Tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema classic, Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious, is a masterpiece of suspense, love, mystery and seduction. It’s one of my favorite films. When men were men and women were women and sex was mysterious and glorious. Superb.
The virtuoso sequences — the long kiss, the crane shot into the door key — are justly famous, yet the film’s real brilliance is in its subtle and detailed portrayal of infinitely perverse relationships.
Written by one of Hollywood’s greatest screenwriters, Ben Hecht, the film stars Cary Grant as a charming and unscrupulous government agent and Ingrid Bergman as a woman of low repute whom he morally blackmails into marrying a Nazi leader (Claude Rains, in a stunning performance).
By Bosley Crowther
Published: August 16, 1946
It is obvious that Alfred Hitchcock, Ben Hecht, and Ingrid Bergman form a team of motion-picture makers that should be publicly and heavily endowed. For they were the ones most responsible for Spellbound, as director, writer, and star, and now they have teamed together on another taut, superior film. It goes by the name of Notorious and it opened yesterday at the Music Hall. With Cary Grant as an additional asset, it is one of the most absorbing pictures of the year.
For Mr. Hecht has written and Mr. Hitchcock has directed in brilliant style a romantic melodrama which is just about as thrilling as they come—velvet smooth in dramatic action, sharp and sure in its characters, and heavily charged with the intensity of warm emotional appeal. As a matter of fact, the distinction of Notorious as a film is the remarkable blend of love story with expert “thriller” that it represents.
Actually, the “thriller” elements are familiar and commonplace, except in so far as Mr. Hitchcock has galvanized them into life. They comprise the routine ingredients of a South American Nazi-exile gang, an American girl set to spy upon it, and a behind-the-scenes American intelligence man. And the crux of the melodramatic action is the peril of the girl when the nature of her assignment is discovered by one of the Nazis whom she has wed.
But the rare quality of the picture is in the uncommon character of the girl and in the drama of her relations with the American intelligence man. For here Mr. Hecht and Mr. Hitchcock have done a forthright and daring thing: they have made the girl, played by Miss Bergman, a lady of notably loose morals. She is the logically cynical daughter of a convicted American traitor when she is pressed into this job of high-echelon spying by the confident espionage man. The complication is that she and the latter fall passionately and genuinely in love before the demands of her assignment upon her seductive charms are revealed. And thus the unpleasant suspicions and the lacerated feelings of the two as they deal with this dangerous major problem form the emotional drama of the film.
Obviously, that situation might seem slightly old-fashioned, too. But Mr. Hecht and Mr. Hitchcock have here treated it with sophistication and irony. There is nothing unreal or puritanical in their exposure of a frank, grown-up amour. And Miss Bergman and Mr. Grant have played it with surprising and disturbing clarity. We do not recall a more conspicuous—yet emotionally delicate—love scene on the screen than one stretch of billing and cooing that the principals play in this film. Yet, withal, there is rich and real emotion expressed by Miss Bergman in her role, and the integrity of her nature as she portrays it is the prop that holds the show.
Mr. Grant, who is exceptionally solid, is matched for acting honors in the cast by Claude Rains as the Nazi big-wig to whom Miss Bergman becomes attached. Mr. Rains’s shrewd and tense performance of this invidious character is responsible for much of the anguish that the situation creates. Reinhold SchŸnzel and Ivan Triesault are good, too, as Nazi worms, and a splendid touch of chilling arrogance as a German mother is added by Madame Konstantin. Louis Calhern and Moroni Olsen are fine in minor American roles.
Check up another smash hit for a fine and experienced team.
Produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock; written by Ben Hecht; cinematographer, Ted Tetzlaff; edited by Theron Warth; music by Roy Webb; art designers, Albert S. D’Agostino and Carroll Clark; released by RKO Radio Pictures. Black and white. Running time: 101 minutes.
With: Cary Grant (Devlin), Ingrid Bergman (Alicia Huberman), Claude Rains (Alexander Sebastian), Louis Calhern (Paul Prescott), Madame Konstantin (Mrs. Sebastian), Reinhold SchŸnzel (Dr. Anderson), Moroni Olsen (Walter Beardsley), Ivan Triesault (Eric Mathis), Alex Minotis (Joseph), Wally Brown (Mr. Hopkins), and Sir Charles Mendl (Commodore).