Ingrid and Cary learn to avoid coffee in... Notorious (1946)

Virginie over at The Wonderful World of Cinema is hosting a great blogathon devoted to screen goddess, Ingrid Bergman, and naturally I had to be a part of it. Ms. Bergman's 100th birthday is today, and what better way to honor her? Check out the other fantastic contributions here!

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I made a terrible discovery last night while taking notes for this post -- I've completely taken Notorious for granted. The first time I saw it, I loved everything about it, from its magnetic leads to its delicious dialogue. I could recite every camera angle and every scene. However, it had been awhile since I had seen the film, so watching it again suddenly became like a revelation to me. I've championed Notorious for years, and I was completely justified as it unfolded before me for the umpteenth time. This movie is damn good, and I'm so glad I picked it for this blogathon.

Despite the intriguing Nazi plotline, Notorious is all about a love triangle between CIA agent T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant), party girl-turned-CIA asset Alicia Huberman (Bergman), and Devlin's ego. Just kidding, it's Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains), an old acquaintance of Alicia's who works with the Nazis and is unknowingly used by Alicia for information. This movie is arguably Alfred Hitchcock's most romantic, with its infamous piece being the long kissing scene between Grant
and Bergman. At the beginning of the picture, Alicia's father is indicted for treason against the United States, a charge that comes from his Nazi sympathies. We first see Alicia leaving the courtroom amidst reporters, somber and quiet. We're quickly taken to the next scene where Ms. Huberman is hosting a party, one where the guests (and their hostess) get progressively drunker and only two people bother to dance. This depressing little shindig is attended by a mysterious man kept in shadow, who stays after everyone else leaves. Alicia is clearly attracted to him, and he seems to reciprocate the feeling until Alicia finds out he's an American agent sent to recruit her to infiltrate a spy ring in Rio. Yeah, that may kill the mood a little bit.

Or does it? To say that Devlin and Alicia's relationship becomes complex is an understatement. She tries to change her party girl behavior by drinking less and refraining from "making new conquests," as Dev delicately puts it. Alicia is proud of herself, but her balloon is quickly popped by Dev, who believes he knows exactly who she is based off of her CIA dossier. He doesn't trust that she has changed and he voices his skepticism quite cruelly; however, it becomes obvious that Alicia isn't really
the one who has a problem. She goads Dev about his growing feelings for her:

"You're sore because you've fallen for a little drunk you tamed in Miami and you don't like it. It makes you sick all over, doesn't it? People will laugh at you, the invincible Devlin, in love with someone who isn't worth even wasting the words on. It must be awful, I'm sorry."

During this, you can see Devlin
squirming and not making eye contact until he finally gives in and grabs Alicia for a kiss. Rather than believe in the real Alicia, Dev puts faith in her reputation, which is less than stellar. His own insecurities shine through as he shuts out Alicia in favor of keeping himself closed off -- by not taking a chance on her, he's not liable to get hurt, a possibility he seems terrified of throughout most of the film. He even admits early on to Alicia that women scare him, a statement that many forget when they talk about Notorious and its representation of Devlin.

The character is much more vulnerable than you would think, a trait that is superbly embodied by Grant. As luminous as Ingrid Bergman is in this movie, the next time you watch it, keep your eyes on Devlin. Grant keeps his face like a mask, only letting his anger and his hurt show in quick bursts, never allowing Alicia to see his true emotions. When Devlin finds out that the CIA wants Alicia to seduce Alex Sebastian to elicit information, their whole affair comes crashing down and it is
heartbreaking to see. Knowing that Alex is from Alicia's past, Dev assumes that they were lovers and he can't escape the idea that despite her assurances and actions showing that she's not the promiscuous partier, she is only duping him, making him another notch on her belt. And that's where the conflict is: Devlin doesn't want to be another conquest for Alicia because his feelings for her are quite real and quite deep. He isn't sure she feels the same way, therefore he makes the mistake of
pushing her away, which in turn makes her desperate to prove that their affair is the real deal. Telling her about her assignment, you can see Devlin putting his shield up as he struggles with this collide of his professional and personal lives. Alicia is upset as well, mainly because she doesn't think Devlin stood up for her when her assignment was relayed to him: "Not a word for the little lovesick lady you left an hour ago?" The excruciating thing is that Dev did stick up for her, telling his boss Paul Prescott (Louis Calhern) that Alicia wasn't that kind of woman. Prescott and his colleagues disagree; they read her file, after all. With such negativity around, it's no wonder why Devlin feels conflicted.


