Tonight's Saturday Night Cinema feature delivers another film noir classic, Notorious, starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains, directed by film giant Alfred Hitchcock. And it is indeed one of his best. Naziphobia unleashed!
Love, morality and evil are given equal time in this Hitchcock thriller.
This is the film, with “Casablanca,” that assures Ingrid Bergman’s immortality. She plays a woman whose notorious reputation encourages U.S. agents to recruit her to spy on Nazis in postwar Rio. And that reputation nearly gets her killed, when the man she loves mistrusts her. His misunderstanding is at the center of a plot in which all of the pieces come together with perfect precision, so that two people walk down a staircase to their freedom, and a third person climbs steps to his doom.
Hitchcock made the film in 1946, when the war was over but the Cold War was just beginning. A few months later, he would have made the villains Communists, but as he and Ben Hecht worked on the script, Nazis were still uppermost in their minds. (An opening subtitle says: “Miami, Florida, 3:20 p.m., April 20, 1946”--admirably specific, but as unnecessary as the similarly detailed information at the beginning of “Psycho.")
The story stars Bergman as a patriotic American named Alicia Huberman, whose father is a convicted Nazi spy. Alicia is known for drinking and apparent promiscuity, and is recruited by an agent named Devlin (Cary Grant) to fly to Rio and insinuate herself into the household of a spy ring led by Sebastian (Claude Rains). Sebastian once loved her, and perhaps he still does; Devlin is essentially asking her to share the spy's bed to discover his secrets. And this she is willing to do, because by the time he asks her, she is in love--with Devlin.
All of these sexual arrangements are of course handled with the sort of subtle dialogue and innuendo that Hollywood used to get around the production code. There is never a moment when improper behavior is actually stated or shown, but the film leaves no doubt. By the time all of the pieces are in place, we actually feel more sympathy for Sebastian than for Devlin. He may be a spy but he loves Alicia sincerely, while Devlin may be an American agent but has used Alicia's love to force her into the arms of another man. (Roger Ebert)
Bosley Crowther, NY Times film review, August 16, 1946:
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' shrewd and tense performance of this invidious character is responsible for much of the anguish that the situation creates. Reinhold Schunzel 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.
On the stage at the Music Hall is a revue spectacle entitled "Colorama," featuring Estelle Sloan, Joyce Renee, Bob Williams, Rabana Hasburgh and Charles Laskey, the Corps de Ballet, Glee Cluo and Rockettes.
NOTORIOUS; screen play by Ben Hecht; directed and produced by Alfred Hitchcock for RKO-Radio Pictures. At the Radio City Music Hall.
Devlin . . . . . Cary Grant
Alicia Huberman . . . . . Ingrid Bergman
Alexander Sebastian . . . . . Claude Rains
Paul Prescott . . . . . Louis Calhern
Mme. Sebastian . . . . . Madame Konstantin
"Dr. Anderson" . . . . . Reinhold Schunzel
Walter Beardsley . . . . . Moroni Olsen
Eric Mathis . . . . . Ivan Triesault
Joseph . . . . . Alex Minotis
Mr. Hopkins . . . . . Wally Brown
Commodore . . . . . Sir Charles Mendl