The sexiest and most mature of all Alfred Hitchcock’s films, Notorious is also one of his most suspenseful movies. It’s a torchy love story set among dangerous ex-Nazis in Rio de Janeiro, with Ingrid Bergman putting her life in danger to prove to the American agent she loves that she has become an honest woman. Beautifully shot in black and white, all of Hitchcock’s mastery drives a story that is thrilling right up to the end.
This review contains plot spoilers.
When her German immigrant father is convicted of treason in 1945, beautiful Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) goes on a binge. Her reputation as a party girl has been well earned, so American agent T. R. Devlin (Cary Grant) tries to keep some distance as he prepares to recruit her to spy on her father’s old friends, but he can’t seem to help getting involved with her. Although she claims not to care about it, Devlin has wiretapped proof that she is a patriot and so he gets her to fly to Rio de Janeiro for a job.
By the time she is settled in Rio, Alicia is in love Devlin and she goes off of alcohol and dedicates herself to him, but he doesn’t quite believe her. He is still suspicious that she will take another lover when she can.
Her job is to hook up Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains), one of her father’s friends who made advances to her in the past. She practically begs Devlin to tell her not to take the job, but he thinks that she should refuse it on her own. This test of wills leads her to accept the challenge. She is successful with Sebastian, but he keeps seeing her with Devlin and suspects that she may not really love him. He dares her to prove her loyalty by marrying him. Alicia brings her dilemma to the American agents, all of whom want to leave the decision up to her, except for Devlin. In love with her and angry that she has actually taken Sebastian for a lover, he advises her to go through with the marriage.
Alicia becomes convinced that whatever Sebastian is hiding is kept in his wine cellar, but he has the only to it. On Devlin’s urging, she steals the key and plans to investigate during a large party. She invites Devlin and the two of them sneak away during the party to look in the wine cellar. He accidentally breaks a wine bottle and it is full of uranium. Although he cleans up the mess and they make their escape, Sebastian has discovered that his key is missing when he goes to get more wine. He sees Devlin and Alicia together and they kiss to cover their escape from the wine cellar. Sebastian sees them and realizes that Alicia doesn’t really love him, then, when his key appears on his key ring the next morning, he realizes that she is a spy.
At the urging of his mother (Leopoldine Konstantin), they begin a slow process of poisoning Alicia. When she grows more and more ill, she cannot make a meeting with Devlin and he becomes suspicious. He goes to the house to investigate and finds her deathly ill. Confessing his love for her, he takes her from the house right in front of all of the Germans. Sebastian begs to go along with them, but Devlin refuses, leaving Sebastian to face the wrath of his ex-Nazi friends.
In its restored version, this black and white film is absolutely beautiful. Ingrid Bergman was made for the black and white film medium and the camera certainly loves her beauty. Alicia is a very complicated role and her performance is dynamic and powerful. Likewise, Cary Grant plays Devlin as a very complicated man and gives probably the best performance of his career, nuanced and detailed. Hitchcock uses his camera masterfully, creating some of the best shots of any of his films.
The suspense in this movie is palpable, at times so thick that it is almost impossible to watch, but the story is so compelling it is difficult to turn away. The kisses between Bergman and Grant are incredibly sexy. In one shot, they kiss, nuzzle, talk, and kiss over and over again for minutes. The movie also contains one of Hitchcock’s most well known shots, a long crane shot from the second floor of the house, moving inexorably down to a close-up of Bergman’s hand, behind her back, holding the key.
Written by Hollywood’s legendary screen writer, Ben Hecht, Notorious is a masterpiece that must be included among the very best of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies and it should be seen by everyone!
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