Notorious IMDb – 221/250
My unending slog through this list returns to classic Hollywood this week and includes my first foray into Hitchcock cinema, with the 1946 film noir Notorious from 1946. (Not to be confused with the Biggie Smalls biopic from 2009, though the similarities are endless).
Starring legendary actors Carey Grant and Ingrid Bergman, and directed by perhaps Hollywood’s most famous director Alfred Hitchcock, Notorious tells an espionage story straight out of a James Bond flick, involving Nazis, dodgy bottles of sandy wine and a uranium sub plot, which struggles to maintain pace and interest despite a stellar cast and wonderfully written script, with Hithcocks signature style slowly starting to develop and improve, but not fully on show here.
The film starts slowly as it introduces the characters of Devlin (Grant) and Alicia (Bergman), and slowly builds up the key elements of this film; espionage, trust and a love of alcohol that seems prominent throughout much of American cinema at this period of time. (Devlin’s drink driving would certainly not be looked upon favourably now).
Alicia is tasked with being a spy for the American government, sent to infiltrate a Nazi organisation due to her previous relationship with one of its members, Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains). Grant essentially plays Alicia’s handler, but the two in typical Hollywood style of the time begin to develop feelings between each other despite what was for me a startling lack of real chemistry. (Their kiss scene, though thought of as ‘erotic’ at the time and ‘groundbreaking’, seemed out of place and just strange to my modern sensibilities).
While their relationship and love for one another felt exceedingly forced, (Alica’s complete devotion to Devlin bordered on the ridiculous), the espionage story was interesting, especially as Alicia ingratiates herself into Alexanders life, even going so far as to marry him.
The dilemma she faces and the danger she puts herself in makes her by far the most sympathetic character of the film, whereas Devlin, despite playing the manly hero at the end, really comes off as arrogant and unlikeable.
In fact Bergman is the clear star of the film over Grant in creating a character we can empathise with and root for, and Claude Rains as well does a fantastic job of managing to create a villain for the film who isn’t some over the top Nazi figure, but instead a character who in some aspects we can sympathise with, a character who seems trapped by those around him, including his tyrannical and shrill mother (Leopoldine Konstaintin), rather than a character of evil himself.
Sadly, the film really goes nowhere by the end. Like that feeling you feel when your favourite TV shows ends with a whimper (or a shot to black in one series’ case), Notorious ends feeling incomplete. While you could say the ending is ‘open ended’, I feel this is more of a cop out, as much of the story is left unexplained or unexplored.
Notorious is not one of Hitchcock’s best known works, and perhaps is instead a nice starter into my first taste of his work, but I was hoping for something better or at least something more memorable to make me think, this is why cinema loves Hitchcock. As it is, I just can’t see the hype. Perhaps later films such as Rear Window, North by Northwest or Vertigo might change my mind.
For me I will always associate Notorious with a film about Biggie Smalls and Tupac, not Nazis and uranium.