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Notorious

cast: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, and Louis Calhern
director: Alfred Hitchcock
98 minutes (U) 1946
Prism Leisure DVD Region 2 retail
[released 7 February]

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Andrew Hook
Almost 60 years after it was filmed, Notorious stands the test of time as a classic Hitchcock movie. The driving force being the love story between Devlin (Cary Grant) and Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), set against a background of espionage in Rio de Janeiro, and the difficulties encountered in shaking off a notorious past.

Grant is the agent sent to convince Bergman, the daughter of a convicted Nazi spy, to work undercover in Rio to investigate a potential Nazi plot involving Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), a man who knew Bergman's father and was in love with her despite it never being requited. As Grant and Bergman themselves fall in love, their passion is stymied by the job they have to do. And as Bergman becomes increasingly involved with Rains, the tension is added to immeasurably.

Interestingly, it is this second love story - Rains' unequivocal love for Bergman - which is just as essential to the plot as the relationship between Bergman and Grant. Rains' love is, in fact, purer. He has no qualms about her playgirl past, even defying his matriarchal mother to marry her, and all the time appears genuinely attentive to her needs. Whereas Bergman's affair with Grant is much more passionate, I felt that it was developed too quickly in the early scenes to the point of being unconvincing. Considering the crux of the movie rests upon the subsequent difficulty they have in expressing their feelings (due to the conflict, as Hitchcock suggests, between love and duty) it's surprising how swiftly they become entangled at the start.

Bergman is at her fragile, yet tenacious, best as a woman whose background informs on people's impressions of her morals whereas actually she is vulnerable to the core. The security forces have no doubts of Bergman's abilities to infiltrate Rains' heart and his activities, as they believe her to be no more than she is perceived to be. The movie is as much about freedom and entrapment as it is about love and espionage.

Whilst Bergman's performance is exemplary, Grant's character does seem peculiarly one-dimensional. His stiffness of temperament almost inscrutable as he is increasingly constrained by the job he has been sent to do. Remembering that this movie was released almost immediately post-World War II makes it evident that this was a product of the times, but I felt Grant's role would have benefited from greater depth of character. In contrast, Rains is superb and totally believable as a man whose judgment is clouded by love. His easy temperament lends him a certain beguiling charm. Despite the Nazi subplot he is not portrayed as an evil man. The boundaries between villains and heroes are shown to be realistically human. Interestingly, it was Rains who was nominated for an Academy Award rather than Grant or Bergman.

Once Bergman becomes married to Rains, the tension within the house is deftly handled and this is where the film comes into its own. The scenes in the wine cellar, as Bergman and Grant stumble upon the evidence that they have been searching for, is edge of the seat stuff, especially since we know the characters would be free to pursue their love should their job come to an end. And the close-up shot of the key, which seems to seal Bergman's fate, is perfect. The key itself indicative of freedom, entrapment, and the un-locker of hearts: all the essential ingredients which make Notorious such a good movie.

What shouldn't be underrated is the immense contribution to the story made by Sebastian's mother (played by Madame Konstantin). The strong physical resemblance between mother and son compounds the intensity of their relationship, and her lines are delivered with indomitable conviction.

The DVD extras include an interview with the author Kim Newman who provides a useful, albeit long-winded, perspective on the movie, a brief (and much quoted) Hitchcock interview from the BBC archives, and much biographical information including quotes, star bios, trivia and photos. Whilst the extras are all definitely worth viewing, I did find it hard to read some of the information against a photographic instead of plain black background. This is a minor qualm, however. Notorious is an essential purchase.
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