Notorious is a wonderful introduction to the genre of film-noir. It eases you in without being too dark, and gives you enough romance to make you care about what happens to the two leads; the two leads are Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, so that is not a difficult thing to do. Boy, Ingrid Bergman has gotten a beating over the last few weeks. Brilliantly directed by Alfred Hitchock, Notorious transports us back to the days just after World War 2, with enough spies, intrigue and innuendo to keep even the most passive viewer engaged. So without further ado, here is my analysis of 1946’s “Notorious” . PS: If you are looking for the 2009 biopic Notorious about the Notorious B.I.G., I am afraid this is a very different film. You can check out the last MOTV post here.
The film starts in a courtroom in Miami, where Alicia Huberman’s (Bergman) father has just been convicted of treason. The press is waiting for her, taking her picture and bombarding her with questions. It is quickly established that she is being followed, but by whom?
We now find ourselves at a party at Alicia’s house, where she is generously pouring drinks, as she is being asked questions by her guests about being followed by the police, which she ignores. We can see everyone’s face, except a shadowy figure with his back to us. Alicia acknowledges him, pours him a drink and begins talking to him, with no response from the mystery man. To be honest, she doesn’t really give him a chance to respond. This is her house and she is commanding the room, looking stunning while doing so. She suggests that the mystery man is a party crasher, but is corrected by the guest who invited him. Still not a word from the shadowy figure.
Alicia finally acknowledges the fact that she is being followed and expresses her annoyance at being a marked woman because of her father’s dealings. The elder gentleman she has been generously imbibing reminds her that they are setting sail tomorrow and the police will no longer be a problem. The party begins to break up, and as it does, Alicia pours the mystery man another drink, telling him she likes him, even though he hasn’t uttered a word.
Finally the camera pans around to show that our mystery man is Devlin (Grant). It is apparent that the two have continued to drink long after the other guests have either left, or passed out. Alicia is clearly intoxicated, but Devlin is cool as a cucumber. Alicia suggests that the two go outside for a picnic. She tells Devlin her car is outside, and asks if he wants to go for a ride. She tells him that she is driving, and all he protests to is that she doesn’t have her coat, to which she replies, “You’ll do.” When they exit the house, the wind is blowing, and Devlin proceeds to wrap a scarf around Alicia’s bare midriff, telling her he doesn’t want her to get cold.
Celeb crushes, anyone?
I have a confession to make here. If I was to build the perfect man it would be a combination of Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. I think I spent half this movie swooning over Grant’s cool demeanor and suave good looks. Ok, let me wipe the drool off my chin and continue.
Having gotten her way, Alicia is erratically swerving all over the road. She asks Devilin if he is scared, and he shows no fear, as she increases her sleep to make him show her something. We can see Devlin’s hand is positioned to take control of the wheel if need be, but he is saved from having to do so by a motorcycle policeman’s approach. Alicia expresses her disdain for the police. She reluctantly pulls over after admitting that this would be her second drunk driving offense and that would cause her to go to jail, like the rest of her family.
The officer approaches the car and after a few snide remarks from Alicia, he asks Devlin if she is drunk. He doesn’t answer, he just reaches into his pocket and shows the officer his credentials. The officer apologizes for pulling them over and states his assurance in Devlin’s abilities as he walks away.
Alicia, confused and agitated, askes her passenger where the ticket she rightly deserves is. Finally Alicia asks for his name, and he introduces himself to her. She questions him about what he showed the officer to make him leave. She becomes aggressive as she identifies him as a cop and begins to hit him, while Devlin stays measured and cool. He tells her to move over so he can drive and take her home. She refuses, gripping the steering wheel until her knuckles are white. He tries to be as gentle as he can with her, while she continues to hit and fight. I am not sure what moves he does on her, but she finally either passes out or just gives up. He slides into the driver’s seat with a sigh.
The next morning, Alicia awakes with a hangover cure on her nightstand and Devlin leaning casually in her doorway. Hitchcock’s direction is wonderful here. He spins the camera to show how Alicia’s head is spinning from her crazy night.
