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At the end of World War II, U.S. military intelligence drafts a beautiful woman with a tainted past to infiltrate a band of nefarious Germans who are in Brazil. She is teamed with Devlin, a dashing but chilly agent with whom she falls deeply in love. In order to have better access to information she agrees to marry the ringleader of the Germans. The marriage touches off an intricate downward spiral of deceit and betrayal, leaving Bergman trapped in the home of an enemy. If her husband ever discovers the truth about her mission, her life will be in mortal danger.
For more about Notorious and the Notorious Blu-ray release, see Notorious Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on January 15, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Louis Calhern, Leopoldine Konstantin, Reinhold Schünzel
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
» See full cast & crew
Notorious Blu-ray Review
Hitchcock finds the key.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, January 15, 2012
The films of Alfred Hitchcock often seem divorced from our regular space time continuum, as if they exist in a rarefied world of their own. Now this is not to say they're not of their time, or that they don't ably recreate any given era, but even Hitch pieces that are solidly tied to a certain historical zeitgeist, like 1966's Torn Curtain, for example, could just as easily have been situated a few years this way or that way and indeed doesn't even really depend that much on the peculiar mid-sixties version of Cold War paranoia. Other films like Vertigo may be placed in a recognizable late fifties context, but seem to be separated from time itself, at least any rational experience of time. When Hitch gets topical, as he does from time to time (no pun intended), he tends to do so discursively, almost under the radar as it were, as in Norman Bates' passing comment early in Psycho that his hotel has never been the same since the Interstate system placed a freeway away from the inn with no easy exit granting access to it. And so it's rather odd that Hitchcock's Notorious begins with an overlay of text which identifies our time and place literally down to the minute. Working again with frequent collaborator scenarist Ben Hecht, Hitchcock does what he rarely ever does in a film, namely advertises its topicality, but that had been part of the dictum, explicit or implicit, handed down by erstwhile producer David O. Selznick, who ended up selling his interest in the property to raise some quick scratch, but who still retained a fifty percent stake in profits, which Selznick (if not Hitch himself) assumed meant he was due significant input into the film's production. (The producer credit actually went to Hitchcock, the first time in his long and storied career he was given that title). Notorious is one of the most famous and iconic of Hitch's films, studied endlessly in film classes for one incredible shot in particular, but often even the most picayune analysts gloss over the fact that this was a rather unusual Hitchcock subject, one intimately if admittedly tangentially connected to what was then one of the biggest news stories of the day (and quite possibly of all time): the nuclearization of Mankind. Though the atom bomb subplot isn't really germane to the main thrust of the story, and might in fact be likened to Hitchcock's beloved use of the "MacGuffin" (which Hitch actually spells "McGuffen" in an included interview with Truffaut) to drive the plot along, the fact that it's there at all signifies a really atypical approach by Hitch, who usually eschewed blatant political commentary, and who kept his social bromides well couched within the confines of usually fairly flagrant lapses of etiquette, including, you know, little things like murder.
The Hitchcock-Hecht topicality continues into the first scene of the film, where we see Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) watching her father's trial for treason, and soon find out it's because he's been accused of being a Nazi spy. It's perhaps only fair to point out that Hitch's wartime output as a whole was significantly more tied to its time than the rest of his oeuvre, as Foreign Correspondent, Saboteur and especially Lifeboat (not to mention Aventure Malgache and Bon Voyage, his two French propaganda films) indubitably prove. But somehow Notorious seems to be more "ripped from the headlines" than most other Hitchcock films, and that propensity is established from the film's first moments. What's also quite interesting with regard to Hitch's usual modus operandi with regard to his icy cool, collected blonde goddess leading ladies is how initially unlikable Alicia is, something that continues through her first couple of scenes with Devlin (Cary Grant), a spymaster who wants to use Alicia's supposed Nazi street cred to place her in a Nazi enclave in Rio de Janeiro. Somewhat surprisingly, at about the time we start to really like Alicia, Devlin becomes less and less likable, one of the oddest plot arcs in any Hitchcock outing.
Notorious is also an exceptional film in the Hitchcock canon for its really rather odd love triangle. Devlin "places" Alicia in the hands of Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains), a Nazi sympathizer living in Rio who it turns out has a stash of uranium at his disposal. What's so peculiar about this Hecht formulation and Hitchcock's expert treatment of it is that Sebastian actually is head over heels in love with Alicia, while Devlin seems more and more churlish, despite the fact that by the time he and Alicia arrive in Rio, prior to her meeting Sebastian, the two are obviously more than merely friends. That makes this one of the oddest "love stories" in Hitchcock's long output. Instead of the typical bantering couple that was a Hitchcock staple in everything from The 39 Steps to The Lady Vanishes to North by Northwest to, in a way, The Birds, we instead have a peculiar triangle where the supposed "villain" of the piece, Sebastian, is actually more sympathetic, at least with regard to his relationship with Alicia, than is the ostensible "hero," Devlin.
But Notorious is a film which consistently defies expectations, probably one of the reasons it has attained such incredible luster in the already obviously incredibly lustrous oeuvre of Hitch's. Putting aside the vagaries of plot and character for a moment, look at how quietly innovative Hitchcock is in several key sequences. While Bergman gets a traditional "movie star" introduction, with a gaggle of press awaiting the entrance of some mysterious woman (who of course turns out to be Bergman), pay close attention to how Hitch frames Cary Grant's entrance. Could it be that the creative forces behind AMC's Mad Men took note of how Hitchcock spends literally minutes filming the back of Grant's head (in silhouette, no less), and then, a scene later, actually starts again at his leading man's back, slowly dollying around until we finally get a peek at that famous cleft-chinned mug (and even then only in three-quarters profile).
