Sunday, January 16, 2011
Studio: RKO Pictures
Screenplay: Ben Hecht
Source Material: Inspired by Mata Hari and a short story called 'The Song of the Dragon' by John Taintor Foote
Running Time: 970 minutes
A black & white picture
Sunday 16th January, 2:30pm
I had risen early this morning and popped out to buy a whole heap of cat litter in readiness for my month away (for which period this blog will have to rest) and I was ready and eager to watch Notorious by 8:30. However, as I began, my eyes became heavy and I just could not concentrate. (Even whilst boiling the kettle for tea, I wasn't fully awake and ended up burning my arm on the steam as I reached over to get a hand towel!) So I switched off and pottered about the flat for most of the day, doing very little indeed. I tried again around 2:30 and successfully sat through the movie. Even now, as I sit at my desk, I am struggling to keep my eyes open. Why am I so incredibly tired? It's rather stress inducing considering how busy I am going to be over the forthcoming week as I prepare for my holiday away by doing a ridiculous amount of work in a short space of time. If you know me and I lose my patience at any point, please forgive me.
As I type, I am very aware that over the next few minutes, I am going to make lots of typos as I am so lethargic. Forgive me if I do... Let's go.
Devlin - Cary Grant
Alicia Huberman - Ingrid Bergman
Alexander Sebastian - Claude Rains
Paul prescott - Louis Calhern
Mme. Sebastian - Madame Konstantin
'Dr Andreson' - Reinhold Schunzel
Walter Beardsley - Moroni Olsen
Eric Mathis - Ivan Triesault
Joseph - Alex Minotis
Mr Hopkins - Wally Brown
Commodore - Sir Charles Mendl
Dr Barbosa - Ricardo Costa
Hupka - Eberhard Krumschmidt
Ethel - Fay baker
In Miami, Florida, a man is being sentenced to prison for treason against the United States of America. His daughter, Alicia Huberman, is hounded by the press on her way out.
She has a party to say goodbye to the country and she meets a gate-crasher named Devlin. They have chemistry and when her guests have either gone or have fallen asleep, the two of them go out for a drive. She is drunk and gets pulled over, but when Devlin shows his ID, the cop lets them go. It turns out he is an American agent.
He has been sent to get her help in infiltrating some Nazis - initially she refuses, but after he plays her a recording of a conversation she had had with her father expressing her distaste for the Nazis and support for America, she relents.
The two of them head to Rio and after spending some time together, the chemistry between them becomes a greater bond and they fall in love. This makes the next step so much harder for Devlin. He is required to ask her to marry into the group they are trying to infiltrate as one of the men is an old flame from her past.
Devlin is gutted, but has to go along with it. Alicia knows she has to do so too.
They meet Alex Sebastian whilst out riding and he becomes reacquainted with Alicia. His love for her is reignited almost immediately and she lets him believe he is succeeding with his advances.
She has dinner with Alex and his cohorts and is surprised when a man named Emil Hupka gives a little anxious scene when he spies a certain bottle of wine on the shelf. His colleagues are not impressed... After dinner, whilst the men drink brandy and smoke cigars, Emil apologises and the other men say they forgive him, but he knows deep down he has dug his own grave.
Over a period, Alicia keeps meeting with Devlin and reports back to him about the various men and places she learns of. Alex has proposed to her and she accepts, much to Devlin's chagrin.
Whilst settling in her new home, she discovers that a lot of the doors are locked and her new mother-in-law is not at all keen to let Alicia have a run of the house. One door is kept locked and only Alex has the key - the wine cellar!!
One night, Alicia sneaks the key off her husband's fob and hides it from him, dropping it when in an embrace with him and kicking it under the table.
Later, at a big party, she hands the key to Devlin. They both go to the cellar and discover, when Devlin drops a bottle, that some of the wine bottles do not contain wine, but a mineral ore. He tries to clean up the mess and replace the bottle with one with a similar label. They leave the cellar just in time, but they do not get away from the basement before Alex comes down. Devlin kisses Alicia in a deep embrace to make Alex think they were just down there to make love.
Initially, Alex believes this but upon finding broken glass and notices the incorrect date on the replaced bottle, he begins to piece things together.
Alex goes to his domineering mother and tells her he has married an American agent. She is horrified but also calm about it and plans to sort things out. Alex is concerned because he knows his colleagues killed Hupka for simply losing his nerve over a wine bottle. What will they do to him for being so naive?
His mother's plan is to pretend everything is normal and slowly poison Alicia over a period of time.
Meanwhile, Devlin and his department discover that the metal ore (of which he took a sample) was Uranium and they need to find out the location of the mine.
Devlin meets Alicia again, but she is looking terrible. Devlin merely thinks she is back on the bottle and all she feels is weary and wants things to be over.
One night, when Alex's doctor is visiting, he nearly sips from Alicia's cup - alarming Alex and his mother. This only alerts Alicia to what's been happening, but it is too late. She is too weak and she collapses. They take her upstairs, disconnect the phone and leave her semi-conscious in bed.
Devlin begins to worry about her when she doesn't turn up for her meetings. Eventually, he takes matters into his own hands and goes around to the Sebastians' home and sneaks upstairs whilst Alex and his Nazi colleagues discuss other matters in the study. He lifts her from her bed and helps her downstairs. ON the way he meets Alex and his mother who are both terrified of their fellow cohorts finding out the truth about Alicia. Devlin threatens to expose Alex to them if he doesn't let them out of the building safely. They all walk to the car with the Nazis watching closely. At the car, Alex pleads for Devlin and Alicia to take him with them, but they refuse and drive off.
Alex is left to ascend the steps back to the house where the already suspicious colleagues are waiting for an explanation. he goes inside and closes the door to receive his fate.
I love Alicia's flamboyant yet simple way of ending a party;
"I'm very sorry, you all have to go. It has been a perfectly hideous party!"
I also love her line;
"There's nothing like a love song to give you a good laugh."
I've said it before and I'll say it again; Ingrid Bergman is one of the most beautiful women to ever grace the silver screen. Even when she is being slowly poisoned and she is looking close to death, she still looks magnificent. With that, I should mention the subtle yet effective job the make up department have done. It is so slight that you don't notice but you are subliminally aware of the difference. Genius.
Hitchcock has a wonderful time playing with the camera and various points of view shots. When Alicia is drunk, the camera revolves around making us feel as hungover as she.
Later, when she is being drugged, the silhouettes and shadows of her poisoners loom ominously before her as she sways on her feet. It's a very creepy effect.
One of the most famous shots (or should I say 'notorious shots'?) is the one of Alicia in the background with the poisoned coffee cup in the foreground. Hitchcock achieved this unsettling effect by using a larger than life prop. It certainly makes one feel uneasy when watching.
My absolute favourite though is a crane shot at the Sebastians' party. We flow down from the balcony across the party, toward Alicia and we zoom in tight on her hand to see the wine cellar key. It would have been a devilish shot to get right, but it pays off superbly.
Great performances from Brant, Bergman, Rains and Konstantin bring this story to a higher level than if it were a mediocre cast. I don't find the plot as satisfying as some critics, but it's an enjoyable cat and mouse game all the same. 7/10