While screenwriter Ben Hecht wrote an exquisite script, Notorious depends on its three main actors, and they deliver in spades. Grant and Bergman are stunning together, not just because they're two of the most gorgeous specimens ever created -- their acting has never been better than it is here, both separately and together. First of all, let's talk about that kissing scene. I think we all know the story there: the Production Code dictated that kisses could only be three seconds long, but Hitchcock ingeniously worked his way around it by having his stars canoodle as they share many quick kisses, never breaking their embrace even though they move from the hotel balcony to the telephone and then to the front door. It's rightfully claimed as one of Hitchcock's sexiest scenes, one that you have to see in order to really appreciate. This sequence is also the height of Alicia and Devlin's affair; this is them at their happiest, right before they realize that Alicia has to throw herself at another man for Uncle Sam. It also sets up the dynamic that will continue until the film's end. Alicia is vocal in her feelings, whereas Dev is definitely not:
A: "This is a very strange love affair."
D: "Why?"
A: "Maybe it's the fact that you don't love me."
D: "When I don't love you, I'll let you know."
A: "You haven't said anything."
D: "Actions speak louder than words."

Once Alicia begins her affair with Alex, Devlin keeps his cards close to his vest, leaving her on uncertain ground. Did he actually love her, or was she just a fling? If he does have feelings for her, why is he letting her sleep with another man? That last question is a doozy. At the races one day, Alicia and Dev act like they accidentally bump into each other as a cover for her relaying information to him. This scene is particularly hard to watch as they fake smiles to fool Alex in case he's watching them, all while
Alicia hurriedly talks about the party Alex and his scary mother threw. She recounts the guests and the weird moment when one guy freaked out at a wine bottle and then disappeared. When Devlin asks what was in the bottle, Alicia replies it was just wine and they drank it. For the quickest of seconds, Dev's face falls a little with this news that Alicia is back to drinking; her face falls too, realizing what she let slip. This moment speaks volumes about their relationship, but if you're not paying
attention, you'll miss it -- it was so fast, I couldn't even get a screenshot of it. The exchange gets worse when, tired of his smug assumptions, Alicia stings her ex-lover with this line: "You can add Alex to my list of playmates." Whoa! She then defends her action with the justifiable reason that Dev could have stopped her if he had just asked her not to go through with the assignment and stopped acting so cold. Dev definitely loses his composure, summoning all the venom he can as he reveals that he
didn't say anything in the hopes that Alicia was serious about changing and so he didn't think she would actually accept the assignment.
A: "You never believed in me anyway, so what's the difference?"
D: "Lucky for both of us I didn't. It wouldn't have been pretty if I believed in you, if I figured 'she'll never go through with it, she's been made over by love.'"
A: "If you only once said you loved me..."
D: "Dry your eyes, baby, it's out of character."

In order to get to the bottom of the wine bottle mystery, Dev has Alicia convince Alex to throw a party. Making their way to the wine cellar, the twosome discover uranium ore in one of the bottles, a scene charged with suspense as only Hitchcock could do. Almost caught by Alex, they're forced to kiss as a means of duping Alex into thinking that a drunken Dev forced himself on to Alicia -- it's better he think that than learning that they're U.S. spies. The kiss quickly becomes more than a charade for
Alex, as evidenced by Alicia going in for a second kiss, saying breathlessly "Oh, Dev, Dev..." You can even see Devlin giving in just a wee bit. Unfortunately, some business with the wine cellar key outs Alicia to Alex, who informs his mother that he's been tricked. (Mme. Sebastian, as played by Leopoldine Konstatin, is truly a woman to make your blood run cold.) Mama Sebastian decides there's only one thing to do: kill Alicia by means of slow poisoning so as not to arouse suspicion amongst Alex's
Nazi cohorts. It also doesn't raise much suspicion for Devlin, who meets with Alicia when she's ill but accepts that her condition is just a hangover, a lie Alicia tells because she knows Dev asked for a transfer and will be leaving her soon, leaving her to pretend like she's reverted to her party ways. She's also unaware she's been poisoned, instead believing it's just an ordinary illness. That's quickly put to bed when Alex and his mother freak out when someone almost drinks from Alicia's cup of coffee, making her realize that she may not leave the house alive. It's downright spooky when Alicia collapses after her discovery -- the Sebastians surround her as she's carried to her room, removing her telephone and feigning concern.


