Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
Notorious (1946)
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Notorious (1946) is a classic Hitchcockian post-war psychological suspense/thriller. The basis of the film came from the 1921 Saturday Evening Post two-part short story "The Song of the Dragon" by John Taintor Foote. The master of suspense created a compelling spy mission interwoven with a romantic love story. The dark, intricate film is thematically concerned with both political (and sexual) betrayal and issues of trust, friendship, and duty embodied in the characters' relationships. It was remade in 1992 as a TV-movie, with John Shea as Devlin, Jenny Robertson as Alicia, Jean-Pierre Cassel as Sebastian, and Marisa Berenson as Katarina.

Hitchcock tells the subtle tale of a beautiful but confused and agonized American spy (Ingrid Bergman) with a reputation for loose living as a playgirl (she is the American-born daughter of a convicted Nazi sympathizer) who unwillingly infiltrates an evil German cartel by marrying the Rio-based enemy leader living there incognito. A love triangle develops between three of the characters - the Nazi villain, a federal agent, and the woman. After seducing (and betraying) her loving husband, she begins to feel perilous menace from both the man she really loves - an icy, seemingly insensitive and cruel American intelligence agent (Cary Grant) on the assignment - and her husband (Claude Rains), a man who is fixated with and controlled by his overcritical, partly-jealous mother figure (Leopoldine Konstantin). In the film's twisted finale, Bergman is rescued before her untimely death from poisoning.

One of Hitchcock's best and most popular films, his ninth American film, it is most notable for its use of a realistic MacGuffin - something around which the film's plot revolves. In this film, the 'red herring' narrative device is a sample of uranium concealed in sand within wine bottles, a top-secret substance needed to manufacture an atomic weapon. The specific mention of uranium in Ben Hecht's screenplay was timely and prescient - the atom bomb had just been dropped on Japan a few months before shooting began on the film. Originally, the MacGuffin for this film was to have been diamonds.

Another subtle symbol in the film is a key, and a third major motif is the drinking of lethal substances (either alcohol or poison) - to either seek refuge from reality or to bring harm. The most celebrated segments in the film are a marathon, prolonged erotic kissing scene (that circumvented the 'three-second' censor's restrictions), a swooping camera crane shot down to an extreme closeup of the wine-cellar key held in Bergman's hand (posters for the film always included a key motif), the wine-cellar sequence, and the suspenseful final scene with masterful inter-cutting.

As with many Hitchcock films, it was not lauded by its contemporary critics, and received only two Academy Award nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Claude Rains) and Best Original Screenplay (Ben Hecht). Stars Cary Grant (with his second of four appearances for Hitchcock) and Ingrid Bergman (with her second of three appearances), both at the height of their careers as a glamorous leading man and sultry beauty respectively, were denied nominations. The film's producer, David O. Selznick, had originally wanted Vivien Leigh for Ingrid Bergman's role.

Plot Synopsis

The credits are played above a view of the city of Miami, Florida in April 1946, set low on the horizon. A title sets the location and time: "Miami, Florida, Three-Twenty P.M., April the Twenty-Fourth, Nineteen Hundred and Forty-Six..." The film begins with a closeup of a hand holding a camera with a flashbulb. The camera then pans across a group of reporters and photographers who are lined up outside the door of the U.S. District Court. A bailiff peeks through a partially-opened courtroom doorway, viewing inside the courtroom an impenitent defendant (flanked by lawyers) objecting to his sentencing for treason - and threatening a dire prediction the "next time":

You can put me away, but you can't put away what's going to happen to you and to this whole country. Next time, next time we are going to...

The man on trial is the notorious Nazi fifth-columnist, John Huberman (Fred Nurney), found guilty of treason against the United States and sentenced to 20 years in a penitentiary. The court is adjourned. Someone calls out: "Here she comes!" swinging the doors open. As the courtroom audience exits, the camera follows the face of a silent young woman with a black, broad-brimmed hat. Called "Miss Huberman" by the male reporters, she is assailed with flashbulb photographs and probing questions from several newsmen regarding the convicted German man, her father. As she passes out of view and the crowd passes by, the camera focuses on two other suspicious-looking men. One says to the other: "Let us know if she tries to leave town."

