Alfred Hitchcock teams up with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Notorious and the result is one of the greatest classics in his filmography.
The film is one of four Hitchcock films starring Grant, joining Suspicion, To Catch A Thief, and my personal favorite, North by Northwest. David O. Selznick tried for Joseph Cotten in the Grant role but it was to no avail. The producer did, however, get his way with casting Claude Rains in the film. Hitchcock wanted Clifton Webb but casting Rains turned out to be a smart decision. Rains plays the role with a English accent although a German accent would have been authentic to the role. Funny enough, this would be a complete Hitchcock production when all was said and done. Anyway, Hitchcock already followed Hitler’s rise in his earlier British and American films, including Foreign Correspondent and Lifeboat. While Notorious takes place after World War II, the writing process started far earlier in 1944. In any event, it is his first film to explore a world without Hitler.
U.S. intelligence agent T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant) recruits Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman)–her father was a Nazi spy–for a mission in Rio de Janeiro. She is hesitant at first but Devlin has ways of winning her over, including recordings of talking with her father. After falling in love with Devlin, Alicia learns that she’s going to have to seduce IG Farben executive Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains). It just so happens that the executive had previously been in love with her. Sebastian, like many Nazis of the era, is hiding out in Brazil.
The plot moves forward but one cannot help but feel this sense of sadness at watching Alicia accept Sebastian’s proposal. Even though they marry, Alicia still helps Devlin with advancing the mission. One could say that the marriage may as well just be a front for accomplishing the mission. Anyway, Devlin breaks a bottle of wine, only to discover that the black sand is uranium ore. The film ends with a happy ending for Devlin and Alicia but only after Alicia suffers at the hands of Sebastian and his mother, Madame Anna Sebastian (Madame Konstantin). Sebastian gets what’s coming to him–after all, he is a Nazi.
Behind the camera, Hitchcock teams up with screenwriter Ben Hecht. Hecht gets sole screenwriting credit and an Oscar nomination but this was very much a collaboration. It was Hitchcock’s idea to add the part about collecting uranium. If you’re not familiar with Hecht’s story, give Against the Tide a watch. Hecht was very much a Jewish activist of his era–Peter Bergson and Hecht’s activism would influence Jewish activism as it exists today–and it also shows in the script. Anyway, the script focuses on the idea that the surviving Nazis were working to build a bomb. Details about the atomic bomb had already been released by the time that production commenced. An earlier meeting between Hitchcock, Hecht, and a Caltech professor led Hitchcock to believe the FBI was following him.
The film features stunning cinematography from Ted Tetzlaff. We get a high crane shot that ends up zooming in on the key in Ingrid Bergman’s hand! Say what you will about Hitchcock’s other films but the visuals here are just amazing. It’s not just the lighting but how Tetzlaff and Hitchcock are framing the images. The tracking shots at the party speaks for itself. How the cinematography does not get an Oscar nomination is beyond me.
Roy Webb scores the film although it’s not much in terms of a memorable score. It’s nothing like Bernard Herrmann’s work with Hitchcock. At the very least, it gets the job done.
Next to Hecht, the other Oscar nomination was for Supporting Actor (Claude Rains). Rains delivers a sympathetic performance as the Nazi. Curiously, I wonder how they would write the role today–would it be sympathetic or sadistic? Anyway, AFI would later honor the film with a ranking in 100 Years, 100 Thrills (38) and 100 Years, 100 Passions (86). Hecht’s script was also named as 101st of the 101 Greatest Screenplays by the WGA.
Notorious beautifully mixes a love story and espionage with stunning performances from Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in the 1946 classic.
DIRECTOR: Alfred Hitchcock
SCREENWRITER: Ben Hecht
CAST: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, with Claude Rains, Louis Calhern, Lepoldine Konstantin (as Madame Konstantin), Reinhold Schunzel, Moroni Olsen, Ivan Triesault, Alex Minotis
RKO released Notorious in theaters on September 6, 1946. Grade: 4.5/5
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