When Alicia fails to meet with Devlin five days in a row, he starts to wonder if her hangover was really that at all. Sneaking his way into her room, the set-up mirrors the one from the start of the movie, when Alicia wakes up in her bed with an intense hangover after her first night with Devlin when she realized he was a "copper." That initial scene has her opening her eyes and the camera assuming her viewpoint as it looks at Grant crookedly, rotating more as he gets closer until he's upside down. This time, though, it's not just the morning after a wild bout of drinking, it's become a matter of life and death. Alicia gazes at Devlin in a haze, the result of being fed sleeping pills on top of the debilitating effects of the poison.

Realizing what all he's put Alicia through, Dev finally says he loves her: "I was a fatheaded guy, full of pain. It tore me up not having you." For me, it's the most romantic part of the film -- there's no music to overstate the mood, only that great Ben Hecht dialogue. When the lovers embrace, the camera rotates around them in a sort of precursor to Vertigo. Dev puts a coat and shoes on a weak Alicia, slowly walking her to the staircase. "You'll never get rid of me again," he promises. "I never tried to,"
she reminds him. It's all played with suspenseful undertones, the audience knowing that Alex and/or his mother will probably catch them before they make it to the front door. They are caught, but with Devlin threatening to reveal Alex's marriage to a spy to the Nazi visitors in the study, Dev and Alicia are able to successfully escape, leaving poor Alex to probably die by the hands of his cohorts.

Yes, I did say "poor Alex." Mr. Sebastian may be Hitchcock's most sympathetic villain, right next to Herbert Marshall in Foreign Correspondent. Claude Rains was certainly one of the greatest actors of classic Hollywood, if not all time. He imbues Alex with charm, sensitivity, and warmth. By film's end, you actually pity the guy. His only fault (besides, you know, the Nazi thing) is being in love with Alicia; he fell for her four years ago and his feelings are used against him. He's so thrilled to marry the love of his life, and then he discovers she's been lying to him the whole time. Then he loses her to a handsomer, younger guy who abandons him to be killed. Damn you, Hitchcock, for confusing my feelings so!

Ugh, could Ingrid Bergman be any more beautiful? Hitchcock adored her, and I think it's clear when you watch Notorious, as well as their other collaborations, Spellbound and Under Capricorn. The camera looks at Bergman so lovingly, it becomes breathtaking. I took way more screenshots than I intended because of it. It's not simply Ingrid's beauty, though, that warrants all those amazing shots. If she couldn't act the hell out of her part, I don't believe that Hitch
would have left the camera on her as often as he did -- while he certainly appreciated a pretty face, he put more stock in how well a person could act, which is why the perfect cast was so important to him. And boy, does Bergman prove how right Hitch was. All through the film, she is bewitching, adorable, sexy, sensitive, terrified, lovestruck, depressed, and brave. Bergman's naturalness is unbelievably refreshing, too. There's one moment where she wakes up with a
piece of her hair in her mouth, something I don't think was in the script, and Ingrid incorporates it into her character -- Alicia has a hangover and she's annoyed with Devlin popping into her life, and that hair in her mouth is just one more thing that's irritating her that morning. It's a small thing, but one that adds a realism to the character to help make her feel like flesh and blood.


There's so much more I could say to exemplify my immense love for this movie, but instead I'll leave you with some great quotes and some wonderful screenshots. Enjoy, and happy birthday, Ingrid!

Alicia: "There's nothing like a love song to give you a good laugh."



A: "This fog gets me."







Dev: "Don't you need a coat?"
A: "You'll do."

A: "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."
D: "Bet you've heard that line often enough."
A: "Right below the belt every time. That isn't fair, Dev."












CIA executive talking about Alicia: "A woman of that sort...I don't think we have any illusions about her character, do we, Devlin?"
D: "Not at all, not in the slightest. Ms. Huberman is first, last, and always not a lady. She may be risking her life, but when it comes to being a lady, she doesn't hold a candle to your wife, sitting in Washington, playing bridge with three other ladies of great honor and virtue."

Mme. Sebastian to her son: "Wouldn't it be a little too much if we both grinned at her like idiots?"

















A: "Say it again, it keeps me awake."
D: "I love you."







With love,
Michaela

Comments

  1. Great review, and great screencaps too! You've given me lots of things to watch for the next time I see this film – which will be soon. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, thank you! I've always wanted to review this movie and get my thoughts out there about Devlin and Alicia -- I've read a lot of accounts fron different sources that just don't seem to get those characters.

      Delete
  2. Oh I love Notorious! Everything about this film is breath-taking. And yet again, you've expressed my feelings perfectly. Great piece!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! Notorious is one of the best classics we'll ever have, in my opinion. I practically get goosebumps every time Cary Grant shows up.

      Delete

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