That evening, a wild party is held in a middle-class residence in Miami. In a lengthy take, the beautiful young, spoiled, playgirl daughter, Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) banters with the guests and drinks heavily. Her first major line of dialogue in the film portrays her emotional pain:

The important drinking hasn't started yet.

A bemused, soused couple speaks about "fish" - as she serves a drink to an unknown "handsome" man viewed only from behind as a darkened, silhouette of a head. One of Alicia's friends asserts that she brought him - he's not a "party crasher." Embittered, Alicia discusses how she is a "marked woman" and followed constantly by police [an ironic statement since she will be followed for most of the film by government agents and the male lead silently sitting in her company]:

I hate low, under-handed people like policemen, pussy-footing after you. Of course, I'm a marked woman, you know? I'm liable to blow up the Panama Canal any minute now.

Feeling pain after her father's imprisonment, her plan is to escape the attentions of the press and police - and her entire existence - by leaving the next day for a holiday on a sailing cruise ship to Havana with the Commodore (Charles Mendl): "We'll just sail away":

Drunk Guest: You show me a fish and I'll show you a liar.
Alicia: What this party needs is a little gland treatment.
Commodore: We'd better start breaking up, Alicia. We have to be on board at nine. One week in Havana and this whole thing about your father will have blown over.
Alicia: Do you love me, Commodore?
Commodore: You're a very beautiful woman.
Alicia: I'll have another drink to appreciate that.

The silent, dark stranger sits perfectly still and unresponsive, watching her thirst (for attention and ultimately for love - the "gland treatment" she spoke about) being satiated by drink. Brightly lit and animated, Alicia acts romantically footloose and flirts with him: "You know something? I like you." After all the guests have left her "perfectly hideous party," an inebriated Alicia on a drinking binge sits alone at the table, eyeing the cool, tall, well-dressed man as they finish the last of the drinks. He slyly notes her self-destructive alcoholism:

Stranger: There's one more drink left apiece. It's a shame about the ice.
Alicia: What is?
Stranger: Gone.
Alicia: Who's gone?
Stranger: The ice.

She smiles and giggles as she notes her appreciation of love songs: "There's nothing like a love song to give you a good laugh." Because it's "stuffy" in the house, she invites him to a "picnic" in a provocative, double-entendre laden conversation, linked to him by drinking out of the same glass:

Alicia: It's too stuffy in here for a picnic. Do you want to finish that? (gesturing toward his drink)
Stranger: It's a shame to leave it. (He downs most of the drink)
Alicia: You're quite a boy. (She finishes his drink) My car is outside.
Stranger: Naturally.
Alicia: Do you wanna go for a ride?
Stranger: Very much. What about your guests?
Alicia: They'll crawl out under their own steam. I'm, I'm gonna drive. That's, that's understood.
Stranger: Don't you need a coat?
Alicia: You'll do.

When they go outside into the breezy evening air, he notices that she has a bare midriff. Exhibiting his puritanical nature, he covers her nakedness with his scarf: "Wait a minute. Let me put this on you. You might catch cold." [A symbolic gesture, repressing and covering up her bold and aggressive sexuality.] Alicia takes him for a drive - as she recklessly weaves along the palm-fringed road, she drunkenly asks if he is scared. He replies that he isn't, but his hand is positioned near the wheel, ready to take control if necessary. She complains that she cannot see because of the "fog" until it is found that her view is obscured by her hair covering her eyes. She dares to go even faster than 65 mph to wipe the self-possessed, controlling look off his face:

I want to make it 80 and wipe that grin off your face. I don't like gentlemen who grin at me.

A motorcycle cop chases after them, but then apologizes and backs off when the stranger passes his identification card in front of her. The officer salutes him and rides off. Expecting a ticket for drunk driving, a drunken Alicia asks him: "Where's the ticket?" And then she discovers his name is T. R. Devlin (Cary Grant) [a symbolic, diabolical name]. Furious, she accuses him of being another cop who has been deliberately hanging around her as a "double-crossing buzzard - you're a cop!...a federal cop crashing my're trailing me to get something on me." When she struggles with him to get him out of the car, he attempts to take her home. Finally, he must knock her out with a quick punch to her jaw (slightly hidden from view) to take over the driver's wheel.

