“Miss Huberman is first, last, and always not a lady. She may be risking her life, but when it comes to being a lady, she doesn’t hold a candle to your wife, sitting in Washington, playing bridge with three other ladies of great honor and virtue.”
Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman… Even Claude Rains… These are all names that alone mean a movie is more than likely worth my time. But when you put them all together, my hopes are gonna unavoidably get pretty high. So does this imposing combo live up to expectations in Notorious?
It’s 1946, WWII has just been put in the ‘Win’ column of the Allied ledger and the world is busy rounding up the Nazis who managed to make it out. The latest to be caught is the Nazi spy father of Ingrid Bergman’s Alicia. Needing someone on the inside of a Nazi conspiracy, the Americans decide Alicia is the perfect candidate. She’s recruited by Cary Grant as TR Devlin. The only problem is, the two fall in love during their mission prep, which makes things really awkward when it turns out the Nazi conspiracy is lead by one of Alicia’s old German flames, Alex (Claude Rains).
Getting the set up out of the way super quick, it’s not long before Alicia is recruited, her and Devlin are hooking up, she’s embedded within Alex’s organisation and, here’s the one that really shocked me with how rapidly it happened, she’s only bloody married to Alex. Partly in service of the mission, but mostly just to hurt Devlin after they have a little tiff.
It’s interesting to see a post-war story told so immediately post-war. Hitler probably hadn’t even secretly landed in Argentina by the time this movie was released, and it gets straight to the anti-Nazi aspect of the story in the opening scene. Obviously there’s was nothing risky about making your bad guys Nazis in a movie, but it still struck me as more overt (but never in a flag waving, propagandic way) than I expected from any film made in 1946.
Notorious is a Hitchcock movie. But it’s like no other Hitchcock movie I’ve ever seen. There’s no mystery, there’s no twist, there’s no intrigue. Sure, it’s built around dual identities, double crossing and espionage, but none of that is hidden from the audience in order to pull the rug out from under us at the end.
We know exactly who everyone really is, not just who they claim to be, from the second each character is introduced. We know exactly what their intentions and motives are from the get go. This isn’t a who dunnit, or even a why dunnit. It’s a how dunnit. We know Grant and Bergman need to (and will) take Rains down, but it’s the waiting to see how they do it that fills Nortorious with just as much tension and anticipation as any of Hitchcock’s more gimmicky stories.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the gimmickry. Vertigo wouldn’t be Vertigo without the reveal at the end. Rear Window wouldn’t be Rear Window without the whiplashing twist on top of twist on top of twist approach. And Psycho is nothing but build up and anticipation to that final five minutes. But it was such a great surprise to see Hitchcock do something different (in my limited experience with his work), and do it so well. Grant, Bergman and Rains all deliver, but it’s Hitchcock’s direction that makes Notorious so compulsively watchable.