Friday, August 28, 2015

Notorious (1946)

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“There's nothing like a love song to give you a good laugh.”

            Today is Ingrid Bergman’s 100th birthday. Bergman is one of my all time favorite classic film actresses. Without her I would not be as into classic films and Hollywood as I am now. I remember picking up a few of her films when I worked at Best Buy many moons ago. It was at a time when classic films were starting to come out on DVD. The first of her films I bought were Spellbound, Casablanca, and Notorious. I bought Notorious because I love Cary Grant and so did my great-grandmother who told me about the film. From the moment I first saw Bergman in Notorious I was hooked. In honor of Bergman’s 100th birthday I have decided to review the first ever film I saw her in.
            A German man is convicted of being a Nazi spy in America. The press is abuzz outside the courtroom not so much for the German man but for his beautiful young daughter Alicia Huberman (Bergman). That night she has a wild party at her place and gets tossed. At the party is a man she has never seen before. Apparently a friend of hers brought the man along. The mysterious man’s name is Devlin (Grant) and he is the last one left among the guests at her party. In her drunken stupor Alicia wants to go for a drive and she will be the driver. On the road she gets pulled over but Devlin shows the officer a card and they are free to go. This angers Alicia because she realizes that Devlin is some kind of government worker sent to watch over her.
            The next morning Alicia wakes up severely hung over to see Devlin standing in her doorway. He has an assignment for her. She refuses to do so until Devlin plays her a record of a bugged conversation between her and her father where she professes her love for America. Alicia’s assignment is to get close to a man named Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains) who was an associate of her father’s. Sebastian lives down in Rio De Janeiro where other ex-Nazis also live.
            Down in Rio, Devlin and Alicia fall in love. They share a passionate kiss on a hotel balcony and profess their love for one another. Before they can even have dinner Devlin receives news that Alicia is to get close to Sebastian. Devlin is not happy about this and begins to pull away from her as soon as he gets back to the hotel room. Devlin is told Sebastian will be out riding the following day and that is where Alicia is to catch his attention. Devlin moves their meeting along by kicking Alicia’s horse so Sebastian will ride after her.
            Soon Alicia is invited over Sebastian’s house where he lives with his domineering mother. Also invited to dinner that night are a few of Sebastian’s fellow Nazi sympathizers. While sitting down at the table one of the men nearly has a panic attack when he sees a bottle of wine on a sideboard. After dinner the men sit in the dining room  discussing what had happened before dinner. They decides that the man who saw the bottle must be gotten rid of because he has other slips in front of people before.
            Not long later Alicia announces to Devlin and his bosses that Sebastian has asked her to marry him. She did not answer him right away because she wanted to know what they thought she should do. The boss of the operation thinks Alicia should marry him and so she does. Devlin is still angry with her even though she was assigned to get close to Sebastian and she is angry and spiteful to him because he is the same way towards her. Sebastian and his mother throw a party for his friends to meet Alicia. She has told Devlin at one of their secret meetings that Sebastian is hiding something down in the wine cellar and he has key he keeps on his key ring. Before the party she takes the key off the ring so she and Devlin can find what he is hiding during the party. They do not have long before the champagne and wine run out and Sebastian will have to go down to the cellar. Devlin and Alicia find that Sebastian is hiding a chemical that looks like sand in the bottles. They get out of the cellar just in time but not before Sebastian catches them together. Devlin pulls Alicia close and kisses her and tells Sebastian the kiss was his fault. That night Sebastian comes to the realization from finding his key all the sudden back on his ring and the chemical on the floor that his wife is an American spy.
Notorious (1946).
            Sebastian tells his mother about Alicia. Being the sweet caring mother she is tells her son that something must be done about her and she decides to have Alicia slowly poisoned. The mother’s plan works and soon Alicia is too ill to leave the house to see Devlin. Devlin and his boss become worried about her. He tries to go see her but he is told that Alicia is not to be disturbed. Devlin finally has enough and goes to the house, heads up to Alicia’s room and takes her away. As he is leaving with Alicia, Sebastian comes out of another room where he was meeting with his associates. Devlin know Sebastian cannot do anything. Some of the men come out from the other room and see what is happening. They realize that Sebastian has known that his wife is a spy and has not done anything about it sooner. Devlin is able to get away with Alicia without incident and Sebastian’s fate is left to the men in his house.
            Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant are complete perfection together. Both of them were so outrageously talented as actors that worked so well together. Their onscreen chemistry just oozes out of the film. The scene where they kiss on the balcony is incredible because of their chemistry and because of the fact that the Production Code only allowed for a couple to kiss for three seconds at a time so Alfred Hitchcock had Bergman and Grant kiss then pull away while still in each other’s arms and then kiss again multiple times. That kiss is my all time favorite onscreen kiss. Grant is the epitome of classic Hollywood leading man. He was always so handsome but I do not think he ever was more so than in Notorious. Ian Flemming based the look of his character James Bond off of Cary Grant and you can see why so clearly in this film (although Flemming said he based Bond off of Grant’s character in North By Northwest). Ingrid Bergman was beautiful in every film she made. She was a woman who never needed the flash of costumes or jewelry to help make her beautiful she just naturally was. Her acting in Notorious is fantastic especially at the beginning where she is this bitter drunken woman and also later on when she is spiteful and angry with Devlin. I believe in the hands of a lesser actress Alicia Huberman would not have been convincing or worked as well as she did.

Cary Grant in Notorious, 1946
            Alfred Hitchcock is one of my all time favorite directors because he knew who he wanted for his films and how he wanted his films to look and feel. The man had a knack for picking out the best talent for his films. Besides the kiss scene my other favorite scene is the push up from the upstairs of Sebastian’s home during the party to the key in Alicia’s hand in the foyer. There have been several scenes where it goes from wide angle to a detail within the frame but what makes this scene more interesting and awesome is that there were no camera cranes in 1946 when this film was made. A scaffold-like structure had to be made where the camera could be lowered and as the camera was lowered the lens zoomed out into Bergman’s hand.

Start focusing on Ingrid Bergman. August 29 will mark her centennial.

            Notorious is one of my all time favorite films as a whole and for the actors and directors. The more I watch it the more I fall in love with it and with Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant. I do not think I could imagine a better film to become a fan of Ingrid Bergman’s she was amazing. If you have yet to see Notorious see it as soon as you can and any way you can.

Cary Grant & Ingrid Bergman, Notorious, 1946

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