Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Notorious – Great Hitchcock Thriller

Written by Ben Hecht, Alfred Hitchcock, and John Taintor Foote
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

First released in 1946, Notorious built on the fears of Nazis following the Second World War where people were seeing Nazis and conspiracies everywhere. Surprisingly, that’s the one angle of the film that doesn’t hold up quite so well. In the ensuing years, and especially to the youngest generations, the Nazis don’t represent the threat or instill fear the way they did when Notorious was first made. If anything, the supposed villain here seems to elicit sympathy at times because the only thing his villainy is built on is the fact that he’s a Nazi.

Alicia Huberman (portrayed by Ingrid Bergman) is the daughter of John Huberman, who was convicted in 1946 of treason and sentenced to twenty years in prison. Following the trial, T.R. Devlin (portrayed by Cary Grant) cozies up to her. He’s a government agent who hopes to use Alicia’s connections to catch her father’s friends who are also Nazis. However, Alicia doesn’t like law enforcement of any kids and is hostile to Devlin as soon as she finds out what he is.

Devlin must recruit her to help them find out who else is involved with her father as well as locate some uranium it is believed they are hiding. Devlin spends time with her and learns how she feels about her father and his friends. She has no great patriotic love for her country, either, but agrees to help him in the end. The two jet off to Brazil to await the details of their assignment.

While in Brazil, the two find themselves spending a lot of time together and romance blossoms. It comes to a screeching halt when the assignment comes down. Alicia is to spend time with Alexander Sebastian (portrayed by Claude Rains). The two know each other and Sebastian was once in love with her. This is why they think she will be convincing and he will be more receptive to revealing information to her.

A chance meeting is staged and Sebastian falls for Alicia again hook, line, and sinker. He invites her to a dinner party where Alicia meets Alexander’s mother who is immediately suspicious of Alicia. However, Alexander is too enamored of the woman who is beautiful and younger than he is and is blind to some of the warning signs his mother sees. He proposes to Alicia. Since she is already into it so deep, Alicia agrees to marry him.

Meanwhile, Devlin remains Alicia’s contact. This causes some problems between Alicia and Alexander. However, he is afraid his young wife is having an affair, not thinking that she is a spy.

What really sells this thriller is the great chemistry between Bergman and Grant. Grant is the self-assured man who brings security and stability to the somewhat unstable character Bergman portrays. She has it down pat as Alicia seems to be the lost child in many ways after her father has been sent away. He doesn’t come in to rescue her, but to use her. Initially, she is the means to an end. However, the two of them together manage to build upon what throws them together and be convincing as falling for each other. They see each other’s foibles and appreciate the attributes without slipping into a romance built on a crisis moment.

Hitchcock was a master with the camera, and Notorious is no different. He has the angles of the camera showing just what he wants and uses lots of close-ups to augment the emotion going on. During times when Alexander is jealous, he says not a word but the close-up of his expression says it all, even without Alicia and Devlin in the picture.

The story very nicely draws in the imagery of children dominated by their parents who need to break away but have been suffocated. Alicia seems to have been in that position with her father and goes into overload once he is away and she is out from under his repression. Likewise, although Alexander is a good degree older than her, he has a similar issue with his mother. It’s quite believable that the reason Alicia so readily agrees to marry him is not to further the case, but because she sees the older gentleman in the same light as her father and hopes to recapture that. The only wrinkle is her relationship with Devlin, which has helped her grow a little. Yet growing up can be quite frightening, and that’s what the allure is about Alexander and being taken care of. It’s quite conceivable that had she not had the attraction to Devlin, she would have abandoned the case for the familiarity and comfort that being with Alexander brought her.

All of this makes Alexander somewhat sympathetic. He doesn’t seem to epitomize evil. He is not shown doing horrible things or as a horrible person. It’s not Rains’ fault that he fails to make a convincing bad guy now with the passage of time. Rains plays him as strong but somewhat soft-spoken, and it’s easy to feel bad for him as Alicia is ingratiating herself with him at the same time she is having clandestine meetings with Devlin.

For the most part, Notorious is a great thriller that holds up well. The threat of the Nazis as villains might have faded with the passage of time, just as the Russians have from movies made a generation later, but the character play and tense moments building up to the end are quite good. Well worth getting your hands on.


” Commentary by Hitchcock film scholar Marian Keane
” Commentary by writer Rudy Behlmer
” Isolated music and effects track
Notorious dossier

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