Wednesday, October 2, 2013

"Notorious," 1946

Alfred Hitchcock's "Notorious" is one of the films that cemented my love of classic cinema, that made me a true cinephile, along with "The Adventures of Robin Hood" and "Casablanca."

Ingrid Bergman, "Notorious," 1946.
What fascinated me about "Notorious," which takes place immediately after World War Two, was the complexity of the characters.  Ingrid Bergman plays a German-American woman whose father, at the beginning of the film, is convicted of wartime crimes against the United States.  She has a reputation of being a party girl, which may be exaggerated, and of being a heavy drinker.  Already she's a complicated character.  When OSS agent Cary Grant  recruits her for a secret mission in South America, the details of which he doesn't yet know, he immediately falls for her beauty, but is wary of her reputation.  Again, complicated.  Their romance, if there will be one, won't be easy.
Cary Grant, "Notorious," 1946.
Eventually it's revealed that her mission is to seduce Claude Rains, a Nazi industrialist living in exile, and happens to be an old friend of her deceased father.  Grant's superiors suspect Rains and his friends of being up to no good, and they need Bergman to get close to him to find out.  This strains her budding relationship with Grant, and it's only made worse when Rains asks Bergman to marry him.

The plot involving the Nazis is really just a MacGuffin.  (It turns outRains and other Germans are perhaps trying to create an atomic bomb, mining Uranium and hiding the ore in wine bottles in Rains' basement.)  What's important is Bergman's love for Grant, and his love for her in return.  But how can he love her when she is with another man - even if it's "just a job?"

Like I said, complicated, especially for 1946.  I credit much of this to Ben Hecht's superb script.   He also wrote "Spellbound" for Hitchcock is listed as an uncredited writer on many of Hitch's films. 

Grant eventually rescues Bergman from Rains, who discovers she is an agent and slowly poisons her.  There is a great scene at the end of the film where Grant is carrying Bergman down a staircase and Rains, afraid his co-conspirators will find out she is a spy, "helps" Grant down the stairs and out the door.  But at the car, Grant shuts Rains out, leaving him alone to his certain doom.  It's the prefect ending to a film where the intentions of the characters are so complicated.

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