Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946)

Notorious

Sure it is debatable whether or not Hitchcock’s Notorious is a war movie. Let’s say it has a war theme, although a very faint one. I’m fond of Hitchcock movies and since I have a big collection, I thought I’ll re-watch this one.

Alicia Huberman’s (Ingrid Bergman) German father has been convicted for treason which leads to Alicia’s heavy drinking and affairs with various men. FBI agent Devlin (Cary Grant) is sent to recruit her for a delicate job. She’s to fly to Brazil and get access to the house of Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains) who seems to be the head of a group of suspicious Nazis. Since Sebastian has always been in love with Alicia it should be easy for her to approach him.

At first it isn’t clear how far she will have to go. Not  even Devlin knows that his boss wants Alicia to become Sebastian’s mistress. From the first moment when they meet each other, there is something between Devlin and Alicia and if he trusted her he would fall in love with her. Alicia on her side falls in love with Devlin and tries to convince him that she has changed. No more alcohol, no more affairs. For Devlin the assignment to become Sebastian’s mistress is like a test which Alicia fails.

There are two story lines in this movie. One centers on the classic romance theme of a seemingly insurmountable obstacle between two people, the other story line concerns their spying activities.

When Devlin and Alicia discover  something in Sebastian’s house, it puts her in great danger.

I know I’ve seen this movie before but I could hardly remember it. I thought it wasn’t one of my favourite Hitchcock movies but this second time around, I liked it very much. Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant are absolutely great in this. I wouldn’t know of many contemporary actresses who can fill a screen with their faces only. It’s captivating to watch all those conflicting emotions on her face. But Cary Grant who tries to fight his attraction and plays in a much more understated way is equally good.

I’m glad I watched it again, I think it’s become one of my favourite Hitchcock movies now. Why it’s on the History Magazine’s 100 Best war movies isn’t entirely clear. Kevin (The War Movie Buff) and I had been discussing this when he reviewed it here. Without his review, I wouldn’t even have considered it as a war movie.  Be it as it may, it’s one of the great black and white movies of the 40s.

Have you seen it? Which are your favourite Hitchcock movies?

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19 thoughts on “Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946)

  1. the war movie buff says:

    Thanks for the shout-out. I agree with everything in your review. It’s excellent entertainment, but absolutely not a war movie. Don’t forget Claude Rains. You almost feel sorry for the Nazi bastard.

    My favorite Hitchcock film is “Rear Window”. I am a big Jimmy Stewart fan and as a fellow voyeur, I can relate. (Just kidding with that last comment.) Second would be “Frenzy”.

  2. Guy Savage says:

    My favourite is Strangers on a Train but a close second is Frenzy. There are some scenes from the latter film that I can’t forget–even though I’d like to.

    I want to watch more Hitchcock this year. I watched many of his really early films last year.

    • I don’t think I’ve seen Strangers on a Train. I really need to watch Frenzy. I think I have seen more of his later movies, The Birds, Psycho, Rebecca…

      • the war movie buff says:

        Frenzy was one of his last movies and definitely his last very good movie. Very British. It was a comeback film after several flops. By the way, it is not a war movie.

      • I know it’s not. I think Notorious is Hitchcokc’s only movie which is called a “war movie”. I start to suspect that the people who compiled “your” list wanted to include Hitchcock, no matter what. It’s the best explanation I can come up with.

    • nem baj says:

      By ‘really early’ you mean the silent ones, Guy? They’re quite good,

  3. nem baj says:

    IMHO, the only Hitchcock feature war movie is Lifeboat, and it is a very unusual one. Even his wartime propaganda pieces, Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache, are ‘resistance’ flicks, more about spying and politics.

    Notorious is in the vein of his late 30s works. As in almost every of his films, the central theme is love and (mis)trust and the espionage context functions as an enhancer. It enhances the mise en abîme / nested dolls principle of deception : the deceiver may be the deceived, and even apparent deception can be an illusion of deception, etc. It also raises the level of consequences, particularly of the deadly kind.

    The husband being a nazi is, in that respect, superficial – as Kevin noted, we actually almost, if not quite, care for him… as a husband. And not only Hitchcock, though totally unequivocal in his condemnation of fascism since long before the war, was always found of Germans but in Notorious the moral blame also lays on the U.S. Government! How incorrect.

    PS: I haven’t seen The Pleasure Garden nor Downhill yet, but I love all other 53 Hitchcock movies. My favorites vary through time and mood, nevertheless I’ve always cultivated a particular affection for The Lady Vanishes and Marnie.

  4. obooki says:

    I watched this last month and enjoyed it a lot. It really is a movie that is made by the central relationship – how it’s written, how it’s acted, how it fits in with the rest of the plot.

    Oddly, I’d just watched a drama series on British TV called Hunted which was a blatant rip-off of the whole of Notorious, except that it was dreadful in almost every respect.

    I also watched The Lady Vanishes (which is again more espionage than war film, and amusingly British – especially the two British men who are only interesting in finding out the cricket score); and will be watching a lot more Hitchcock this month, no doubt, because I’ve only got 18 more days on my lovefilm subscription to watch them (Sabotage, The Secret Agent, North by North West, Jamaica Inn, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Dial M For Murder, Strangers on a Train – perhaps none of them war movies).

    • Yes, the relationship and the way they play is the core theme. Trust, whatever. It’s a classic romance and nowadays the conflict they have, would not even exist anymore, I guess, still I found it believable. This is a movie that would never work as a rip-off as the balance is so delicate. with other actors, or done differently it would fall in the trap of being corny.
      I don’t know why I didn’t like it the first time. Or why I forgot it immediately. The Lafy Vanishes sounds like one I’d like too.
      I need to go over my collections and watch them. I hardly watch any war movies these days… And according to Richard’s rule, Hitchcock qualifies for the Foreign Film Festival.
      Dial M for Murder was my favourite as a child. It was always on TV.

  5. the war movie buff says:

    Foreign Correspondent is the other Hitchcock film that is on the 100 Greatest list. It is more of a war movie than Notorious, but still not a war movie in my opinion.

    • I had totally forgotten about that. Yeah well… I think there are other Hitchcock movies I’m more keen on at the moment.

    • nem baj says:

      Same thing with Fritz Lang’s Ministry of Fear, Curtiz’s Casablanca (both wartime), Reed’s Third Man (post-war, like Notorious)…

      Not that there is anything wrong about espionage, resistance or a pinch of namedropping in a list, but we’re far from what ‘military history’ seemed to imply. Kevin, I guess your own list will be more focused.

      • the war movie buff says:

        I define a war movie as a movie that is either set in a war and the war has a substantial impact on the characters or is set after a war, but the characters are substantially impacted by their experiences in it. I would include movies like Mrs. Miniver and The Best Years of Our Lives and Casablanca, but not Notorious, Foreign Correspondent, or Ministry of Fear. I also tend to leave out movies that are more comfortable in a different genre, like Westerns. Espionage films can be a little tricky.

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