Cary Grant to Ingrid Bergman: ‘Dry your eyes, baby – it’s out of character.’ Is he kidding? These two are lovers and fellow US agents performing an elaborate tango of distrust and self-abnegation in Hitch’s swooning, often cruel 1946 masterpiece. Bergman’s the ‘loose’, free-living daughter of a convicted Nazi, persuaded by Grant to abandon the high life in Miami to fly down to Rio to infiltrate Claude Rains’s ugly set of wealthy National Socialist conspirators, with their cellar of uranium-filled Pommard.
Uniting Bergman and Rains, ‘Notorious’ has obvious links and makes a superb post-war companion to ‘Casablanca’, although it’s stripped of any of that film’s outlandish, if stirring, sentimentality. More than that, it’s fascinating how this romantic thriller refers to Hitchcock’s finest work: from the oh-so emotive use of silent-era close-up and the playfully sado-masochistic pairings in his British-made adventures, to the cinematic purity and dramatic clarity achieved in ‘North by Northwest’.
The script by the great Ben Hecht and Clifford Odets may give the film an iron structure and add a bracing, hard-boiled edge to its psychologically acute dialogue, and Ted Tetzlaff’s finely shaded cinematography may provide the film’s striking visuals, but it’s the accuracy, efficiency and control of Hitchcock’s direction that most impress. They enable him to dovetail the film’s thriller format and romantic story to dizzying, expressive and unique effect.
Here’s an anatomy of a love affair where the story’s intimations of betrayal and loyalty, deceit and openness, honour and irresponsibility, suspicion and surrender, are mapped out on the faces of the main protagonists with such expert montage, mise-en-scène and editing that the film could run silent and you’d hardly miss a nuance. Not to mention the acting: Bergman was never more radiant and sexy nor vulnerable. But Grant is the revelation. It’s, arguably, the great actor’s most untypical, troubled performance – not least because he is often shot from behind. Watch how, in the clinches, he always kisses with his mouth closed. This guy is a mess of contradictions and duplicities. Which only serves to intensify the power of his final, hard-earned redemption and crown the film with a finale of almost Bressonian impact. A great film.
Cast and crew
The best of Hitchcockâ€™s 2nd tier of b/w films made in the 40s.It has inspired casting of Grant as Devlin,the intelligence agent and Bergman as Alicia Hubermann,daughter of a Nazi traitor.The MaGuffin is atomic material mixed in with sand in winebottles. Devlin is mysteriously interposed into the action:you see Alicia ministering to his sillouette at a party she has thrown.She is being used by the intelligence services therefore groomed to infiltrate a Nazi syndicate in Rio.Devlin uses emotional blackmail and manipulation of her love for him.Claude Raines is a sympathetic Nazi villain whose bed she is to share.He genuinely loves her,but has a sinister,controlling mother.Bergman portrays a beautiful woman who out of love becomes exposed to great danger by Grant who because he thinks she is (promiscuous and dipsomaniac) a certain sort of woman becomes callous and then rides into the rescue when he realizes her plight.She is prepared to marry Raines out of love for Grant. There is some clever camera work when the camera zooms down from above in the Naziâ€™s house in Rio at the post honeymoon party.We close in on the key in her hand that will unlock the mystery in the wine cellar.Hitchcockâ€™s movement of the camera up and down stairs ratchets up the tension.Grant has to climb the stairs to find the poisoned Bergman in bed and he protects her and moves with her down the stairs in full view of Raines,his mother and the gathered Naziâ€™s.The last scene is a beautiful delight of romantic liberation.Raines ascent of stairs back into the house is his death walk as Bergman and Grant are driven away in the waiting car.As in Vertigo there is a centralizing scene of a kiss about the central couple.