The most talked about scene in Notorious is no doubt the huge crane shot which occurs about an hour into the film, after Alicia has married Sebastian (perhaps if only to spite Devlin), but at a point where she is still willingly working with the United States government to figure out what Sebastian and his Nazi cronies are up to in the land of Samba and Carnaval. She's come to realize some sort of secret is lurking in Sebastian's vast wine cellar, and she has secreted away Sebastian's key to the vault (an incredibly tense scene in and of itself). Here Hitch starts at the top of a gargantuan sweeping staircase, panning slowly around to reveal the glittering party guests far below and then, rather incredibly, he slowly but surely vaults in toward Alicia and Sebastian, who are standing in the center of an impressive portico. The camera continues moving in even further to a startlingly clear close-up of Alicia's hand, which is holding the key. It's an incredible tour de force and one completely independent of flashy editing, something that sometimes plays at least a part in defining Hitchcock's inimitable style (think of the montage aspect of the Psycho shower scene for probably the best example of this tendency).
But aside from pure technique (and it's here in spades, if subtly at times), Notorious is one of the best examples of how completely sly Hitchcock was at introducing a certain amount of subterfuge, even anarchy, into what appears to be a typically structured spy thriller. Think about it for a moment: Devlin is more or less pimping Alicia to Sebastian to gain access to some sort of secret, and, let's face it, for whatever reason, Alicia isn't all that upset about it. (She may be upset that Devlin pretends not to love her, but in terms of "playing" with Sebastian, as she so delicately puts it, she seems game enough). And the Freudian aspects of Sebastian's relationship with his domineering mother are especially fascinating, coming as they do right after Hitchcock's "psychoanalysis" film, Spellbound. One of Notorious' greatest achievements is how spectacularly it skews conventional filmic wisdom, at least with regard to how a love story should play out if nothing else. The fact that Hitchcock and Hecht frame it all in a rather exciting espionage format is just the icing on a very delicious, multi-layered cake.
Notorious Blu-ray, Video Quality
Notorious is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of MGM-Fox with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.37:1. As is advertised in the included restoration comparison, Notorious underwent some significant sprucing up a few years ago for its DVD release, and the results of those efforts along with its own unique filming style make this a much more even and well detailed looking film than the concurrently released Spellbound. While there is still occasional damage to be seen, in the form of slight scuffs and scratches, as well as a persistent warp or two, overall the image here is largely blemish free. While there are still occasional density and flicker issues which haven't been completely resolved, Notorious features extremely strong contrast and solid black levels. Grain is apparent but never swarms the picture, aside from a couple of stock establishing shots, and in expected moments like process photography (this film has quite a bit of rear projection). While fine detail isn't overwhelming, and is certainly not up to the levels we've seen in classic black and white films sourced from original negative or fine grain elements, the overall picture here is sharp and appealing with a properly cinematic look.
Notorious Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Notorious features its original mono soundtrack delivered via a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix. This is the rare Hitchcock film which hasn't been lauded for its music score, but this lossless track (as well as the isolated music and effects track available as an option) make clear that Roy Webb and the RKO team actually did contribute a worthwhile underscore here, one which ably creates both tension and romance at appropriate moments. The DTS track offers the score in a nicely full way, with especially well rendered midrange, and with little of the hiss that hampered Spellbound. Dialogue is crisp and clear and fidelity overall is very good within the context of this being an older, vintage soundtrack with obviously thinner sounding stems and source elements.
Notorious Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Notorious Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Notorious is often described as the first "mature" film of Hitchcock's, which is arguable, to say the least. However, it is an incredibly rousing entertainment, one which just about perfectly blends suspense with romance and which features a host of exceptional performances. (Anyone who claims Grant can't act should just take a look at some of his scenes in the second act of this film, when his relationship with Bergman is shall we say complicated). The film is a stylistic tour de force, and not just in that famous crane shot ending on the key in Bergman's hand. It's a rare film that is as topical as Notorious was with regard to post-World War II political goings-on, and which still remains timeless to this day, but Notorious rather easily manages that feat. This Blu-ray looks great and sounds fine, and features a host of good supplementary features. Highly recommended.
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Notorious Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Making of Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious - January 23, 2012
This year marks the release on Blu-ray of selected films from the suspense master, Director Alfred Hitchcock. One of his most famous early offerings is the 1946 film Notorious. We've found some fantastic artwork, behind-the-scenes photographs and facts about the ...
• Exclusive Giveaway: Six January 24th MGM Titles - January 15, 2012
Blu-ray.com and MGM Home Entertainment are offering eighteen Blu-ray.com members the opportunity to win their choice of one of six January 24th MGM catalog classics: Annie Hall, The Apartment, Manhattan, Notorious, Rebecca or Spellbound. Three copies of each film ...
• Hitchcock's Rebecca, Notorious, and Spellbound on Blu-ray in January - December 5, 2011
In an early announcement to retailers, MGM has revealed that it will release on Blu-ray three classic Alfred Hitchcock films: Rebecca (1940), starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, Spellbound (1945), starring Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman, and Notorious ...
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