by John Greco
Who ever said Alfred Hitchcock was not a romantic? After all, what could be more romantic than the final scenes in “Notorious” where we see Cary Grant coming to Ingrid Bergman’s rescue just in time to take her away from the murdering Nazi Claude Rains. True for the past two hours Grant forced Ingrid to whore herself by playing a 20th Century Mata Hari, seducing and sleeping with Rains in order to obtain secret information. He then resents her for agreeing to do this and hates himself for forcing her do it. Yep, no one knew how to treat a woman like Mr. Hitchcock, just ask Janet Leigh in “Psycho” or Grace Kelly in “Dial M for Murder.”
“Notorious” is a dark perverted love story. It is also a story of espionage, spies, murder and sex with Grant and Bergman as two of the most glamorous spies this side of James Bond. And wouldn’t have Grant made a great James Bond? In this seductive tale, Bergman is Alicia Huberman, daughter of a convicted Nazi spy, though Alicia herself is a patriotic American, a party girl who loves to drink, and has a reputation for promiscuity. Which just happens to make her a perfect choice for a dirty job planned by American agents (CIA, FBI?). Agent Devlin (Grant) is selected to recruit her, by seduction if necessary, for the delicate mission. He does his job well, a little too well as she falls in love with him. One romantic evening, Devlin breaks the news on what she has been recruited to do. They want her to go to Rio de Janeiro where a known Nazi spy ring has congregated. There she is to ingratiate herself into the home and life of the spy rings leader, one Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), a man she has previously met. In a subtle (remember this is 1946) but still clear way, Devlin tells her to do what it takes, even to sleep with Sebastian if need be, to find out what he and his cohorts are up too. Reluctantly she agrees. In love with Devlin, she practically pleads with him to tell her not to go through with this mission, but Devlin never says the magic words, he has his orders. Poor Devlin, our dark hero is conflicted; he has feelings for Alicia yet resents her for accepting the job and hates himself for not stopping her.
And so, Alicia not only sleeps with Sebastian, she marries him when forced to prove her love as jealousies arise. During a reception in Sebastian’s home, to which Devlin was invited, he and Alicia make their way down to the wine cellar where by chance they discover uranium hidden in wine bottles. A short time later, Sebastian goes toward the cellar to retrieve more wine for the party and spots the couple. When Devlin realizes Sebastian is watching them he puts his arms around Alicia and kisses her hoping to draw Sebastian’s thoughts away from thinking they are spying. Sebastian is not fooled and to his dismay realizes he foolishly married an American spy. Mortified that he has been duped, and scared of what would potentially happen if his cohorts found out, he acquiesces to his mother’s devious plan to get rid of Alicia by slowly poisoning her. When Devlin discovers Alicia is in danger he goes to Sebastian’s house, rescuing Alicia just in the nick of time from her slow demise, and in turn leaves Sebastian and his mother to face their fellow Nazi’s and most certain death.
Cary Grant has played his share of dark characters, especially with Hitchcock. Here, he plays Devlin the American agent as unlikable, cold, calculating and cruel, pimping the woman he has fallen in love with to sleep with another man. Alicia marries Sebastian partially in spite to get back at Devlin for forcing her into this life. She loves Devlin but willingly sleeps with Sebastian. Devlin loves Alicia but encourages her to seduce Sebastian (all for God and Country). Sebastian, a hen-pecked mama’s boy desires Alicia and resents Devlin. Hitchcock, ever the little devil makes Sebastian the Nazi come across as the gentler, more considerate, loving and more likable man while Devlin, our alleged hero is cold and despicable forcing the woman he loves to cheapen herself.
“Notorious” is one of Hitchcock’s most visually stunning films, brilliantly photographed with exquisitely arranged camera work. In a very early scene we see Alicia waking up the following morning from an alcoholic binge to find Devlin at her bedroom door with the camera, from her POV spinning 180 degrees to simulate her hangover. There is alo a superb crane shot during the reception scene at Sebastian’s home where Hitchcock’s camera begins at the top of the stairs and slowly zooms in and down to first floor continuing to an extreme close up of Alicia’s hand and a key (to the cellar) she is holding. Then of course, there is the famous kissing scene where Hitchcock out foxed the censors with their rule of “no kisses lasting longer than three seconds” which he managed to make more erotic than the most blatantly steamy scenes we see in today’s films. Needless to say, “Notorious” is a beautifully choreographed film.
You can add Sebastian to the list Hitchcock’s mama’s boys, which include Roger Thornhill in “North by Northwest” along with good old Norman Bates. Speaking of “Psycho” Hitchcock uses a similar opening here with the location, time and date appearing on the screen, as he would use again in opening scene of the 1960 horror classic. Hitchcock was forced to change the ending by David Selznick. In early versions of the script Alicia dies. Hitchcock does manage to come up with a “happy ending” yet make it remain one of the smoothest, thrilling and satisfying 0f endings.
The film opened at Radio City Music Hall in 1946, and was an immediate hit. The story was exciting and had the audiences smoking with the sexual heat generated between the two stars.