Notorious (1946)

Notorious (1946) by Alfred Hitchcock is an espionage romance story, with film noir overtones.

The picture stars Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, with support from Claude Rains, and is a favourite among Alfred Hitchcock lovers for its mature cinematic portrayal of a love affair. 

The film noir overtones that characterise Notorious are best illustrated in the dark forces that negatively affect Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) in the form of alcohol and poison, both of which cause her hallucinations that are shared with the viewers of the film through noir photography, fully developed by this stage in the film noir cycle, as is the theme of the ineffective marriage, which is fully played out between Bergman and Rains. 

The idea of the mother as the fixating and controlling evil in a man's life is also common to Alfred Hitchcock, as in Psycho (1960), Strangers on a Train and even North by Northwest (1959).

Drunken splendour in Alfred Hitchcock'Notorious (1946)

This strain is the most convincing and central aspect of an at times suspenseful adventure spy story, set in the exotic and affluent society of post-War Brazil. The end of this story, which is a climactic and long walk up the steps of his own house to an uncertain fate, is typically classic film noir.

So, what on the surface appears as a love story with a glamorous spy story surrounding it is about uncertainty and the ill-judgement of women by men. Both 

Cary Grant in Notorious (1946)

Film noir elements are present, but not in the classically film noir imagery and thematic story telling which might involve weakness, duplicity and paranoia. Further there is no emphasis on dramatically lit cinematography as this is Alfred Hitchcock and Alfred Hitchcock usually has his own ideas about how to tell the story.

Louis Calhern in Notorious (1946)

Instead of shadowy corners and light play against hats, cigarettes and urban corners, witness how much time Hitchcock spends filming the static objects that are going to create the suspense. These are a bottle of wine edging closer to the corner of a shelf; a key which we follow from hand to hand; many doors which we watch while trying to make out the sounds that may be coming from behind them; and the greatest of these in size being a cup of coffee which when it achieves its starring moment, takes up most of the screen, and even at that somewhat out of focus, while its victim disappears into a sofa in the distance. 

The opening scenes of Notorious, set in Florida, show a much pressured character played by Ingrid Bergman, who starts off the picture watching her Nazi father go to jail, and then throws a drunken party which culminates in a wild automobile spin.

Cary Grant in Notorious (1946)

Freed of all constraint by the alcohol, Bergman's character Alicia Huberman takes a wild drive with Cary Grant in the passenger seat, until such time as he wrestles her off the driver's seat and then punches her unconscious. Quiet a date.

Louis Calhern in Notorious (1946)

Later at home, she wakes up with a hangover, and facing the new reality that the man she has fallen in with is some kind of big deal Federal agent. This is Cary Grant as TR Devlin, the charismatic spy, and it is also a strange introduction to the subject of alcohol, which remains pivotal to the production.

Ingrid Bergman in Notorious (1946)

The wild party of the night before is well portrayed with a lot of fun by Hitchcock and crew, right down to the expired bodies after the fun is over. The drunken driving which is deliberate and almost self-harming in the case of Ingrid Bergman, feels like an early run of the drunken driving scene in North By Northwest (1959).

Ze Creepy Nazis appear in succession in Notorious (1946)

Later, when Ingrid Bergman is serving as an American spy in the household of Nazi ex-pat Claude Rains, and alcohol plays its part here too, initially in the crux of the film's mystery, which involves wine bottles, but also in one of the picture's more suspenseful scenes, when bottles of champagne are being drunk by guests, meaning a critical trip to the house's wine cellar becomes critically tense.

Ingrid Bergman in Notorious (1946)

The film noir sub-style of paranoid women films is relevant to Notorious, as the latter third of the film describes the captivity of Ingrid Bergman in a grand marital home. This alone was the plot of many films of the 1940s, whether it be My Name Is Julia Ross (1945) or later efforts like Jennifer (1953) 

Leopoldine Konstantin in Notorious (1946)

Of course like virtually all the paranoid women of the movies of the 1940s, Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) has every reason to be paranoid because those around her really are out to get her.