The Plot Thickens
As Alicia slowly starts to get her wits about her, she questions Delvin about what he wants with her. He explains that he works for the government and they want her to help them catch some of the men who had worked with her father, and are now conducting business in Brazil. She insists she is not interested and even turning her back on him. He tells her that her apartment has been wired for three months, and he plays a recording between Alicia and her father. She tells her father that she loves America and hates what her father is doing. She is visibly upset by this, but tells Devlin that she wants to live her own life.
The captain from the night before arrives and tells her that it is almost time for the boat to depart. He leaves again as Devlin gives Alicia another chance to agree, which she does, sending him to tell the captain the bad news.
The couple is now on a plane to Brazil. Everyone used to get so dressed up on airplanes, not a pair of pajama pants or crocs to be found. Devlin points out their boss, a few rows back in the plane. Devlin tells Alicia that her father has died. He took a poison capsil. Alicia reflects on how nice she and her once were before she knew who her father really was. With his death, she no longer has to hate him or herself.
They are now at a street cafe in Rio, still awaiting news on what their job will be. Alicia asks Devlin to put his cop brain on the back burner and just take her hand and have fun. Alicia starts to drown her doubts in herself as she asks Devlin to believe in her.
They have gone for a drive and are admiring the view as Alicia tells Devlin that he can’t admit he has feelings for her because he is ashamed of loving a drunk, and is worried about what others will think. Well he finds a way to stop her from talking; a passionate kiss does the trick.
Alicia and Devlin
The agents are having a meeting about Alicia, and how much faith he has in her. The meeting adjourns with the men looking very proud of themselves. They basically just agreed that Alicia will have to find her way into the house of the German business man they are targeting, who had ties to her father.
Devlin and Alicia have arrived at her hotel room and make good use of the balcony, and I don’t mean they are admiring the view of the beach. The two make plans for dinner in between kisses. Devlin contacts his hotel to see if he has any messages. Alicia tells Devlin she knows he doesn’t love her, to which he responds, “When I don’t love you, I’ll let you know.” Ok…heart…calm yourself….swoon…
Devlin has a message from his boss, and he has to leave for a meeting. They kiss all the way to the door. At the meeting, his boss has obviously told him they expect Alicia to become intimate with their target. He is visibly upset and states that he is not sure that she will do it. His boss tells him that their target, Alex Sebastian ( Claude Rains) was once in love with Alicia, and this is the perfect opportunity to get someone on the inside to find out what has been going on.
It is determined that Devlin and Alicia will stage an unexpected meeting with Alex at a local riding club. Devlin now has the unfortunate task of going back to tell the woman he loves he is whoring her out for the good ole’ USA. Those are my words, not his, but if I was Alicia, that is what I would hear in my head.Devlin returns to Alicia’s hotel room as she is happily cooking for the two of them. She happily is going about, setting the table, and he is back to his mystery man stance. Alicia is so open with him, and he zings her, and gets back to business.
Devlin asks Alicia if she remembers their target and asks if he had feelings for her. She tells him that he did have feelings for her, but she did not return them. She asks him what the plan is and he tells her that they are meeting Alex tomorrow, but it is up to her to “land him”, which is better than saying nail him I guess. Alicia compares herself to Mata Hari, trying to lighten the mood, Devlin brings any levity crashing to the ground as he reiterates that she has to win the target over and get the intel. Alicia accuses him of knowing all along that this is what the job was and he tells her he just found out himself. Both are heart broken, but Devlin hides behind his law enforcement mask while Alicia’s expressions are an open book.
Alicia Joins the Case
Alica asks if he told the boss she was not the kind of woman for this job, and Devlin says he leaves it up to her to defend herself. She enquiries if he tried to adjust the assignment, if he tried to protect what they were starting. Devlin replies, this is the job they have to do. As her pain increases, Alicia’s mask is starting to be secured into place. She asks him if she should take the job, and he tells her it is up to her. She asks him to tell her that he loves her, but once again, the words do not come.