The next morning, after waking up with a tremendous hang-over, Alicia finds the unwelcome Devlin still there. He is coaxing her to drink a glass of juice next to her bed (photographed prominently in the foreground) - a cure for her hangover. She notices him standing shadowy and menacing in the doorway. In a visually distorted, point-of-view shot, Alicia's head spins 180 degrees. Devlin's slightly-angled image turns clockwise as he approaches until he is shown standing upside down. She disgustingly calls him a "copper," suspicious of his motivations to cure and revive her. He explains that he is an American intelligence officer with a secret mission to enlist her to infiltrate and spy on the Rio de Janeiro home of her father's old associates ("German gentry") - they are part of I. G. Farben, a world-wide German chemical cartel still at large in Brazil.

Because she is the daughter of a convicted Nazi spy and presumably resents the imprisonment of her father, she would be trusted by her father's top Nazi associates - and thereby above suspicion to flush them out:

Alicia: What's this all about, huh? What's your angle?
Devlin: What angle?
Alicia: About last night.
Devlin: Just wanted to be friends.
Alicia: Friends, yeah. You could frame me, hmm?
Devlin: No, I've got a job for ya.
Alicia: (unsteadily) Oh well, don't tell me. There's only, oh, there's only one job that you coppers would want me for. Well you can forget it Mr....
Devlin: Devlin.
Alicia: What?
Devlin: Devlin.
Alicia: I'm no stool-pigeon, Mr. Devlin.
Devlin: My department authorized me to engage you to do some work for us. There's a job in Brazil.
Alicia: Oh, go away. The whole thing bores me.
Devlin: Some of the German gentry who are paying your father are working in Rio. Ever hear of the I. G. Farben Industries?
Alicia: I tell you, I'm not interested.
Devlin: Farben has men in South America, planted there before the war. They're cooperating with the Brazilian government to smoke them out. My chief thinks that the daughter of a, uh...
Alicia: A traitor?
Devlin: Well, he thinks you might be valuable in the work. They might sell their trust to you. And you could make up a little for your daddy's peculiarities.
Alicia: Why should I?
Devlin: Patriotism.
Alicia: That word gives me a pain. No thank you. I don't go for patriotism, nor, or patriots.
Devlin: I could dispute that with you.
Alicia: Waving the flag with one hand and picking pockets with the other. That's your patriotism. Well, you can have it.

After her initial reluctance, Devlin must contradict her claims to persuade and convince the "hard-boiled" lady to atone for her father's sins and accept his offer. He plays a recording of an argument that she had with her father in Miami Beach, Florida on January 9, 1946. It is "some of the evidence that wasn't used at the trial" in which she opposed her father and refused to work for him. She repudiated her father and claimed that he betrayed the United States, and she expressed her love, patriotism and loyalty to the US:

Alicia: I told you before Christmas I wouldn't do it.
Father: You can use your judgment. You can have anything you want. The work is easy.
Alicia: I won't listen, Father.
Father: This is not your country, is it?
Alicia: My mother was born here. We had a right of citizenship.
Father: Where is your judgment? In your feelings you are German. You've got to listen to me. You don't know what we stand for.
Alicia: I know what you stand for - you and your murderous swine. I've hated you ever since I found out.
Father: My daughter don't talk to me like that.
Alicia: Stay on your side of the table.
Father: Alicia, put your voice down.
Alicia: I hate you all. And I love this country. Do you understand that? I love it. I'll see you all hang before I raise a finger against it. Now go on and get out of here. So help me, I'll turn you in. Don't ever come near nor speak to me again about your rotten schemes.

Sobered after listening to the conversation, Alicia still maintains that she wasn't a traitor: "I didn't turn him in." However, she refuses to be involved in Devlin's "rotten schemes." Resisting his offer, she objects:

Go away and leave me alone. I have my own life to lead. Good times. That's what I want, and laughs with people I like. And no underhanded cops who want to put me up in a shooting gallery, but people of my own kind, who treat me right and like me and understand me.

The Commodore, who is planning on taking Alicia on a sail to Havana, leans in the doorway and notifies her of their departure. Alicia must decide between leaving immediately, or joining Devlin on a plane the next day to Rio. She reluctantly agrees to undertake the mission to help the US government, and cancels her holiday plans.

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