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92% Liked It
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Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Louis Calhern, Leopoldine Konstantin

Though Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious was produced by David O. Selznick's Vanguard Films, Selznick himself had little to do with the production, which undoubtedly pleased the highly independent Hitchcoc... read more read more...k. Ingrid Bergman plays Alicia Huberman, who goes to hell in a handbasket after her father, an accused WWII traitor, commits suicide. American secret agent Devlin (Cary Grant) is ordered to enlist the libidinous Alicia's aid in trapping Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), the head of a Brazilian neo-Nazi group. Openly contemptuous of Alicia despite her loyalty to the American cause, Devlin calmly instructs her to woo and wed Sebastian, so that that good guys will have an "inside woman" to monitor the Nazi chieftain's activities. It is only after Alicia and Sebastian are married that Devlin admits to himself that he's fallen in love with her. The "MacGuffin" in this case is a cache of uranium ore, hidden somewhere on Sebastian's estate. Upon discovering that his wife is a spy, Sebastian balks at eliminating her until ordered to do so by his virago of a mother (Madame Konstantin). Tension mounts to a fever pitch as Devlin, a day late and several dollars short, strives to rescue Alicia from Sebastian's homicidal designs. Of the several standout sequences, the film's highlight is an extended love scene between Alicia and Devlin, which manages to ignite the screen while still remaining scrupulously within the edicts of the Production Code. In later years, Hitchcock never tired of relating the story of how he and screenwriter Ben Hecht (who was nominated for an Oscar) fell under the scrutiny of the FBI after electing to use uranium as a plot device -- this before the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A huge moneymaker for everyone concerned, Notorious is considered one of Hitchcock's best espionage melodramas. In 1992, Notorious was remade for cable television. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Id: 10903344

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Recent Reviews

  • December 26, 2012
    Incredibly suspenseful, with a mesmerizing Bergman performance, but compared to other Hitch I find this one rather forgettable. Not a bad movie, by any stretch, and racy for its time, but it just didn't hit me as hard as his later work does.
  • July 20, 2012
    There are many stories about fights between producers and directors, some of which have become Hollywood legends in their own right. Think of Terry Gilliam's quarrelling with Bob and Harvey Weinstein over The Brothers Grimm, which saw Gilliam's cinematographer fired, his casting ... read morechoices vetoed, and ultimately resulted in his worst film. Or go a little further back, and think of Richard Donner's conflicts with Alexander and Ilya Salkind, which saw him replaced by Richard Lester mid-way through the shooting of Superman II.

    But in the golden age of Hollywood, perhaps no fractious relationship is more famous than that of Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick - a relationship which peaked early with the Oscar-winning Rebecca, and gradually deteriorated until the thoroughly un-suspenseful courtroom drama The Paradine Case. Notorious is at the upper end of the work Hitch achieved in his early years in America, combining a timely, pulpy story with a strong central relationship. While it never quite fires on all cylinders, and only truly takes flight in the final reel, it still includes much to be enjoyed or appreciated.

    In order to enjoy Notorious, you must be willing to accept a rather big contrivance - namely that a beautiful woman who knows nothing about spying comes to work for the secret service, just because she used to date the man that they are targeting. It is a big suspension of disbelief even for the day, but Hitchcock does at least give their relationship credibility by crafting a pretty decent romance out of it. This romance is not as straightforward as Ingrid Bergman swooning into Cary Grant's arms - they start with a drunken fight in the car, and their relationship goes up and down from there.

    Notorious benefits in this respect from some good dialogue courtesy of screenwriter Ben Hecht. The banter between Devlin and Alicia serves to build them up as characters with a certain amount of awkward sexual tension. Neither of them desperately like the other one, neither of them particularly want to be there - and yet as time goes by they find themselves drawn to one another. Alicia accuses Devlin of being afraid of women and being cold, and he is content to play along for the duration of the mission to maintain a professional distance. Both feel like complicated people with mixed emotions, a lot of which is internalised.

    Fans of Mission: Impossible II may have realised by this point just how much their film borrows or steals from Notorious. Not only is the premise the same, but the relationship between the agent, woman and mark goes through the exact same motions. The rekindling of the relationship between the mark and the woman begins happily enough, with old memories coming to the fore and bonds re-forming. This results in the agent being side-lined until they go for the big break-in, wherein the woman is rescued when things go wrong. The relationship begins to sour, the agent and woman escape, and the mark gets what's coming to him. Of course, John Woo is not the only filmmaker to have stolen from Hitchcock, but it's hard to think of another film other than Disturbia which rips him off quite so blatantly.

