If you are a frequent reader of Why Watch This, or the other title: Retro Movie Reviews, then you know that I love French Films. And The Smiths. Ok, here is something else to know about me, I love Hitchcock movies. In fact, it was the viewing of Strangers on a Train, during my freshman year “History of Film” class at Boston University that started my love affair with film from the 40s, 50s and 60s. And if you haven’t seen Strangers on a Train, go out now and watch it. Watch it and then try and explain to me why in the hell Ted Turner thought he had to go out and colorize all black and white films. I mean really, the scene where Bruno comes to Guy’s house at night and he is hiding in the park is a clinic on the use of light and dark to illustrate, uh you know, light and dark.
Anyway, this isn’t about Strangers on a Train, this is about Notorious, 1946, starring our favorites Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. Notorious, probably one of Hitchcock’s best for sure, and the favorite of Robert Osborne (of Turner Classic Movie fame). Bergman plays Alicia Huberman, the daughter of a convicted Nazi. She is recruited by U.S. government spy Devlin, played by Grant to go to Rio and seduce Alex Sebastian, played by Claude Rains, who is believed to be part of a Nazi spy ring in Brazil.
Before Alicia’s assignment begins, in fact before our two leads even know what it is, they fall in love. However, once Devlin finds out she is to seduce Sebastian, the walls go up, and he soon becomes bitter as Alicia not only succeeds in seducing Sebastian, but marries him. Watching Alicia, it is obvious that she is only participating in this scheme out of guilt for her father’s deeds, and her own difficult feeling regarding her past. At one point she refers to herself as “Mata Hari, she makes love for the papers,” as if becoming this instrument of the U.S. government is what she deserves.
Because Bergman is such an incredible actress, you see the devastation on her face when Devlin doesn’t tell her not to do it. She wants him to tell her not to do it and he wants her to tell him that she won’t. Well, neither get their wish. At each stage, from the initial assignment, to when she tells him that Sebastian has proposed, she wants him to save her, to just break through his pride and tell her he loves her and that he won’t stand for it. And he wants to, you can see his anger, frustration, and bitterness at the situation, but it’s pride that keeps him playing along. Until the end, when finally he realizes that the risks that Alicia has taken to get them the information they have and need to stop this group of Nazi spies, have put her in mortal danger. And then he saves her, and boy oh boy is it satisfying. He admits he was a “fat headed guy full of pain,” and look, I don’t know about you, but when Cary Grant says something like that to you while he is saving your life, well, the rest of your life isn’t long enough.
Now, let me warn you, if you are one of those people who has very rigid views and loves to post all sorts of angry things on Facebook about rape culture and evil white men, then I fear I must tell you that the beginning of this movie is not kind to our friend Alicia Huberman. There is drunk driving! Gasp! And at one point Cary gets a little physical and manhandles Ms. Huberman, including slapping her face. And let me be very clear, I don’t like that he slaps her, I don’t like it all. But I get over it because this is one of the best directed and acted films ever made and it was 1946 and now its 2014 and if I judged everything through a modern day lens than I would just sit in my living room watching Frozen over and over again. And that would truly be a tragedy.
So despite all this, Notorious is a very romantic movie. In fact, it has one of the longest kissing scenes ever in film. Hitchcock circumvented the codes of the times of only allowing a kiss to last 3 seconds by having them break apart, nuzzle, kiss, nuzzle, talk, kiss, Bergman plays with Grant’s ear. In this scene we learn everything we need to know:
Alicia: “This is a strange love affair…”
Alicia: “Probably because you don’t love me…You haven’t said anything…”
Devlin: “When I don’t love you I’ll tell you…Actions speak louder than words.”
And there you have it, she wants him to love her, she doesn’t think he does because he doesn’t act like he does. She takes part of in mission, puts her life on the line, all the while desperately wanting him to tell her he loves her. It’s heart breaking and wonderful at the same time.
Bergman is fabulous. And I could go on and on about the rest of the cast. Sebastian’s mother is deliciously evil. The camera movement and shot set up is masterful. But, just go watch it. That’s all. What else do you want? Ok, what Smith’s song does it evoke? Girlfriend in a Coma. Watch it and you’ll know why.