The Notorious Alfred Hitchcock
The first time I watched Alfred Hitchcock's "Notorious" I thought good movie but what's all the fuss about, why do so many people rate it as one of Hitchcock's best. It forced me into watching it again to try and work out why so many people rate "Notorious" higher than the likes of "Vertigo", "Rear Window" and "Psycho". And I saw why because whilst as a thriller "Notorious" is well executed, acted wonderfully by Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant and Claude Rains as well as being shot with Hitchcock's impeccable eye for detail, it is the storyline which delivers it's own take on love and duty which makes it so good.
Following her fathers imprisonment for being a Nazi spy, Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) is approached by Intelligence Agent, Devlin (Cary Grant - To Catch a Thief) who talks her into working for the department using accusations that she helped her father as a spy. Together they head off to Mexico, where Alicia is to become a honey trap for a friend of her father's Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains - Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) who is a known Nazi sympathizer. But things become complicated when Devlin and Alicia become romantically entangled forcing each of them to battle their emotions as Devlin has to encourage her to do what ever it takes to trap Sebastian, even if it means marrying him.
So on face value "Notorious" comes across like a pretty normal thriller, woman talked into spying, finds herself in a lot of danger whilst also falling for her liaison and he comes valiantly to her rescue. You can see why on first viewing it's easy to watch "Notorious" as just another well executed Hitchcock thriller. But it has a greater depth to it than just being a spy thriller; it's a battle between love and duty. We watch Devlin and Alicia fall in love yet to do his job he has to manipulate her so that she goes along with the plan to get close to Sebastian. And how far will Alicia go to effectively spy on him, sleep with him, marry him, put her life on the line whilst all the time they both have to battle their emotions, their feelings for each other. It's brilliantly done, a lot more subtle than you might expect but turns "Notorious" from just another thriller into one which challenges your way of thinking.
Of course being an Alfred Hitchcock movie it also full of style and detail. Watching Alicia drowning her sorrows following her father's sentencing the way she drinks expresses that she doesn't enjoy it yet it helps block out reality. It's that sort of small touch which makes watching Alfred Hitchcock's "Notorious" or pretty much any Hitchcock movie a treat. And with it's thriller side, Hitchcock manages to build the storyline, this conflict over love and duty so that you do wonder not only how far Alicia will go but also how far Devlin will allow her to go before his emotional side takes over.
What also makes Alfred Hitchcock's "Notorious" special is the acting from it's 3 stars. Take Cary Grant as T.R. Devlin, on one hand you have Grant playing his usual charming, suave sophisticated self, the sort of thing he did so well in various movies. But then there is an almost dark side to him, that despite being in love he manipulates Alicia and Grant does this so effectively showing that whilst doing his job, rejecting her advances that he is in pain doing so. Claude Rains as Alexander Sebastian is equally good because whilst a Nazi sympathiser you truly get the feeling that he also loves Alicia but is equally conflicted when it becomes apparent that he has been duped. In those final scenes the look on Rains face is so brilliant that you get a real sense of the inner turmoil he faces, all the time pressured by his over bearing and manipulative mother.
But whilst Cary Grant and Claude Rains deliver assured performances it is Ingrid Bergman who is the star of Alfred Hitchcock's "Notorious". It hits you firstly how natural she is, this is a normal woman one who thanks to her father is struggling to deal with life, seeking solace in the bottle despite not overly enjoying it. But it is in her battle between doing her duty and being in love where she excels, the feeling of pain radiates from her as Devlin rejects her advances despite it being obvious that there feelings run deep and this pain continues as she is forced to explore her limits of commitment as Sebastian wants her to marry him. It's the sort of performance which you rarely see these days as Bergman becomes Alicia rather than just acts, drawing on her own emotions to effectively portray the conflicted character.
What this all boils down to is that Alfred Hitchcock's "Notorious" truly is a stunning movie, one which taken purely on face value is good as a thriller but then works at a much deeper level at which point it becomes great. It has all those aspects you expect from an Alfred Hitchcock movie, style, attention to detail but it also has a fascinating story which challenges your way of thinking when it comes to the battle between love and duty. But it is the performances of its stars Cary Grant, Claude Rains and most notably Ingrid Bergman which takes it to another level.