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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Hitchcock Month - Notorious

Notorious (1946)
Starring Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, and Claude Rains
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Although I'm not through even half of Hitchcock's repertoire at this point, Notorious may be the sexiest movie he ever made.  Granted, that's a 1940s version of sexy, but there's no denying that Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant make quite an alluring couple.  Her cold demeanor and his warm charm mesh quite well together on screen and combine to create a rather steamy romance in the midst of this espionage thriller set in the early 1940s.

After her father is convicted of being a Nazi spy, Alicia Huberman (Bergman) throws a party -- in part to drown her sorrow and in part because she's kind of a drunk.  A guest to the party invites T.R. Devlin (Grant) and Alicia and Devlin immediately have a romantic connection.  However, Alicia soon discovers that Devlin is an FBI agent who wants Alicia to infiltrate a group of Nazis who are now living in Rio di Janeiro, Brazil.  Initially angered, Alicia's love for Devlin and desire to "make up to America" for her father's wrongdoings compel her to agree to Devlin's request.

Unfortunately, complications arise as soon as Alicia's work begins.  Devlin's superiors decide that in order to best defeat this group of Germans, Alicia must seduce one of the men --Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains), a friend of her father's.  With Alicia becoming a modern day Mata Hari, Devlin begins to get jealous and his relationship with Alicia becomes strained.  Giving away much more would be a disservice if you've never seen the film before, but, suffice it to say, Notorious is certainly a spy story, but it's also (and perhaps moreso) a love triangle, and the combination of the two creates a rather interesting film.

While I do like Ingrid Bergman as an actress, I can't help but think she's alway a little stoic and icy in her acting.  While that's the case here as well, her part requires that of her.  Alicia is caught between two loves -- a love for her man and a love for her country.  She is, for lack of a better term, whoring herself out.  The irony of it all is that she's doing this because of her love for Devlin.  This conundrum is explored quite well by both Bergman and the screenwriter and what could be a tricky unbelievable character is given motivations that are easily understandable.

Even though Cary Grant gets top billing on the poster, the film really belongs to Bergman.  That being said, while Grant definitely plays his charming self at times in Notorious, his character has a much darker side.  His Devlin has fallen (and fallen hard) for Alicia, but he must sacrifice her in order to fulfill his duties.  The audience can see the jealousy that is eating away at him and, considering Grant isn't necessarily all that well known for playing anything other than a romantic lead, he does a great job here.  [This actually may be my favorite Grant role that I've seen.]

To not mention Claude Rains here would be remiss.  Rains' Alex, the Nazi whom Alicia must seduce, is actually incredibly sympathetic.  He's a nice guy who's also fallen head over heels in love with Alicia.  Hitchcock has a way of crafting films in which you slowly begin to feel bad for the bad guy and he does that here to great effect.  Yes, we know that Alex is trying to do harm to the country, but by not making him the quintessential villain, Hitch plays with the audience a bit. 

All that said, I wasn't digging this movie much in the middle acts.  Something just wasn't clicking with me.  In retrospect, I think it was simply that I wasn't in the mood to watch it because looking back on it, I can't really think of anything I disliked.  Having said that, perhaps my rating below should be taken with a grain of salt.  I'd like to watch this one again in the near future to see if my feelings change for the better because I think they would.  Nevertheless, Notorious certainly has three of the most complicated and intriguing characters I've seen in Hitch's work to date and, I'd venture to guess that these may be the three most complicated and interesting characters in all of his oeuvre.

The RyMickey Rating:  B


  1. I love this one! didn't this inspire james bond?

  2. I mean...in a very broad sense, yes, it was spy-centric/romantic in that James Bond manner (the extra features on the dvd actually interview a guy who wrote a book on the James Bond series). It's not James Bond-ian by any sense, though, other than the fact that it's a spy in a foreign country.

    As the days have gone on since I have watched this one, I actually really want to watch it again. Despite the 'B' rating, it's actually stuck with me moreso than some of the other movies that I've rated higher.

    It'll give me a reason to watch it again, though.