Notorious (1946)

2008 #21
Alfred Hitchcock | 101 mins | TV | U

NotoriousCary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains star in Alfred Hitchcock’s 7th best film (according to the ever-changing IMDb Top 250, where it currently resides at #108). Grant is Devlin, an American spymaster who recruits a Nazi spy’s daughter, Alicia Huberman (Bergman), to infiltrate a group of Nazis in Brazil, via her old acquaintance Sebastian (Rains).

Initially the film focuses on the will-they-won’t-they relationship between Devlin and Alicia. A lesser film would have happily made this last the duration, but Notorious moves on to the question of how far an undercover agent should go in the line of duty. Once it has an answer for that it’s on to what the Nazis are actually plotting, and beyond that to the effects of the spy being uncovered. It’s not that the film is restless or doesn’t deal with any of these threads in depth — indeed, my implication that it drops each to move on to the next is disingenuous, as they overlap and weave around each other — but it doesn’t over-analyse or stretch them out interminably. It’s all the better for it.

The second half is where Notorious really comes into its own. Detailing the relationships and situations in the first half is time well spent to set up the second, which contains a brilliant sequence at a society party and a wonderfully tense climax. Hitchcock’s direction shines here, with swooping crane shots and dramatic close-ups — who’d’ve thought a cup of coffee could be so menacing? The villains’ plans may be under-explained, but no matter, because the focus is on how they’re uncovered rather than how they’re prevented. All in, it makes for a highly effective and entertaining spy thriller with a not insignificant dash of romance.

5 out of 5

Notorious placed 7th on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2008, which can be read in full here.

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