Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and this has many of his cinematic traits. The innocuous start, the slow-burning intrigue, the ramping up of the suspense and the thrilling conclusion, all executed with the deft Hitchcock touch. Great twist at one point, just when the plot was looking predictable.
Not perfect though. The start and the initial scenes involving Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman feel a bit clumsy. The whole romantic side feels overly sappy and forced and seems to have too much weight in the script. This is made up for by an espionage plot that gets better as it goes on.
Not in the same league as Hitchcock's best - Rebecca, Rear Window and Psycho - but still very good nevertheless.
9AM - Boy and girl meet
9:10 AM - They confess their love for one another
9:25 AM - They kiss and hug and tell each other they never want to leave one another
9:40 AM - Discuss marriage
Married by next day or end of movie.
Who in hell comes up with crap like that??? NOBODY does that!!! It takes away from the main plot of the movie, which made the main story minimal. So unrealistic and unbelievable, that stuff like that is laughable, embarrassing and painful to watch, that I was cringing and yelling at my screen! I absolutely hate it!!!! If they would have stuck to the main story line and left all that nonsense out of it, it would have been so much pleasurable to watch. What was up with the stuff in the bottle? Why did they have the stuff in the bottle? Why did they kill Emrich? What was the story with the mother being such a bitch? Was the the leader of the whole thing? The whole plot is left feeling empty! Nothing leading to anything, but a cheesy, unnecessary love thing.
For Alfred Hitchcock, "Notorious" marked a new beginning. Worldwide fame, despite having worked in the film industry since the 1920s, had only become him since the one-two punch of "Rebecca" and "Foreign Correspondent," both released in 1940. Far off in the future were his outstanding 1950s, characterized by knockout collaborations with Grace Kelly, indulgences in his erotic fixations, and William Castle-level publicity stunts that made him as much of a phenom as a recognizable celebrity. His reputation as technical wizard and fine-tuned visual storyteller were yet to be broadened by "Strangers On a Train," "Rear Window," and "Psycho." His renown as a risk-taker with a thing for aloof blondes was yet to be realized by "To Catch a Thief," "North by Northwest," "Vertigo," and "The Birds."
"Notorious," released in 1946, was his first serious attempt to tell a love story, his first serious attempt to make his artistic idiosyncrasies central rather than purely complementary, and his first serious attempt to wander around mature themes entrenched in gnarled reality rather than moviedom fantasticality and/or worst-case-scenario hysteria. It kicked off a brief period of interesting but mostly unsuccessful ego-boosts ("The Paradine Case," "Rope," "Under Capricorn"), denoted the continuation of his long-standing working relationship with Cary Grant, and was his second time partnering with Ingrid Bergman. But it, most evidently, arguably announced his arrival as cinema's resident Master of Suspense, no longer just a crafty filmmaker but also as an artist so in control of his abilities that criticism is rendered infeasible.
And, as is the case for most artistic breakthroughs, "Notorious" is one of Hitchcock's best films.
It's additionally among his most accessible, and is, dare I say it, his sexiest. Derived from a pithy screenplay by Ben Hecht, the film unforgettably stars Bergman as Alicia Huberman, the daughter of a Nazi spy. As a young woman with a mind of her own and an appreciation for the country she's called home for more than half her life, inheriting her father's deviousness has dodged her. In a conversation recorded by the feds, Alicia flatly rejects her old man's invitation to join the party - she's too loyal to think of betraying her fellow Americans.
Her faithfulness is noted by the government, who, since the man's execution, has been contemplating different methods to infiltrate the ring of adversaries he originally pledged allegiance to. The group has relocated to Brazil following World War II and have proven to be evasive.
Unknowing of what Alicia's assignment will entail, agent T.R. Devlin (Grant) recruits and seduces her. Only days after their first meeting are he and Alicia necking at her hotel room in Rio de Janeiro. Once his superiors decide what their best course of action is, though, he finds himself regretting initiating a blossoming romance. His boss (Louis Calhern) has proclaimed that the smartest way to insinuate themselves into the Nazi ring is by using Alicia's feminine wiles. Romance the leader, Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), enough and the necessary trust to live in his humble abode will provide easy access to his baleful possessions. A conflict of interest it is - Alicia and Devlin's spark dwindles after time apart and misunderstandings inflict strife - but it just might work.
Dangers lie ahead. Sebastian's monstrous mother (Leopoldine Konstantin), with whom he appears to have a near incestuous bond, is poised and ready to harm Alicia as soon as they first shake hands. Nazis stroll in and out of the home incessantly. Devlin and Alicia's relationship is immediately apparent to Sebastian, fueling jealousy and suspicion that threatens to turn lethal.
But gorgeously dangerous "Notorious" is - it's so attractive that its underlying menace is strangely sexy. Clearly, that's Hitchcock's intended effect. As evidenced by a filmography more beguiled by danger presented with a sense of humor than danger presented with a straight face (though his darkest works are almost always worthier), "Notorious" accommodates his love of playing the audience like a piano, getting a rise out of even the biggest of a cynic only to turn around with a smile and a wink and inform one of his paying victims that all in front of them was simply a close call.
