Being of the generation I am, it is quite impossible to consider this movie without a certain Duran Duran song always popping into my head.
(My older readers are no doubt asking themselves “Which Duran Duran song?”)
There’s no mincing words here: NOTORIOUS is badly dated. It looks cheap, many “outdoor” scenes are quite obviously done in a studio using rear projection, the story moves slowly and there isn’t really a sense of closure — if it were remade today, there’d be a whole other act left. The central character conflict is resolved, yes, but the most odious villains are not only at large, they’re still undoubtedly preparing the same evil plan they had before, which has not been thwarted yet (though perhaps we’re meant to assume that it automatically will be now that one of the heroes knows about it).
Some of the stuff that has dated is amusing, though. The film begins, after an establishing trial scene, with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman downing large quantities of whiskey, then going out…for a drive! He holds his liquor well enough to remain composed; she does not. So he punches her and knocks her out.
Much later in the movie, when Bergman is supposed to be not only seriously ill, but so obviously ill that her situation cannot be mistaken for a hangover, she looks…just like Ingrid Bergman always does. Perfectly made up, merely acting a little faint. Dated.
Grant is Devlin, a government agent trying to track down Nazi war criminals in South America. Bergman is Alicia, a well-known party girl and daughter of a recently convicted German-American traitor. Playing on her patriotism, Devlin recruits Alicia to help find some of her father’s old friends in Brazil. While waiting around for their official orders, they fall in love (quick work, but it happens in the movies). Then they get the instructions: she must seduce likely Nazi Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains) and make him fall in love with her so she can find out all his secrets. This puts a strain on the love thang with Devlin, but come on: who in their right mind would ultimately pick Claude Rains over Cary Grant? (Assume, for the purposes of answering that question, that Cary Grant actually does get attracted to women.)
NOTORIOUS feels really long. I kept wondering when the suspense that Hitchcock is so well-known for would kick in. Viewed through the filter of the time, I guess it is quite impressive how much sex and violence Hitch was able to imply while getting past the censors, but again I say…Dated! Only towards the end, when Alicia’s life is actually in danger, do the stakes get high, and that last scene is tautly played.
I’m still waiting to be truly blown away by anything Hitchcock. Anyone have any recommendations?