And this is a paranoid marital palace with an even greater degree of difference, for it is populated by film noir Nazis. What could be worse? 

In one scene, on her first trip to the house, Bergman's character Alicia is kissed on the hand by a succession of Nazis, all carefully curated and timed as they greet her one by one, all of them of course super slimy and evil in their different ways. 

Fatal conclusion — Claude Rains in Notorious (1946)

The final element of the paranoid marital home is the elder matriarch, often as in Rebecca (1940) - - the original paranoid woman picture - - a housekeeper, and at other times, the groom's mother. Both serve the same judgmental, creepy and sinister ends, deeply mistrustful of the younger woman, and somehow seeming to control the secrets of the home.

In Notorious, the mother figure (played by Leoplodine Konstantine) does the honours with all the evil mystery and unsmiling scheming and hatred that Hitchcock can muster. This woman does not just run the house, and her son, but is a safe pair of hands for the Nazis overseas. 

While the entire thrust and success of Notorious is as a love story it is remarkable what Ingrid Bergman's character Alicia Huberman puts up with. First there is  the heavy drinking which results in her being slapped around by Cary Grant, and then guided through her hangover and on to a plane to South America, where she is bullied into a spy mission by the American authorities.

In the middle for a happy love affair, she is then talked in to marrying a Nazi, and then after putting up with that, is trapped by poisoners in her abusive husband's home, and ultimately confined to bed in a supreme state of weakness.

Notorious is not the spy melodrama it appears to be and is a story of love and trust. Its trajectory as a love story is complex and feels more real than many screen love stories. This is the trust element between the two lovers, and their own problems. Alicia's problems are evident in her alcoholism and manifest in her having to deal with the reality of a Nazi father. Devlin's problems are evident in his lack of trust in women in general and are manifest in his cruelty at times to Alicia, who is often given the blank treatment and left alone in a nest of poisoning Nazis when she should in fact receive his protection.

Fatal conclusion — Claude Rains in Notorious (1946)

As an inveterate party girl Alicia Huberman is likely a woman heading for a fateful collision of some kind. She argues that she is not patriotic, as one might feel inclined to when stuck between loyalty to family and country. It turns out that the USA has been spying on her anyway, and Devlin (Cary Grant) has some LP recordings of the surveillance to hand, which surprise her into admitting that she is willing to do something for America after all. 

She is disappointed by Devlin, despite the two of them falling in love. He is too willing to drop her, and should have his own loyalty issues, between his job and his heart. But he is happy to send his true love into these dangerous situations. 

In fact there is a feeling of anxiety from start to finish, and if this lightweight film noir classic of love and espionage is about anything, it's about trust. Sebastian (Claude Rains) immediately trusts Alicia and he pays most dearly for that. What is more interesting yet is that World War 2 has barely finished and the Cold War not yet commenced - - and yet we see American state officials portrayed as callous and exploitative, as well as downright immoral - - as in the sound recordings they have been making. This trope of the corrupt federal authority is pretty fresh for the mid-40s.

Alicia is never seen as much to blame for anything, and although Devlin seems to be a bit of a heel at first, he would have to worry after her incredibly reckless evening of drunk driving. Devlin even seems to suspect that she is a drunk who can be manipulated and this sets up everything that follows, including her being smacked into submission.  The key Nazi in the story is Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), and is in love also with the attractive and much younger Alicia, whom he has known since she was a girl.

Louis Calhern and Ingrid Bergman in Notorious (1946)

Full on classic film noir often deals with the issues of extricating ourselves from our past, something which is often achieved in the movies through love, but is often likewise seen to be impossible. The intelligence men in Notorious embody a well-work and established patriarchal order built on ready-made ideals based around female archetypes, stereotypes and clichés. 

In fact, as with other Hitchcock favourites, Alicia effectively becomes a prostitute for the intelligence services, perhaps not unlike Eve Kendall (Eve Marie Saint) in North by Northwest (1959). Alicia is constantly watched by somebody or other, even if it is journalists at the start of the film, and the aforementioned surveillance recordings - - one need think no more about Hitchcock and voyeurism.

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