    Notorious is famous on a technical level for two key scenes. The first is the kiss scene between Bergman and Grant, which goes on for two-and-a-half minutes despite a clause in the Motion Picture Production Code which prohibited "excessive or lustful kissing, particularly when one character or the other is a 'heavy'." Hitchcock got around the ruling that an on-screen kiss could only last three seconds by having his actors kiss for three seconds, murmur to each other, and then start kissing again. It's a very effective ploy that makes the scene if anything more passionate - and would have given the priest in Cinema Paradiso a headache trying to remove every last kiss.

    The other technical matter of note lies in Hitchcock's increasing use of crane shots and zooms. Perhaps the most famous shot in the whole film is the one that begins high up at the top of the staircase, and comes right down into Bergman's hand behind her dress, where the key to the wine cellar is being concealed. Not only are these shots as slick as his work on The Paradine Case, but Hitch's compositions is quite impeccable, picking up the details in people's faces and the different wine bottles. The cuts between the different dates on the bottles, as Claude Rains discovers what has happened, are very simple and effective.

    Notorious has a very good central set-piece involving Devlin and Alicia infiltrating the wine cellar and coming across the uranium. Not only is the plot twist handled very well, but Hitchcock builds up suspense surrounding their discovery in a very novel way. Rather than cutting between our protagonists in the cellar and the bad guys walking along a very long corridor to come to them, Hitch cuts between the cellar and the number of champagne bottles left on ice, after which Alex Sebastian will make a short trip down to catch them.

    This ingenious way of creating suspense comes back to Hitchcock's thoughts on content vs. technique and making the best use of the props available in a given scene. In an interview with the AFI in the 1960s, he gave the example of Cary Grant in North by Northwest, who escapes from an auction by getting thrown out for making nonsensical bids. Both this and the champagne bottles are Hitchcock being resourceful with decorative or incidental features, and in doing so deepening the environment in which the characters find themselves. This and his ruthless editing make the whole thing feel a lot less mechanical than it otherwise could.

    In terms of its subject matter, Notorious sits within a tradition of works about ex-Nazis hiding out in South America. The natural comparison from this point of view would be The Boys from Brazil, Franklin J. Schnaffner's enjoyably silly romp about Hitler clones based on the novel by Ira Levin. Both films are fundamentally pulpy in nature, drawing on and exploiting recent scientific breakthroughs to further a science fiction-inflected story. While The Boys from Brazil used the beginnings of cloning as a springboard to different ethical issues, Notorious uses its MacGuffin to tie in with the political tensions in Europe, many of which had started over the capture of German scientists and the remaining V2 rockets.

    Just as The Boys from Brazil is silly and flimsy in comparison to The Stepford Wives, so Notorious never entirely takes flight in the way that The Lady Vanishes did. Much of the problems with the film can be put down to Selznick, who made life increasingly difficult for Hitchcock and attempted to re-cast the film behind his back. Having failed to replace Cary Grant with Joseph Cotton (who would later star in The Third Man), Selznick resorted to sending Hitchcock constant demands for rewrites and reshoots. He eventually sold the picture to RKO, allowing him to claim 50% of the profits as well as $800,000 upfront.

    Despite two very good central performances by Grant and Bergman, some of the supplementary characters feel overly caricatured to the point of being pantomime. Claude Rains puts in a very good, nuanced performance as Alex Sebastian, and none of the ex-Nazis are quite as over-the-top as their Boys from Brazil counterparts. But their efforts are almost for nothing when sharing a screen with Leopoldine Konstantin, whose exaggerated movements rival those of Rosa Klebb in From Russia with Love.

    There are also little shortcomings in the plot which, while not disastrous, are rather irritating. Alicia is told that she should never visit the spies' base during the operation - and yet when she does, she seems in no danger at all; no matter how dangerous they make it sound, there is no sign of her being followed or observed by Sebastian's men. The MacGuffin is also bothersome on a practical level: we are told that the soil has uranium in it, and yet everyone uses their bare hands to handle it. You might argue that it doesn't matter how the MacGuffin works so long as it moves the plot forward, but it still manages to prey on one's mind.

    Notorious is a good, solid Hitchcock thriller which succeeds through its two central performances and a number of suspenseful scenes. It never entirely gets off the ground, stopping and starting until the final reel and being hamstrung by the odd piece of over-acting. But by and large it has weathered pretty well, and is still enjoyable even in light of its problems. If nothing else, it serves as a fitting counterweight to its disappointing follow-up, which would force Hitchcock from Selznick's clutches for good.
  • April 30, 2012
    I'll keep this brief, as everyone has already said all that's needs to be said about this, and better than I can.

