Drama, Romance, Spy

Notorious (1946)

0 Comments 28 February 2012

Studio: MGM
Theatrical Release: Sept. 6th, 1946
Blu-Ray Release: Jan. 24th, 2012
Rating: Unrated!
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Review by Craig Sorensen

After her father is convicted of treason by the US government, Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) tries to drown her sorrows in booze.  While drunk she meets a man named Devlin (Cary Grant) who manages to convince her to become a spy in Brazil.  It seems that many of the men that her father was collaborating with have moved down there, among them a man called Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains).  It seems that Alexander was once in love with Alicia and the government is hoping to use that to get her on the inside of the group.  But will Alicia be able to fool them and for how long?

By this time in Hitchcock’s career he’s fairly comfortable behind the camera and it definitely shows here.  There’s a reason why he’s so revered among film fans.  There are some amazing camera set-ups and blocking here.  Things that you just aren’t really going to see in most other films of the time.  There are a few others working that can pull this kind of mastery off (like Lang and Wells) but for the most part you don’t see this kind of work at the time (I don’t know, maybe I’ve been watching too many cheap ‘40s B movies about gorillas).  Anyway, there are some fantastic stylistic flourishes to the film.  Unlike ‘modern’ films though, Hitchcock doesn’t just knock you over the head with style to cover up for a lack of substance (yeah, I’m thinking of you Zach Snyder), there’s always a motivating factor to the shots.  The best (and easiest) example I can think of would be a scene early on in the film.  Bergman’s character is waking up after an alcohol bender the night before.  When you switch to her POV while she’s talking to Grant the image is slightly skewed.  As she moves in bed and Grant walks towards her the camera slowly rotates around until Grant is upside down.  This puts you perfectly in Bergman’s position.  Who hasn’t woken up from a rough night on the town, still a little drunk from the night before and had the room spin about as you try to not throw-up?  The move might sound over the top but it doesn’t play that way and that’s the beauty of it.  It’s not whipping around all crazy and optically distorted, there’s a subtlety to it.  It naturally draws you into the character and her state of mind.  You see, ‘modern’ movie makers?  Subtlety matters!

Notorious is filled with great performances but this is Ingrid Bergman’s picture by far.  She gives a great, nuanced performance as the troubled femme fatale Alicia Huberman.  She drinks too much, and can be more than a little pig headed but you really do feel for her.  And if she wasn’t as good as she is here then the end of the picture wouldn’t work nearly as well.  Cary Grant is kind of playing a variation of the Cary Grant character.  He does manage to imbue a kind of coldness to the character though that I’m not used to seeing from him.  Most of the film hinges on the leads on screen chemistry and with two lesser actors the movie could fall apart.  You also get a great performance from Claude Rains as the Neo-Nazi Alexander Sebastian.  He’s creepy but at the same time just as flawed as the Alicia Huberman character.  At the end of the film, on the one hand you want to see him get what he deserves, but on the other he seems so pathetic that you kind of feel for his inevitable fate.  There’s also a great campy performance from Leopoldine Konstantin as the prototypical Hitchcockian overbearing/creepy mother figure.  She takes a little too much joy in trying to plot her son’s wife’s demise.

MGM’s new Blu-Ray of Notorious looks fantastic.  The film is presented in it’s original 1.37:1 aspect ratio and comes in a new AVC encoded 1080p transfer.  This is almost a 70 year old film at this point so it’s nice that such care has been taken to remaster it.  I don’t have any of the previous DVD versions to compare it to but I would imagine that this improves on those presentations in almost every way.  There is a nice special feature that let’s you compare the film pre and post restoration so you can see some of the work that they did on the title.  They’ve done a great job of cleaning things up without scrubbing away all the grain and detail.  Speaking of special features, this disc is loaded with them.  First off, you get two separate commentary tracks with film professors Rick Jewell and Drew Casper.  You also get a nice 28 minute featurette on the making of the film called “The Ultimate Romance: The Making Of Notorious”.  There is a second featurette which covers the film and it’s influences on the spy genre called “Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Spymaster”.  The third featurette on the disc is a short three minute video called “The American Film Institute Award: The Key To Hitchcock”, which features Hitchcock’s granddaughter introducing some short clips from some of her grandfather’s films.
You also get two audio interviews with Hitchcock by Peter Bogdanovich and Francois Truffaut.  There is also a great radio play version of Notorious from 1948 starring Bergman and Joseph Cotton.  You can also listen to the films score as an isolated music track.  A trailer is also included.


- who has written 151 posts on UnRated Film Review Magazine | Movie Reviews, Interviews.

Craig hails from 'Parts Unknown'.

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