..

NOTORIOUS

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Raines
Director:  Alfred Hitchcock
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Criterion
Features:  See Review
Length:  102 Minutes
Release Date:  October 16, 2001

“This is a strange love affair.”

“What’s strange about it?”

“The fact that you don’t love me.”

Film ****

Two men love one woman…one distrusts her and uses her, the other places his complete confidence in her and it turns out to be a fatal mistake.  Who is the good guy and who is the bad one?

Alfred Hitchcock’s masterful Notorious revels in such blurred lines.  Those familiar with John Woo’s Mission Impossible 2 might recognized the borrowed plot elements here, though fans waiting to see Cary Grant and Claude Raines leap off motorcycles at one another might be disappointed.

Grant plays T. R. Devlin, an American spy whose organization is never named.  The year is 1946, and Nazi paranoia is still at its high.  At the start, a German scientist is being sentenced for treason.  His beautiful daughter, Alicia Huberman (Bergman), is a party drinking woman with a reputation for her freewheeling escapades.  We see her in action in an early social setting, masterfully framed by Hitchcock with Devlin in shadow in the foreground and his head turned away from the camera…we don’t even know who it is until the later reveal.

Alicia may have a shady reputation in society, but she’s no traitor, a fact Devlin confirms via playing a recorded conversation with her father.  He has an indecent proposal for her.  Another German operative, Alexander Sebastian (Raines), is running a Nazi ring out of Rio.  He knew her father, which makes her a good choice to take up his company and report back on his doings.  The fact that he was also in love with her once makes her an even better one.

Alicia, however, has fallen in love with Devlin, and has begun to clean up her act.  She is disappointed that he would ask her to do such a thing, but agrees to do it only because of her feelings for him.  Alexander is all too delighted to rekindle his romance with Alicia.  The situation becomes complicated when he asks her to marry him.

The irony is, Devlin becomes bitter over Alicia simply because she’s doing what he told her to do.  While his suspicions of her grows, Alexander doesn’t suspect at all.  His feelings blind him, and it proves his undoing.  Though Devlin is clearly the “good guy” in the scenario, it’s hard not to feel sympathy for Alexander as well.  Both men love her, but only Alexander does so without manipulation or expectation.

This all leads to a memorable climax…once Alicia’s secret is revealed, how will Devlin be able to rescue her from a house filled with Nazi agents?  The answer is both simpler and more potent than you might expect.  Two of the main characters flee to a free but uncertain future.  One character’s future is very clearly defined.

Hitchcock often identified Notorious as a favorite among his films, and it’s one of mine, too.  I think it can rightly be considered one of Hitch’s first defining pictures.  The sense of style he creates with light, shadow, camera movement and placement would come to define a great deal of his later work.  Certain shots are completely unforgettable, including the fetishistic way Hitch follows a simple prop like a coffee cup, or the way he focuses on a meager key so intently that it’s importance becomes burned in our minds.  Notorious also deserves recognition for its innovative use of rear projection photography, most of which is so subtly done that audiences don’t even identify it.

The trio of actors all deliver stalwart performances.  Grant plays Devlin as a man whose situation may be morally ambiguous even though he himself is not.  Raines, as mentioned, instills Alexander with a curious sympathetic quality, certainly rare for an established Nazi character (especially at the time).  But I think the picture belongs to Hitchcock first and Bergman second.  Her legendary beauty illuminates every frame of the film she’s in, and her portrayal of Alicia as a sad but strong woman whose genuine love forces her to act against that very love is the emotional core of the picture.

Notorious can certainly be considered a defining moment in a prolific filmmaker’s career.  One can see the seeds brilliantly sown in it, and those who follow Alfred Hitchcock will certainly be able to recognize what blossoms they led to in subsequent years.

Video ***

Overall, this is a quality video presentation from Criterion.  Much of the picture looks tremendous, which helps make up for the odd spot here and there where the source material falters.  Generally, the black and white photography renders very beautifully, with good contrast levels, deep blacks and clean whites, and good defining lines.  There are a handful of scenes, however, where the film shows it’s age.  Some are marked by excess spots and/or scratches, some “flicker” because of print dinginess, and even some excess grain that’s hard not to notice.  This may be the result of varying source materials, because sometimes, sequential shots within the same scene have different levels of quality.

Overall, however, the good far outweighs the bad…certain parts of the film may need some restoration efforts, but most of it works quite well, and should satisfy Hitchcock fans.

Audio **

The mono soundtrack is serviceable if not spectacular…occasional bits of background noise are evident in some of the quieter scenes, but apart from that, dialogue renders very well, as do the music and odd sound effects.

Features ****

This is another impressive extras package from Criterion.  For starters, there are two commentary tracks that are both excellent listens.  One is Hitchcock scholar Marion Keane, recorded in 1990, and the other is historian Rudy Behlmer, recorded this year.  The first track is great, with plenty of historical information about Hitch, his actors, and the process of the film, but the second is even better.  Behlmer is a terrific speaker and the wealth of knowledge he shares on his track is worthy and impressive.

The disc also features another Criterion radio recording, the hour long 1948 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast of Notorious with Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten.  You can turn off your television set and just sit back and listen.  I love these old programs myself, and thanks to Criterion DVDs, I’m starting to acquire quite a collection of them.

The Notorious dossier contains plenty of extras, including production and publicity photos, a look at the rear projection shots in both picture and video forms, production correspondence, a handful of trailers and teasers identified by their tag lines, script excerpts for scenes that were never filmed, including a different ending, a brief newsreel clip of Hitchcock and Bergman, excerpts from the original Saturday Morning Post story “The Song of the Dragon” which inspired the screenplay, plus an isolated music and effects track.  A superior package worthy of one of the master’s best films!

Summary:

Notorious is simply one of those pictures that no one who truly loves movies should miss.  It demonstrates an already great and established director growing in both style and technique, it features an unforgettable and influential story, and boasts a trio of great performances that help bring style and substance together.  This is another prize DVD offering from Criterion, too…very highly recommended.