Following the conviction of her German father for treason against the U.S., Alicia Huberman takes to drink and men. She is approached by a government agent (T.R. Devlin) who asks her to spy on a group of her father's Nazi friends operating out of Rio de Janeiro. A romance develops between Alicia and Devlin, but she starts to get too involved in her work.
Cary Grant ... T.R. Devlin
Ingrid Bergman ... Alicia Huberman
Claude Rains ... Alexander Sebastian
Louis Calhern ... Captain Paul Prescott
Leopoldine Konstantin ... Madame Anna Sebastian (as Madame Konstantin)
Reinhold Schünzel ... Dr. Anderson (as Reinhold Schunzel)
Moroni Olsen ... Walter Beardsley
Ivan Triesault ... Eric Mathis
Alex Minotis ... Joseph, Sebastian's Butler
Wally Brown ... Mr. Hopkins
Charles Mendl ... Commodore (as Sir Charles Mendl)
Ricardo Costa ... Dr. Julio Barbosa
In Alfred Hitchcock's 1946 film, `Notorious', Cary Grant plays T.R. Devlin, an American agent who employs the assistance of Alicia Huberman, (Ingrid Bergman) a German expatriate whose father has just been convicted as a German spy. Devlin brings Alicia to Brazil in hopes to arrange a meeting with Alex Sebastian (the fantastic Claude Rains); another German spy who just happens to have a history with Alicia insofar that he was in love with her. The plan is to get them together so that she can spy on Sebastian and his colleagues so that the Americans can get a leg up on their mutual espionage. Of course, love develops between Devlin and Alicia, which complicates their operation and of course, their lives.
`Notorious', despite adhering to the chaste Hayes Code of the time has some of the steamiest scenes between two actors that I can recall during that era. While the scenes never get beyond the standard close-ups of their kisses, the chemistry is a heavy physical presence. The acting in `Notorious' is top-notch; Grant and Bergman were at their best during this era. Claude Rains, who is a personal favorite of mine, is absolutely fabulous in this film. He gives his character, who should be hateful, a humanistic quality that makes him an even more complicated figure. Screenwriter Ben Hecht and Hitchcock team up for some pretty intense moments in `Notorious', and compliment each others styles and talents wonderfully. There are not many nail-biting moments in `Notorious', but the script is excellent. Coupled with the superior acting and direction, `Notorious' is certainly a Hitchcock film that should not be missed.
*Notorious* may not be Hitchcock's greatest film, but it may very well be his most perfect film. Rarely is a viewer treated to so much talent in all areas of film creation: Hitch directing, Gregg Toland photographing, Ben Hecht writing, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains acting. And everyone is firing on all cylinders.
What gives *Notorious* its singularity amongst the pantheon of Hitchcock's masterpieces is the highly symbolic, literate, and penetrating script by Hecht. Nominally, the film is about the OSS (the pre-natal version of the CIA) using a compromised young daughter of a condemned, unrepentant Nazi to infiltrate a cell of German expatriates in Rio de Janeiro just after the close of the Second World War. The plot hinges on some nonsense involving "uranium ore" stuffed in wine bottles in the cellar of Claude Rains' mansion. In actuality, the film is nothing less than a dark fugue on alcoholism, and secondarily (and of most interest to the director), invasion of privacy. Thirdly, we are treated to some more of the Master's endless fascination with Freudian slop: yet again, we get the Oedipus Complex in all its ardor, with a domineering old bat wielding the motherly whip-hand on Rains' cuckolded, castrated, romantic ex-pat Nazi.
But Hecht is interested primarily in alcoholism, and Hitchcock obligingly complies, utilizing a dizzying myriad of symbols and reference points. In the original script, Bergman's Alicia is something of a whore: the filmmakers were forced by the censors to tone this aspect down, thereby bringing Alicia's dependence on booze to the forefront. Indeed, Bergman spends much of her screen-time woozy-headed, whether from alcohol or poisonous coffee (symbolically functioning as the same thing). Very early in the film, she declares at a party, "The important drinking hasn't started yet!" Exactly. Throughout the movie, Bergman drinks in order to escape her unpleasant circumstances or to wash away bouts of low self-esteem. A bottle of champagne bought by Grant becomes a phallic symbol: he forgets it at the offices of the OSS, with arid results when he arrives home to Bergman. Wine bottles are literally the "key" to the plot. Spilled wine in a sink blows her cover. And late in the proceedings, the simple physical act of drinking -- coffee, yes, but the point comes across -- almost kills her.
