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LAFF 2005: NOTORIOUS

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?

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Rating: 2.1/10 (9 votes cast)
LAFF 2005: NOTORIOUS, 2.1 out of 10 based on 9 ratings
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20 comments to LAFF 2005: NOTORIOUS

  • …wondering which song *sigh*

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  • LYT

    Heh. Someone had to ask…

    That’d be, um, what was it called again…

    Oh yeah. “Notorious”

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  • I liked Hitchcock presents, though I guess I was lke 10 when I used to watch it on Nick At Night, so… maybe not so much now.

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  • Peggy C

    I think Hitchcock is kind of like the original Star Wars–you had to be there when it first came out. I know several people with a lifelong fear of birds because of “The Birds”.

    I still like “Rear Window”, but I like Jimmy Stewart. And yes, Hitchcock got away with a lot of sexual innuendo for his day.

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  • LYT

    I like Jimmy Stewart too. My favorite Hitchcock movie that I’ve seen is ROPE.

    I haven’t seen REAR WINDOW all the way through. That and THE BIRDS seem the most appealing, after PSYCHO, which I have seen.

    Still, none blow me away like I feel at least one ought to.

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  • Jaye

    Try SABOTAGE… I love most of the Hitchcock flicks I’ve seen… however, SABOTAGE remains a topper. What else… MARNIE, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, VERTIGO, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, TO CATCH A THIEF, THE LADY VANISHES… all favorites… You have to see some more Hitchcock and watch all of REAR WINDOW, for shrieking (er, cryin’) out loud!

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  • Jaye

    PS. I have some still on DVD, mostly the older stuff like SABOTAGE and LADY VANISHES. Will be glad to lend to you sometime…

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  • Sean

    If PSYCHO didn’t blow you away… I must ask the question: What suspense/horror movie of any director and from any era has indeed blown you away?

    I sense a real immaturity in this review, especially with the repeated shouts of “Dated!”… which leads me to believe you are one of those people who watch a film eagerly awaiting the first continuity error or mistake so they can prove how smart they are.

    Sorry to be so negative… but I love Hitch, and this is such a shallow and immature review that I felt compelled to respond. But alas, we are all entitled to our blogs & opinions.

    [LYT responds: Sean, are you claiming that it ISN'T dated? If Hitchcock were alive today, do you think he'd find it so? PSYCHO has trouble blowing anyone away today with its suspense because all of its elements are such a part of the consciousness that there's no surprise left in the film itself. One must try, of course, to view each film through the prism of its time, but even then, I found little suspense in NOTORIOUS, except at the very end. If you'd like me to name a movie with superior suspense, I'll suggest the original MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE.
    If you love Hitchcock, make the case FOR a particular film. It's a much better tactic than making assumptions about my personality just because you don't agree that a film is dated.]

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  • halo

    you clearly know very little about movies, and less about criticizing any sort of media.

    [LYT says: Yeah, funny how I keep getting paid for it, though.]

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  • ant

    Sometimes when you look at a Hitchcock film you have to go beyond the explicit meaning and into the implicit meanings which are generally less “DATED” and are generally where much his genius is. I don’t know, I agree with he others that state that this review feels a bit shallow I mean come on, a good portion of the review (3 lines) is about a Duran Duran song and I’m not criticising you especially for the fact that it was somewhat off topic, but rather bececause
    a good portion of this review equates to three lines. Ahhhhh now feel free to criticise my response!

    [LYT says: Actually, only two sentences about Duran Duran. Yours is a more fair response than others, but perhaps you could tell me what the implicit meanings that I'm missing here are. As a statement on love and relationships, it doesn't resonate with me because I don't buy the way they so quickly fall for each other.]

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  • Mike

    wow, I can’t believe your parents let you use the computer.

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  • Tom Melly

    Heh – there is a remake, it’s called Mission Impossible 2.

    Aside from that, sorry you didn’t like the film, but a couple of your crits. are slightly odd. Okay, you don’t like back-screen projection, and, yes, it looks dated now, but it’s an odd thing to object to in an old film. However, the one I’ve really got to pick up on is the crit. that Berg. looks okay when she’s ill. I mean, c’mon, this sh*t is still going on in films today.

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  • Adam

    I have a lot of problems with your specific critiques, as well as how you review this movie in general. First of all, just because it is different from current movies doesn’t make it “dated.” Yes if it were remade today it very well could have had another act, but couldn’t that be one of the problems with movies today? That was one of the greatest endings of any movie I’ve ever seen. The character who mistrusted Alicia escaped with her to freedom, while the one who trusted her marches up the stairs to his death. Can’t you see the brilliance in how Hitchcock blurs the line between good and evil, as we feel sorry for the “evil” man who truly loved Alicia?
    You see, the nazis, the uranium, thats not the important part of the story. Whether the nazis are caught, though it is assumed that they will be, is really of no consequence. This is the canvas Hitchock uses to give us the suspense and romance of this love triangle. And how can you say there is no suspense in the movie except for the very end? Hoe about the whole scene with the key and the wine cellar? Yes this may not be as riveting as the special-effects ridden movies of today, but isn’t it more fufilling? I think the beauty of some of the classics is how much they can do with characters, dialogue, and camerawork, without any of the special effects of today. The result is a much deeper movie, one that makes you think.
    And the camerawork is amazing, especially for the time. Look at the scene where Devlin plays the recording to Alicia to prove to her her patriotism. At the beginning she is in shadow, then a few bars of light, then completely in the sunlight, mirroring her true self being revealed in the tape. How about the shot of the liqour glass at the beginning, which is mirrored by the later shots of the poisoned cofee cup.
    Wow, Ive written a lot, but I really enjoyed this movie. Im not trying to attack your review, as everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I hope this can help you to understand why many consider Hitchcock a genius, and why many love this movie.

