the most romantic scenes of the movie and probably much more effective than a real kiss would have been. Here is the clip, so judge for yourself:

And the other famous scene is this shot, taken from the balcony and then slowly tracking down, till it finally focuses on what Ingrid Bergman holds in her hand:

My final clip for this post is the trailer:

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