Monday, January 5, 2009

The Great Movies: "Notorious"


Notorious
Alfred Hitchcock, 1946


Notorious is often said to be among the most serious and stylish of Hitchcock's movies, and this is true enough. The stylish aspect of things comes off quite well, as it would almost have to with Cary Grant and Ingred Bergman in the leading roles. There is a lot of innovative camera work, and the sets and settings are superb. Personally, I missed the macabre sense of humor that is Hitchcock's strength in so many other films, but that might just be me.

The excellence of Notorious, it has to be said, is concentrated in its final reel. The first half of the movie exists only to set up the scenerio, and its functional nature is often pretty transparent. Events are always compressed in movies, of course, but in the first half of Notorious it sometimes feel like you are watching events in surreal fast-forward. Watch as a woman, learning her father has died, goes through the entire grieving process in about twenty seconds. A high-level meeting between international intelligence agencies requires about six sentences; an unlikely couple falls madly in love pretty much, well, instantaniously. Well, it's all in the service of the plot.

I don't want to say anything about the ending, but it really is pretty slick.

The Plot: A "notorious" playgirl is recruited to help American agents crack a ring of fugitive Nazis in Brazil. She and her handler fall in love, but then he must instruct her to seduce the bad guy. This kind of thing is always hard on a relationship.

Visuals: Handsomely filmed in black and white.

Dialog: Full of ironic hidden meanings. Characters talk about sex without talking about sex in such a way that we are left in no doubt whatsoever about who is having sex with whom. The Nazi characters speak with a courteous formality that is wonderfully full of evil menace. The Nazi mother is a thorough delight; watch her when she gets some bad news and fires up a cigarette. FABULOUS!

Prognosis: This one should be pretty enjoyable for any movie fan; it's a must for buffs of Hitchcock or of 1940s style.

2 comments:

Becky said...

i ADORE this movie. love the two leads, and oh-so-dapper and oh-so-henpacked claude rains. and the cinematography-- that famous shot at the party that takes forever to zoom in on the key in her hand.

i wrote a paper on this film in college, though for what class i cannot for the life of me remember. i never took a film class... seriously, what could that have been for?? gonna drive me crazy.

Michael said...

This post was feeling all lonely without a comment. Thanks, Becky!