As she walks from the cozy balcony, her self esteem seems to blow way with the ocean breeze. My heart breaks for her. This man she is falling for is willing to give her up to another man because it is the job. His cold and matter of fact demeanor is doing nothing to help ease the pain of this blow he had dealt her. He did so much more damage with his words and lack thereof, than he ever did in the tussle over her car back in Miami. She takes a drink and when she speaks her mask is firmly in place.
The next day, the two are heading to the riding company. Devlin gives her his back story, and his folded arms show how unhappy he is about the situation. At the riding club, the two slowly ride past Alex, but Alicia’s hat obscures his view, even though he does have a spark of recognition. When Devlin says they should wait around and take this slowly, Alicia is not too keen on this idea, signaling her horse to run, which makes Alex follow, clearly recognizing a woman he was once very fond of. Alex catches up to her, taking her horse’s reins and stopping them both, as Devlin looks on, his mask cracking.
Having missed a meeting with Devlin, we find Alicia and Alex having dinner. Alex is openly flirting as Alicia is cool but affectionate. She sees Prescott, her boss, enter the restaurant. Alex asks if she knows that man and she says no. He explains to her that Prescott is intelligence, and Alicia shares her disdain for members of law enforcement, explaining they are the reason why she left Miami and was not there when her father died. Alex admits this answers a question he had about why she left Miami. Alex says he wants to help Alicia forget all the pain and trouble she and her father had gone through. She tells him she feels at home with him.
Tension between the lovebirds
Alex asks her if there is someone else in her life and specifically Devlin. Alicia tells him that Devlin has been nothing but a pest since she arrived in Rio. She assures him that Devlin means nothing to her. Alex invites her to a dinner party his mother is throwing at their house. So, he is a mama’s boy. Let’s see to what extent shall we….
Devlin is angry, Prescott curious about flowers Alex has sent Alicia. The two agents are waiting in Alicia’s room as she appears, stunning in white, ready for the dinner party. Prescott gives Alicia some rented jewels, and tells her to try and memorize the names of the people in attendance. He tells the two that they need to not see each other for a few days, in case anyone from the party checks up on her.
Alicia arrives at Alex’s house, a large mansion on the ocean. He is doing very well for himself. . She is escorted into a room to wait, and she sees Alex’s mother descend the stairs. The two women greet each other, but with guarded stances. Alex enters, and the Ice Queen, oh sorry, Alex’s mother suggests they meet the other guests.
As all the guests take their seats for dinner, a certain wine visibly upsets one of the guests. Alex quickly escorts him from the room as Alicia takes note. Alicia cannot see the label of the wine in questions.
After dinner the gentlemen retire to a room to have cigars and to discuss the poor man who had a melt down about the wine and is now waiting nervously in the hall. He enters the room and apologizes to the men. He tells Alex he wishes to leave on his own. One of the other guests insists on driving the man home. A concrete shoe fitting, anyone?
Mama’s boy and the Ice Queen are at the horse races, discussing where Alicia disappeared to. Devlin and Alicia meet, and she gives him her intel from the party. Alicia tells Devlin that Alex is one of her playmates. Devlin is angry and lashes out the best he can without losing their cover. He is cruel to her and as Alex approaches he gets one more jab in as Alicia tries to gain her composure. Alex tells Alicia he was watching the two of them and she must convince him that Devlin means nothing to her.
Alicia and Alex
Prescott and Devlin are meeting with other agents, discussing the intel Alicia gave them. She announces that she is there to see them, and when one of the other gentlemen in the room makes snide remarks about her character, Devlin stands up for her, putting the man in his place. Now if he could just do that when she is actually in the room, the love birds might make some progress.
Alicia enters and tells the gentlemen that Alex has asked her to marry him, and she had to give him an answer quickly. They tell her that if she is willing to go this far for them. Prescott asks for Devlin’s opinion and he agrees it is a good idea. Both the lovers are heartbroken, but masks in place. Devlin quickly takes his leave, as the men discuss their luck in this opportunity.