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  • Brit

    Hey there…
    Just had to agree with the fact that your critique is incredibly immature. (And I really enjoy that one of your responses was “yeah, but I’m still getting paid.” Which makes me question your priorities in life in general)… Yes the movie is “dated,” what a stupid thing to write about… guess what? the movie is dated because it was made in 1946! It’s called technology that didn’t exist… this is like saying that the Puritans should have had online banking… the two simply did not exist in the same time. Also- are ther special effects the only thing you go to see movies for today? I hope not, because you are missing why people like Alfred Hitchcock made films in the first place, and why people continue to make art today.

    [Sigh...another knee-jerk response, I see. I write for contemporary viewers, Brit, and it's entirely valid as a point of criticism to say that the story simply does not hold up as a believable one by contemporary standards. It's NOT all about the incredibly bad and often unnecessary rear-projection. One of my favorite movies is Wings, from 1922 - silent, but the story completely holds up. I've defended older movies to my friends on the basis that they need to be seen through a filter of the times. But there's a limit -- when you start laughing at what was meant to be suspenseful, it has dated, and badly. I only mention I get paid because of the sheer number of newcomers who seem to think I'm just "some guy with a website" rather than a professional film critic who does in fact do this for a living, like it or not. -- LYT]

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  • deadmanswill

    I have to say what you’ve written is not a critical review but an opinion of yours. Which being said, I would disagree with you on the matter of suspense. And I see that you watched the movie with the words of Hitchcock and Suspense ringing in your mind. True, one is always influenced by such words and the hype associated with Hitchcock.

    Of course you do not expect an old movie to be fresh as a dew drop. Hitchcock always used rear projection and if that is going to bother you, you would not enjoy any of his movies. Many films of that time used rear projection. It was ‘the graphics’ of that time. And if you are complaining about filming in studios, you better altogether give the 40′s and 50′s a miss.

    One point that I get from your review was that you were expecting a suspense spy movie and what you got was a romantic triangle in the spy backdrop. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, in fact I found it far more enjoyable than Psycho and Rear Window.

    Frankly, I did not find anything laughable or outdated in this particular movie. The story was fine, the screenplay was good and so was staging and performance.

    And don’t even use the word ‘acts’. As a professional critic you must understand audience don’t judge a film by its ‘acts’. They either find it good or bad. And I can only say that you had ‘acts’ in mind and expected one more of it and were consequently felt betrayed. For me the film was as complete as it could be. In fact, the ending is so novel that you could never call such a film dated. You wanted a lots of gun play and other heroic stuff in the end and see justice done.

    What you fail to grasp is that if the spies were nabbed in the end, the film might not have had such popular acclaim. Being a daughter of a German Father and an American Mother, the daughter can be spying for Germans and yet be justified. Hitchcock chose her character to be loyal to America because he was making an American film. So he knew it would be very wise to leave the spy part open to conclusions. Rather he nicely concluded the riveting drama of the love triangle.

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  • JKB

    If I had to suggest a film to you it would be Vertigo. Stewart is masterful in it and it has strong elements of camera work and using the film to help tell the story. However, like Notorious it has what some today would connsider an entirely unsatisfying ending (though I think its terrific). It is however a great film and a wondeful study of obsession.

    As for Notorious. I rather loved the film. I felt the suspense all the way through and was somewhat like a caged panther while I worried about Alicia’s well being. The film is certainly dated in terms of who the bad guys are and in one other point that I find sad to call dated. It uses a common Hitch double theme. We see the overbearing dominant mother figure who prods and bothers her son. We also see however that Alicia is the character in central peril, this drives men to wish to see her safe to pray that she is spared in time, it plays on the now dead or at least dying idea of chivalry in men. It also plays on the notion that we have a woman who is “not a lady” but who is willing to risk everything as if she were a man and we love her for it. These dual themes carrying the idea that women both drive us crazy and are what we seek to protect are dated but shouldn’t be.

    The ending upsets younger audiences but to me it was terrific. You are left to believe that Alicia will probably be ok but you have no way of really knowing if the poison has already gone too far so you are left to think about whether she lives or dies. You also might like to think the Nazi’s are caught but it is just as easy to presume that they are not and so we have an ending that not only allows audience conclusions but leaves you thinking that maybe the “bad guys” get away with one. Except for Alexander and his mother, we know they get to die. Its is there to show that not everything in life ends up in nice neat pretty little packages..in fact few things do.

    I’ve shown some Hitch movies to my kids and the ones they like best are North By Northwest and Dial M For Murder.

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  • JKB

    Roger Ebert’s Review

    I know I just posted to this one but I thought I’d add a link to another reviewer’s opinion.

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  • reader

    you’re an idiot.

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  • Jasper von blowhool

    Ugh… There are major reasons to dislike Notorious, but you covered none of them in your bewildered, half-understood blatherings.

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  • Kitty von Blowhole

    In thirty years, some snotnose will be trashing your generation’s most respected movies. And they will have no grasp of context either, and parse everything against what reality in a film looks like in 2039; which assuredly will look nothing ike what you consider film realism today.

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