There's much more going on here -- too much for a short review, really. Let's finish by asserting that Hitchcock's Forties period was every bit as cinematic as his later, grander, colorized period in the Fifties and Sixties. The slowly swooping shot from the crane, starting from high atop the ceiling of a ballroom and ending up focused on the wine cellar key in Bergman's hand, is merely one famous bravura moment. There are many others:
Grant approaching a hungover Bergman in bed, in which the camera takes her up-ended POV quite literally; Bergman, overcome with poison, hallucinating the figures of Rains and his mother into monstrous shadows that grow larger and larger, eventually merging into one darkness; the two great tracking shots of Grant and Bergman kissing in her Rio apartment and later when Grant rescues her from her poison bed. The trailers for *Notorious* were already calling Hitchcock the "Master of Suspense" . . . it's easy to see why.
As for the performances? Cary Grant proves to be a true soldier, spending much of his screen-time either expressionless or with his back turned to the camera (!), unselfishly giving the film to Bergman, even though his part is actually the more interesting one. Bergman, meanwhile, gives one of the best performances of her illustrious career. No two Bergman roles are quite the same; Hitchcock wisely allows her to do some of her own interpretation, particularly early on during the "character-building" scenes (before the plot moves all the characters into their appointed places on the chessboard). Perhaps best of all, both Grant and Bergman were at the very peak of the physical charms: the movie is some serious eye-candy for both genders.
One of Hitchcock's most thrilling examinations of psychosexual ambiguity, with the Grant-Bergman relationship veering from an initial meet-cute to genuine (beautifully conveyed) mutual delight to sadistic manipulation - he makes a whore of her and forces the fact again and again into her face, seldom giving an inch until the very end, where his change of heart has a largely tacked on feeling. We first see him from behind, quietly, predatorily watching at one of her drunken parties; they go for a drive and we see his hand poised to grab the wheel even as he pretends to submit himself to her drunken control over the car - it sets the tone, for Grant never relents on his desire to possess her, and reacts all too like a spurned lover to events, belittling her love even as she continually reasserts it; the callousness with which he distances himself from her after learning of her assignment is breathtaking. The main plot can hardly match the complexity of the central relationship, even though it's an excellently constructed yarn, with the fine set pieces of the party and the ultimate escape, which is essentially a battle between Rains and Grant for possession of the weakened Bergman - a finale which emphasizes how she's always been a prisoner, of her father's myth, of the male system, of her own emotions.
* Director Cameo: [Alfred Hitchcock] About an hour in, drinking champagne at the party in Alexander Sebastian's mansion.
* Alfred Hitchcock claimed that the FBI had him under surveillance for three months because the film dealt with uranium.
* Producer David O. Selznick originally wanted Vivien Leigh to play Alicia.
* David O. Selznick sold the rights to RKO Pictures in order to finance part of Duel in the Sun (1946), which was over-budget and behind schedule.
* Director Trademark: [Alfred Hitchcock] [stairs] Final scene takes place on stairs.
* Both Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman found the famous kissing scene quite problematic, according to Alfred Hitchcock, because of the complicated blocking that needed to be remembered in the several long takes that it took to shoot it.
* Alfred Hitchcock and 'Ben Hecht' consulted Nobel Prize winner Dr. Robert Millikan on how to make an atomic bomb. He refused to answer, but confirmed that the principal ingredient, uranium, could fit in a wine bottle.
* RKO bought David O. Selznick's package, consisting of 'Ben Hecht' , Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant and 'Ingrid Bergman' , for $800,000 and fifty percent of the profits.
* Ethel Barrymore was offered the part of "Madame Sebastian" but turned it down.
* Lester Dorr was cast as a motorcycle policeman but was cut from the released print.
* The legendary on-again, off-again kiss between Cary Grant and 'Ingrid Bergman' was intended to flaunt then-current film code regulations that restricted the length of kisses to only a couple of seconds each.
* Claude Rains was made to stand on a box for several of his scenes with Ingrid Bergman. This gives the strange effect that Rains and Cary Grant are both slightly taller than Bergman, while Grant was actually about 7 inches taller than Rains.
* After filming had ended, Cary Grant kept the famous UNICA key. A few years later he gave the key to his great friend and co-star Ingrid Bergman, saying that the key had given him luck and hoped it would do the same for her. Decades later at a tribute to their director Alfred Hitchcock, Bergman went off-script and presented the key to him, to his surprise and delight.
* The set used in this film for the interior of the house of Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains) can also be seen in the RKO production The Locket (1946) as the house of Mrs. Willis (Katherine Emery). This is especially noticeable in scenes filmed in the part of the set representing the second floor corridor.
* Leopoldine Konstantin played the mother of Claude Rains but in real life she was only 4 years older than Rains.