Now married Alex and Alicia return home after their honeymoon. The Ice Queen is not happy about the situation, and makes sure the couple comes home to a dark house. The next day, while Alicia is settling in, she discovers locked doors. The butler tells her that the Ice Queen has all the keys to the locked doors. Alicia interrupts Alex’s meeting and he goes to fetch them from mommy. The two argue behind clothes doors, and what do you know, Mama’s Boy won.
Alicia systematically goes through the house unlocking all the doors but the wine cellar, which only Alex has the key to. While meeting to share information, Devlin tells her to get the key. Alicia tells him easier said than done, and that she is having no fun. Devlin tells her it is too late for all that. He convinces her to throw a party. She can steal the key and slip it to him during the party.
The night of the party, as Alex gets ready in the other room, Alicia stealthily takes the key from his keychain. She does some quick maneuvering as her husband tries to explain his jealousy toward Devlin.
The newlyweds greet their guest, as Alicia holds tight to the key. When Devlin arrives, Alicia slips him the key as he kisses her hand. Alex quickly approaches and assures Devlin and the invitation to the party was from both of them, not just his wife. Our two sneaks begin to worry that the party will run out of champagne and Alex will realize that his key is missing during his absence. Another guest drags Devlin away, while Alicia enquiries with the butler about the champagne supply. Alicia goes to find Devlin, and as they sit and talk, Alex watches the pair from across the room. They plan where to meet and Devlin leaves as Alicia returns to her husband’s side, watching more and more glasses of champagne be poured.
The Wine Cellar
Alicia makes an excuse to leave and goes to meet Devlin. As he searches the wine cellar, Alicia keeps watch. While trying to examine some paperwork, Devlin breaks a bottle of wine that is full of “sand” Devlin gets a sample and the pair half heartedly clean up the mess. He tells her to find another bottle with the same label. She does, but only looks at the label, not the vintage. Alicia pours out the wine, and puts the “sand” back in the bottle and places on the shelf.
At the party the butler approaches Alex to inform him they are running low on champagne. Devlin and Alicia quickly finish cleaning up as Alex arrives in the cellar. Worried about being seen, Devlin quickly kisses Alicia. In the moment, she loses herself and drowns his love for her. He tells her to push him away as Alex approaches. She tells her husband that Devlin drunkenly made the advance. Devlin tells Alex, “I knew her before you, I loved her before you, but I am not as lucky as you.” From behind his mask, Devlin is able to speak his truth. He gives his apology to the couple, and Alex sends Alicia up to see to her guests.
Back to the task at hand, when Alex and the butler return to the wine cellar, he realizes that his key is missing. He tells the butler that the guests have had enough champagne and they can drink what is available upstairs.
Alicia apologizes to her husband after the guests have left. He tells her he was the one who acted like a school boy and then sends her to bed while he goes to conduct some business.
When he enters his bedroom, he sees Alicia sleeping in her bed. He takes his now lighter keyring and places it on the vanity, looking back to his wife. The next morning Alex awakens and looks nervously at a still sleeping Alicia. He goes to check his key ring and the missing key is back where it belongs. He goes down to the wine cellar. Nothing seems out of place, but then he notices something poured down the sink. He goes to examine the shelf where the broken bottle came from. One of the bottles is the wrong vintage and not sealed properly. He picks it up and sees it is full of the “sand”, but he realizes that someone has tampered with this bottle. He searches further and finds the broken bottle under the shelves.
Alex does what any self respecting mama’s boy would do. He runs to his mommy and tells her that his wife is an American agent. The Ice Queen is practically giddy when she finds out there is a problem with her daughter in law. Alex reminds his mother that his business partners got rid of a man for freaking out over a bottle of wine. What will they do to him when they find out his wife is a spy. The two strike up a plan to slowly make Alicia ill, and then one day they will just get rid of her.
What’s in the Bottle?
So the slow poisoning of Alicia begins. When she goes to meet Prescott, he tells her that the “sand” is actually uranium ore. He tells her about Devlin’s transfer to Spain. He asked for the transfer. Alicia confirms that she is still to report to Devlin until the new contact arrives.
