Review by Michael Jacobson
Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Raines
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Features: See Review
Length: 102 Minutes
Release Date: October 16, 2001
is a strange love affair.”
strange about it?”
fact that you don’t love me.”
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!