Critic Consensus: Sublime direction from Hitchcock, and terrific central performances from Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant make this a bona-fide classic worthy of a re-visit.
as Alicia Huberman
as Dr. Anderson
as Mme. Sebastian
as Ernest Weylin
as Dr. Barbosa
as Mme. Sebastian
as Senor Ortiza
as Dr. Silva
as Dr. Silva
as Mr. Cook
as Woman at Party
as Defense Counsel
as Court Stenographer
as Clerk at Court
as District Attorney
as Motor Cop
as Motor Cop
as Mrs. Jackson
as FBI Man
as File Clerk
as File Clerk
as File Clerk
News & Interviews for Notorious
Critic Reviews for Notorious
The virtuoso sequences -- the long kiss, the crane shot into the door key -- are justly famous, yet the film's real brilliance is in its subtle and detailed portrayal of infinitely perverse relationships.
Production and directorial skill of Alfred Hitchcock combine with a suspenseful story and excellent performances to make Notorious force entertainment.
It's the accuracy, efficiency and control of Hitchcock's direction that most impress. They enable him to dovetail the film's thriller format and romantic story to dizzying, expressive and unique effect.
It would be far too harsh to label Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious an all-out bomb, but it's equally difficult to refer to the movie as a wholeheartedly effective (and affecting) success.
This dark romantic thriller isn't as thematically complex or technically audacious as some of Alfred Hitchcock's later classics. But it's still hard to beat for pure, polished entertainment.
Audience Reviews for Notorious
Despite a forced romance that comes out of nowhere and how the protagonist's motivations are not really convincing (especially with all that misogyny towards her), it has a wonderful direction and becomes extremely suspenseful after a while, with its two leads in great performances.
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.
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 choices 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.
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