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Alfred Hitchcock`s 1946 thriller is a very dark and romantic affair, helped immensely by the black-and-white cinematography, the enormous tests facing the lovers, and the players in the romance itself, played by Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman.

Bergman`s character is the hard-living daughter of a Nazi. He has been arrested for treasonous acts, and therefore shines much unneeded attention on the daughter. It is, however, known that she objected greatly to her father, even as she knew or had encountered many of her father`s accomplices. This unique situation becomes very useful to the American government, and so they use one of their top espionage agents, played by Grant, to attempt to get her involved. Bergman is quite hostile to such a plan, but is soon presurred into becoming a pawn for the American agents. This involves going to Brazil, where this group of Nazis do their business. Bergman must attract the attention of one in particular, played very well by Claude Rains, who knew her father and who, also, was quite smitten with her. Things develop, and the government wants the plan to proceed further ---- Bergman must marry Rains, to infiltrate the Nazi`s quarters. This is a problem. Such a plan is damaging to Bergman`s own dignity. She is already seen as a "bad girl", and the government assumes that loose women can adapt themselves to any man, apparently, even if it is against her will. Her will, in fact, is towards Grant, as they begin having an affair as they arrive in Brazil.

Their love affair works brilliantly within the thriller outline. It`s almost fair to say that the "thriller" really isn`t so hot; it is the tension between Grant and Bergman which gives the movie spark.

Hitchcock certainly has fun messing around with Cary Grant`s image. The first time I saw this film, I was a bit disappointed, as Grant`s rapid-fire wit was virtually tossed away in favour of a cool, detached, exterior. But I can see now that this shocking restraint is necessary for this film, as he is required to be dispassionate while in love with Bergman. He has to remain professional even as he sees her married to the Nazi. Even in what is considered one of the great love scenes in cinema, it is not Grant who acts the most passionately, but Bergman. Grant, even during all those kisses, is conflicted between his own desires, and proper protocol.

Bergman, of course, is great - she is the opposite of Grant, at least outwardly, as she is certainly more passionate and emotive. She is a hard-drinking, angry woman at the start of the film, but is swept away by the one single burst of passion Grant gave her. This gives her confidence to be happier, yet that joy is constantly shattered by the reminder of the assignment, one which is considered necessary for the security of America. And a silly little love affair cannot override such a concern. What must occur is the two of them to break down their defences, to be able to reveal their love. But can they do that without blowing their cover???

This is a great romantic thriller, but not classic Hitchcock, for the reason that it is too old-fashioned. This sort of film will come as a shock to the young know-it-alls who think of Psycho and horror films when they hear the name Hitchcock, even as they have probably never seen any of his movies. Notorious is a classic Golden Age romance from the old school, with its big stars and glamour. Romantic thrillers would actually be a genre which Hitchcock would return to often, but in films such as Vertigo, Rear Window, and North by Northwest, the results transcended the genre. Notorious, on the other hand, is merely decent romance, which will do just fine here.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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