Thursday, 5 July 2012

Notorious (1946)

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Notorious is one of my all time favourite films. I think it'd have to be my favourite Hitchcock of all time. I know it isn't the scariest or perhaps his biggest masterpiece (Vertigo and Marnie imma lookin' at you) but in my eyes it's genius, romantic, dark and touching. So now you already know what I feel about this movie, so this review is probably going to be more like an appreciation for Notorious.

Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) is the wild socialite daugher of a convicted Nazi spy in Miami in 1946. Eager to forget everything that's happened in the past months and years, she throws a bash at her Miami bungalow. She is party crashed by American agent T R Devlin (Cary Grant) who persuades her to work undercover for the US government in Rio de Janeiro, trying to uncover Nazi organisations.

Once they get there they realise that they love each other. After they go back to Alicia's apartment in a state of lovers' bliss, Devlin is called back out to headquarters where he is told that Alicia must "catch" Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains) who is the head of a suspected group of Nazi scientists and find out what they're up to. On knowing that the Nazi Sebastian is already in love with Alicia, Devlin's view of her is changed - he now also knows she has a job to do. Alicia gets into Sebastian's home and heart easily - but will it be so easy to get out?

I could go on for pages and pages saying why and how this film is so special, but I'll try and keep it brief. First of all, this film marked a watershed for both Hitchcock and Cary Grant. It was the first real film in which Hitchcock came close to total artstic power and expression (he'd come close in 1945's Spellbound, again with Bergman).

Some of the shots in this film have since become iconic for their brave angles and extreme close-ups, especially the shot that goes all the way down from the balcony of Sebastian's huge house right up to an extreme close-up of Ingrid Bergman's hand with the wine cellar key... right. Now comes the time when I feel I need to share some goss on the Notorious wine-cellar key.

The Key To The Wine-Cellar

In Notorious there is a scene where Ingrid Bergman steals the key to Sebastian's cellar and at a party he is holding, and goes down there with Cary Grant to look for the secret substance that they suspect the Germans are amassing in a plot to create an atomic weapon. The tension builds and builds until it climaxes with Claude Rains confronting Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman about their relationship. The key was used throughout the film and was seen as such a strong symbol that it was decided to be used as the main component of their publicity campaign.


At the end of filming that same prop key was presented to Cary Grant to symbolise Notorious as a key that will hopefully "open new doors in his career." Cary Grant, Alfred Hitchcock and Ingrid Bergman formed a tight-knit friendship group on that filmset and it was a friendship that lasted the rest of their lives. In the many years of their friendship that same key was swapped around and given to each other as a good luck charm - and as a kind of token of hope that the recipient's life will get better in the future.

Cary Grant shows a new side unseen before this point in his career. He plays Devlin with a sort of sensitivity that still lets the hard side of his character show through. Ingrid Bergman is again wonderful in her role as wild Alicia Huberman.

There are many moments, especially *PLOT SPOILER* when she first realises what's going on with the coffee, that I actually am near to tears... her last scene with Cary Grant is so emotional... ALL MY CREYS!!!

Obviously I can't go through this review without at least noting the extreme chemistry between Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant. All their scenes together are so romantic and probably just about perfect. Of course there's the famous kissing scene that defied all the laws of the production code.

The code states that no kiss onscreen may be longer than 3 seconds long. Now Hitchcock's idea was that Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant never actually let go of each other. They simply interspersed 3 second long kisses with "cheek-to-cheek intensity" (as I think ye olde worlde wide webe sayeth). The actors were both very concerned and uncomfortable about being... attached for so long onscreen. When they voiced their concerns with their director he simply said, "I don't care what you feel like, I know what'll look good on screen." or something like that. (Let's just bear in mind that this is the man who called Ingrid Bergman "The Human Sink" because of her Martini downing skills.)

Also - can we just take a moment to appreciate the fact that Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant didn't get married and have eight babies and live happily ever after?

Claude Rains is so scary. He really is quite an extra-ordinary actor. He manages to be cowardly and feeble yet still scare the hell out of me at the same time...

Yet he isn't as damn scary as is crazy milkmaid-plait wearing mother. She is on another level of creepy. There is one line I absolutely love though -

So if you haven't already watched this masterpiece then go and correct this major problem. Like, now. It might be on YouTube. *Checks YouTube.* It's on YouTube. Go watch it.



Paul @ Lasso The Movies said...

This movie is so amazing. I watch it over and over and it never gets old. I didn't know about the "key" and I find that to be extremely interesting. Thanks for reminding the world of a great film. By the way are there actually people who haven't seen this yet? WOW!

readerman said...

One of Hitchcock's best for sure. I think it's Grant's best performance and Claude Rains is his usual wonderful. I love how the character of Devlin is introduced to the audience, with the shot over his shoulder. You don't know it's Grant until the camera shows him from the front.

Alyssa LM said...

i love this film. Bergman and Grant are beautiful together. great story telling by Hitchcock. i prefer his films from this period and i love his work with both leads.

Emma said...

I love this film as well. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman are a perfect match!!!

Kate Gorman said...

I love this film!

Anonymous said...

There is a scene where they are driving across a bridge. The camera follows the car as it traverses the bridge. We noticed that all the pedestrians along the sidewalk had their backs turned and appear to be looking over the railing. Seems strange. Wondered if this was one of Hitchcocks tricks?

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