Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Notorious.
Notorious is my favorite Hitchcock movie. In my opinion it is second only to Casablanca for its combination of romance and intrigue. Like Casablanca it stars the luminous Ingrid Bergman only this time she shares the screen with Cary Grant instead of Humphrey Bogart. They make a powerful movie team and would reunite a dozen years later in director Stanley Donen's Indiscreet. Ben Hecht wrote the screenplay and Hitchcock fills the movie with his trademark camera shots and taut suspense. Add in Nazi spies and an exotic South American locale and you have all the ingredients for great film noir.
Ingrid Bergman plays Alicia Huberman daughter of a notorious German spy convicted of treason against the United States. Cary Grant is government agent T.R. Devlin. His job is to convince her to spy on a group of her father's Nazi friends who are currently based in Rio de Janeiro. The agent and the traitor's daughter fall in love and she agrees to the assignment. However things get murky when she realizes just how far she is expected to go in her mission to gain information. Devlin assumes she likes the assignment and a rift forms between them. Claude Rains plays Alex Sebastian the man she must pretend to be in love with. He has a mother complex and a wine cellar containing wine bottles filled with uranium ore (this movies MacGuffin).
Alicia and Devlin discover Sebastian's secret in the movie's most famous scene. The camera starts off high up on a staircase and then slowly zooms down towards Alicia's hand as she secretly passes the key to the wine cellar door to Devlin in the middle of a crowded room. Of course Sebastian eventually discovers that his wife (yes, she actually agrees to marry him once she realizes that she has lost Devlin) is really a spy and with the help of his domineering mother they begin poisoning her coffee. All of this leads up to the famous last walk down the staircase.
Other iconic moments include the scene where Ingrid Bergman awakens with a hangover and the camera shows her point of view as Cary Grant enters the room. He starts off upside down and then slowly rotates into view. Later these two amazingly attractive movie stars share what has been lauded as the longest screen kiss in movie history. It is actually a series of kisses rather than a single kiss, but it is certainly one of the most romantic movie moments ever. Believe me classic Hollywood movies don't get much better than this.
Claude Rains, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in Notorious.
Patrick, you are far too generous with your praise. Sure, you've got Grant and Bergman, two fabulous old-time Hollywood stars being directed by the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, but even all added together and with Claude Rains thrown in for good measure this movie doesn't come close to equaling Casablanca.
I'm a huge fan of Grant's work, but here Hitchcock has managed to suck almost all of the charm out of him. Grant's best work is when he gets to be loose and add a little comedy to his performance, but his role here is played completely straight. Grant's performances in North by Northwest and To Catch a Thief (both directed by Hitchcock) are much better showcases for his talents than this one.
Truly though Grant is the supporting actor to Bergman's star. It's an interesting idea having her character act as a spy, even going so far as to marry the man she's spying on just to get close to him, but the script doesn't do enough with it. Because this was the 1940s, even though she's the star, she still has to be rescued by the male lead. She certainly has the accent and enough exotic beauty to play a Mata Hari part, but she isn't given the opportunity.
You mention the Point of View shots that Hitchcock used, Patrick, but you don't mention all of them, because they are over-used. It was as if he had just discovered the technique and wanted to use it in nearly every scene. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but they are over-used.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the film to me is that you can see how Hitchcock's films influenced Ian Fleming when he wrote the James Bond novels. There are plot elements from this movie, as well as other Hitchcock thrillers, that turn up in many of Fleming's books. Fleming also stated in interviews that he had Grant in mind when he created the character of Bond.
I have to disagree Patrick. This movie is okay, but there are far better examples of Classic Hollywood movies than this one.
Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant
I agree with Scott. Notorious is nowhere in the same ball park as Casablanca. The only plot similarity is that they both contain the presence of some Nazi's. It has two of the same cast members, but that in and of itself, does not warrant a comparison.
The biggest difference is that Casablanca had fascinating characters that you care about. Notorious gives us the alcoholic Alicia with the morally questionable past. She drinks and acts moody most of the film. Although she is played by the beautiful Ingrid Bergman, she comes across as a bit pathetic. She falls, very quickly, in love with Devlin. She is willing to do anything he asks her to fairly easily. This includes marrying a man who has very dangerous friends.
The scene where Devlin and Alicia ride horses and pretend to accidentally meet Sebastian is ridiculous. It is so obvious a setup that Sebastian should have recognized it as such immediately. They ride slowly past him and his mother, while Alicia keeps glancing in his direction. When that does not work, Devlin kicks Alicia's horse sending her galloping off. Somehow Devlin just knew that Sebastian would take that as a sign of a damsel in distress and not just someone needing to go faster. Sebastian takes off to "rescue" her while Devlin blocks Sebastian's mother from going forward.
The most intriguing part of the story is whether or not Devlin is merely pretending to love Alicia like Alicia pretends to love Sebastian? Devlin woos her and puts her up in a nice Rio hotel. He certainly seems to like her, but he plans on using her for some espionage. Would a man send the woman he truly loves, into harms way? We can plainly see that Alicia loves him but she is never sure of his feelings.
My favorite piece of direction is when Alicia attends the party and meets Sebastian's mother. Standing in the hallway, Alicia looks up to see her descending the stairs. Alicia becomes uncomfortable. The shot stays on his mother as she walks closer and closer to Alicia. Although she smiles when she greets Alicia, there is something ominous about her. They then go into the dining room where Alicia meets the suspects in question, but none seem as threatening as Sebastian's mother.
I like how the dialog talks about sex in obscure ways. To disclose Alicia's sexual past, the script has a scene where Alicia says to Devlin, "Look, I'll make it easy for you. The time has come when you must tell me you have a wife and two adorable children... and this madness between us can't go on any longer." Devlin remarks, "Bet you've heard that line often enough." Later, to get a rise out of Devlin, Alicia says to Devlin, "You can add Sebastian's name to my list of playmates."
The biggest similarity Notorious has with Casablanca is in the romantic tone. In both films the leads are trying hard to mask their true feelings. It is in the moments when Grant and Bergman are pretending to just be friends while the prying eyes of Sebastian examines their behavior that the film is at it's most tense. In Casablanca we are never sure what Rick was going to do, while here it is all too clear.
Photos © Copyright RKO (1946)