There are many moments like these to be found in the film, and that's part of its allure. Bergman and Grant, so tantalizing and commanding, have intoxicating chemistry. They look good dodging hazard (and look good with each other), and we're more than willing to sprint alongside them as they jump over the obstacles Hecht unceremoniously places in front of them. Hitchcock photographs the pair with the delectation of a cheesecake shutterbug, admiring their beauty, but he also rises supreme performances out of them. Bergman is a sensual femme made more appealing as a result of her courageousness, her scrappiness, and her emotional fragility; Grant is a charismatic lone wolf who seems to be a precursor to James Bond minus the male chauvinism.
But it's "Notorious's" little touches of Hitchcockian regality that make the utmost impression. Notice how Hitch works his way around the Hays Code's ruling that characters cannot kiss for longer than three seconds by keeping Grant and Bergman, at the height of Alicia and Devlin's romance, locked in a heated embrace for two and a half minutes, nuzzles and caresses taking the place of a flaming French. How the keys that unlock Sebastian's secret riddled wine cellar, along with the poisoned cups of tea the latter and his mother deliver to Alicia after they discover her duplicity, become characters themselves. How the dialogue is both nudge nudge witty and meanderingly serious. How the cinematography is sometimes effervescently elegant but sometimes distortedly surreal.
"Notorious" is so mouthwateringly designed and presented that it feels like much more than an escapist thriller. In a genre that oftentimes runs the risk of being one-note by putting overly familiar characters in overly familiar situations, caring more about a potential thrill than about becoming a potential masterpiece, the film turns the building of excitement, of intrigue, into an art form. Hitchcock would eventually go bigger and broader, but "Notorious" captures him making the transition from reliable filmmaker to bona fide artiste.
Part of the reasons for this success is the chemistry between the two leads, Ingrid Bergman as Alicia Huberman and Cary Grant as Devlin. Bergman and Grant's characters have an interesting and realistic relationship. They genuinely love each other and they're not afraid to embrace this. And when it comes down to the suspenseful climax where Alicia is at her weakest, Grant portrays Devlin with a nervous look in his eye that flickers all over the room and his creased forehead beautifully reflects Devlin's concern. During this scene Bergman is a sad sight to see, after being put through very disparate times by her country, and her bosses. She looks as though she's about to faint, staring nervously towards the exit and crumpled in Grant's arm. But great acting isn't limited to this scene of course. Grant gives a superb performance as Devlin throughout the film, analysing every situation intensely, but the greatest performance is definitely Bergman's. You can't help but feel bad for her character-she just met the man of her dreams, when suddenly his bosses force her into a dangerous marriage to the antagonist of the piece (more on that later). Not only is there complex characterisation to be achieved already but at the start of the picture she has to play someone who's insanely drunk, without touching a drop herself. She nailed it. She had a lazy eye and her words were completely disoriented. The phrases were timed in a very peculiar method that works only through precise timing. She doesn't stumble and spit her words out as a lesser actress might, opting instead to walk with a mild limp and a terrifying, and somewhat attractive glint in her eye. A superb performance.
In every great film-noir you'll have a great villain. Usually someone quite menacing to watch, however in this film they have Alexander Sebastian, one of the great movie villains of the 1940s. And he's not great due to any real menace. He's great because he's a real person. He's on the wrong side. He's a controlling and manipulative husband. He has flaws. Everyone does. He's also madly in love with Alicia. He's only controlling of Alicia because he's jealous of her obvious attraction to Devlin. Everything he does to harm anyone he does out of fear. He's a very sympathetic antagonist, and not least because of Claude Rains' pitch perfect performance. When he sees Alicia and Devlin engaged in a passionate kiss across the room he feels self-pity, as reflected by a very crestfallen look from Rains. You feel bad for him because whilst he's on what may be regarded as the wrong side, it's because he genuinely believes in it. He's a tragic figure, but it's very good that his fate is left ambiguous. We don't know what happened to him and we have to decide for ourselves whether we think he escaped, got killed, pardoned, arrested-there's no way to find out for sure.
When it comes to sublime direction there's no one who is more notorious for consistent achievement than the great Alfred Hitchcock. Over 50 years after his last great film he is a household name. And in this film he earns his reputation. Every shot in the film comes from thought and gives the audience results. From his disorienting twisting of the camera during Bergman's first hangover to the blurred imagery when Bergman's character is at her weakest towards the end, every shot reveals something about the characters and how they're feeling, and the creative angles and camera movements come courtesy of cinematographer Ted Tetzlaff. Also, the way he creates suspense deserves special mention. Where most directors will create tension through clear threat of violence, Hitchcock opts to make mundane things like a wine bottle falling off a shelf or being carried across a room the most terrifying and gripping events that could ever happen. This film really shows his creativity, and his knack for giving viewers something extremely unexpected and through this creates genuine tension.
Ben Hecht's screenplay for this film deserves mention. Every one of the aforementioned moments of suspense came from his script. (Although it is true that Hitchcock was a screenplay contributor) Every line is there for a reason, sometimes for comments on alcoholism in our lives (mainly through Bergman's character), sometimes hints at what future plot or character developments are ahead, and sometimes it contributes to the love triangle between Alicia, Devlin and Alexander. Hecht's plot twist are unpredictable and every one of his characters is multi-faceted and layered like an onion.
In conclusion, Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious is a great film-noir, with brilliant character based drama, wonderful suspense and pitch perfect romance. Highly recommended that anyone wasting their time with this review goes and watches this masterpiece.