    It's a classic romantic espionage thriller, done in the classic Hitchcock style, and involving two of his favorite things: romance and suspense. This is typical stuf... read moref, done in the typical way, but to the Nth degree.

    An American secret agent named Devlin gets a beautiful woman with a tainted past named Alicia to help him take down the leader of a neo Nazi group. She falls in love with her target, but, not only is her life in danger, she feels upset that Devlin may or may not love her, and he's conflicted because not only does he love her, he can't really tell her since she goes so far as marrying her mark to bring him down..and trying to save her might not happen, and on and on.

    Pitch perfect performances (espeically Bergman's), a great set up, and some truly excellent cinematography (love the long take during the party scene), and some wonderful moments (drunk driving scene, et al) highlight what would otherwise be generic crap in the hands of any other director.

    Just go see it already. I can't think of any other way to recommend this than that.
  • December 30, 2011
    Notorious is an almost flawless movie that holds up in 2011 and seems completely fresh more than sixty years on. The characters are complex, due to a note perfect script by the great Ben Hecht, one of the great film writers, surprisingly naturalistic and intense performances fro... read morem film icons Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains, and of course, Hitchcock's visual mastery.

    It's the story of a 'party girl' (Bergman), the daughter of a Nazi who is recruited by Cary Grant as a mole into a Nazi ring in Brazil. She is impelled by allied intelligence to marry Rains and infiltrate the inner circle. The love story is touching and deep and all subtext. When Grant rescues a poisoned Bergman and tells her his actual feelings, there's wasn't a dry eye in my house. Well, I was watching alone, but you get the idea.

    The only aspects of this film that are dated for me, oddly, are the Hitchcockian trick shots, which must have seemed at the time like the future of film. In fact, the 'auteur style' have been superseded by the need to draw attention away from the director. Today most films (well, not the Marvel superhero movies, but you get the idea) try to convey hyper realism, especially for this type of movie - the espionage thriller (case in point: see 2011's Tinker, Tailor... a similar film in subject matter, but a completely diverging type of film making, striving for a flat, documentary style.). What Hitchcock called 'pure cinema' does not really exist today.

    Rent or order this film on demand and you will not be disappointed. Other Hitchcock films have better set piece scenes and memorable single visual sequences, but this film, literally has it all for its entire duration: emotion, humor, stunning B & W cinematography and complex characters (with megawatt charisma) that we care about.
  • fb1664868775
    November 13, 2011
    Hitchcock's classic espionage film contains beautiful black and white images and amazing camerawork.
  • August 18, 2011
    An incredible story about a spy that put her life in danger after a clumsy process to unmask a group of international criminals. Only Hitchcock can delivery so fantastic camera movements an the great suspense at the end of the movie. The story is fantastic, Academy award nominate... read mored. Ingrid Bergman as usual very good acting and beatiful. I miss her. I've seen better Cary Grant movies, this one he's not at his best.
  • June 24, 2011
    The usual Hitchcock suspense--multiply it instead by about 20.
  • March 5, 2011
    One of Hitchcock's finest. Notorious follows a young woman going undercover, after her father is arrested for treason. Just before going undercover, she falls for Agent Devlin, the man that has recruited her. What may come across as a spy espionage thriller, is really a romance i... read moren which two people wrestle between their romance and their professional lives. It also has early signs of feminism, as Grant refuses to tell OR ask Bergman to do anything. Everything is up to her, and her journey sees her becoming reliant on herself, and not the pain she causes herself and others. Having watched Lust, Caution) this film seemed tame. But luckily Bergman and Grant are able to deliver the lines with venom and spite that makes it just as uncomfortable to watch. The way Bergman says "You can add another playmate to my list?" and Grant's facial expressions are all we need to get a punch to the stomach. Best of all is Rains. He deserved his nomination for this performance. We are told he is the villain, but he does come across as charming in the least presumptuous way. He genuinely loves Bergman, which makes his betrayal a hard thing to watch. He is also wrapped up in a world that is hard to pull away from, making him such a tragic character. The final scene is simply glorious, and shows Hitchcock for the master that he is. The climax is three people walking down the stairs, but they are a nerve shattering few minutes on screen. The facial expressions, the dialog, it's all so brilliant.
  • February 13, 2011
    "Notorious" is wickedly suspenseful and beautifully shot. Carey Grant is great as usual here but it's Ingrid Bergman who steals the picture. There is no better Alfred Hitchcock film that perfectly sums up his sensibility as a director. If you don't like "Notorious," you simply ca... read moren't love Hitchcock- it's everything that makes him legendary (thrills, mystery, comedy, romance and one hell of a McGuffin).
  • October 18, 2010
    What else can I say except that this is yet another one of Hitckcock's great movies of the 1940s! A must see.

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