Alicia is suffering from dizzy spells, and when she finally goes to meet with Devlin, she is quite ill. She apologizes to him for being late. They both say nothing new is happening. He tells her she doesn’t look very well and asks her if she is sick and she tells him it is a hangover. He is not surprised about her return to her old ways. While they both try to hurt each other with their words, Alicia gives him back the scarf he tied around her waist in Miami. She goes to leave and he asks her to stay, and she tells him she doesn’t want to.
The scientist that is staying with Alex shows genuine concern for Alicia’s health. He starts to give away information about where the uranium is coming from. When the houseguest mistakenly picks up Alicia’s coffee and the Ice Queen and Mama’s Boy quickly stop him from drinking from her cup, the light bulb goes off in Alicia’s head. She knows they are poisoning her, and tries to leave and returns to her room. She collapses before she can get up the stairs to her room and make a phone call for help. Alex insists on removing the phone so she is not disturbed and locks her in there, cutting her off from all contact.
Devlin is in his usual meeting spot, but Alicia never shows up. He goes to see Prescott, and tells him that she hasn’t shown up for 5 days. Devlin tells Prescott that he realizes that Alicia was not drunk when he saw her last, just very sick. He tells him he is going to go to the house and check up on her, make a friendly house call. Prescott tells him to check in after.
Devlin pulls up in front of the stately manor and when the butler opens the door, she asks for Alex first. The butler tells him Alex said no interruptions. He then asks about Alicia and the butler confirms she is ill. Alex is told Devlin is there, and he has his butler tell him to wait. In the meeting, they discuss that people are following them.
Delvin decides he can no longer wait and quickly makes his way up to Alicia. She is barely responsive, but when she realizes it is him, their love for each other cannot hide. She tells him they are poisoning her. He tells her he is going to get her out of the house. Devlin tells her that he was leaving Rio because he loves her and couldn’t stand to see her with Alex. He starts to get Alicia ready to leave and she tells him they gave her sleeping pills. He tries to keep her talking to keep her awake. She asks him to tell her again that he loves her, it keeps her away. As they slowly make their way to the door, she tells him where the sand comes from.
They start to make their escape as Alex meets them at the top of the stairs. Devlin tells the Ice Queen and Mama’s boy that unless he lets them go, he will tell his business associate the truth about who Alicia is. Alex freezes, and mommy does his talking for him. As soon as his associates start to question what is going on, Alex actively helps get Alicia to the car. Once in the car. Alex is locked out of the car and left behind to deal with his associates. With the weight of this hanging in the air, the film ends.
After filming wrapped, Gary Cooper took the wine cellar key. After a few years, he gave the key to Ingrid Bergman, and at a tribute to Alfred Hitchock, she presented the key to him.
All the scenes with multiple kisses were because there was a time limit on long screen kisses due to the Hayes Code.
RKO paid David O Sleznick $800,000 and 50% of the profits for the use of the screen writer, HItchcock, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman.
Hitchcock stated that during the course of making the film, he was under surveillance by the FBI because his film contained references to uranium.
I am a huge Hitchcock fan, but this film had escaped my viewing all these years. The first fifteen minutes of the film is very funny. Drunk Ingrid Bergman is delightful. The rest of the film is suspenseful and full of angst and heartbreak. All of the performances are outstanding, but it is the film leads, holding on to those masks of their feeling with all their might is where the film shines.
Hitchcock skillfully uses light to show conflict. Characters in half shadow, stepping into the light, retreating into the dark, this often says more than any dialogue could.
World War II was still fresh in America’s mind when they made this film I am sure that it made the audience question how far they would go for their country. Could they give up their happiness, love, freedom and body if their country asked it of them? More importantly, should this be something that a country asks of its citizens?
“Notorious” is on a number of top film lists and for good reason. You can stream it for free on YouTube and other platforms.
I don’t know where the Void will send me next. Thriller, Horror, Noir…Wherever it is, I am looking forward to the journey, and I hope you will join me for what lies in store. Until next time.