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Notorious

Notorious(1946)

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teaser Notorious (1946)

SYNOPSIS

A federal agent enlists the daughter of a convicted traitor in a plan to infiltrate a group of escaped Nazis in South America. The mission proves to be successful, but her forced marriage to one of the Nazis threatens both her love affair with the U.S. agent and her life.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Producer: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Ben Hecht
Cinematography: Ted Tetzlaff
Editing: Theron Warth
Art Direction: Carroll Clark, Albert D'Agostino
Original Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Cary Grant (T.R. Devlin), Ingrid Bergman (Alicia Huberman), Claude Rains (Alexander Sebastian), Leopoldine Konstantin (Madame Sebastian), Louis Calhern (Prescott).
BW-101m.

Why NOTORIOUS is Essential

Always a manipulator of audience perceptions and expectations, director Alfred Hitchcock did a pretty audacious thing for 1945 (the year production on this film began) - right at the end of World War II, he created a sympathetic Nazi character in a romantic thriller involving German fascists living secretly in South America. Not that Hitchcock portrays the activities and philosophies of the Nazis in a positive light or makes Sebastian (played by Claude Rains) the "hero" of the story. That distinction goes to Cary Grant as FBI agent T.R. Devlin, and there again, our sympathies are toyed with. Assigned to enlist the American-born daughter (Ingrid Bergman) of a Nazi war criminal in a plot to trap the Germans, Devlin often appears cagey, tight, bitter, and apparently insensitive to the young woman's feelings and the danger she's in. On the other hand, Sebastian is shown to be a cultured man who truly loves her, a put-upon, almost tender man with a domineering mother, fatally betrayed by the one person he cares most about. At the end of the movie, you almost feel sorry for the Nazi.

Manipulating audience expectation is not the only thing that makes Notorious quintessential Hitchcock. There are the technical hallmarks - an incredible zoom-in from a high crane shot to an extreme close-up of a key in Bergman's hand, a famous kissing scene (designed to get around censor objections) with Grant and Bergman nibbling away at each other while talking about food, the suspenseful tracking and intercutting of the final scene.

Here also are prime early examples of some trademark Hitchcock themes and motifs - a woman complicitous in her forced transformation to a different person, later brought to its most obsessive heights in Vertigo (1958); the figure of the mother both adoring and deadly, who appears in various forms in Strangers on a Train (1951), Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963), and Marnie (1964). And, of course, the "MacGuffin," Hitchcock's narrative gimmick that motivates the characters' behavior (a search for a secret formula, an impending assassination) but is of secondary interest to the audience.

Notorious was the first true love story Hitchcock made, rich in passion, deception, reversals, and obsession. It was the significant start of his exploration of the themes, relationships, and techniques that would mark his mature work for the remainder of his career.

by Rob Nixon

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teaser Notorious (1946)

The story was performed over the airwaves on the Lux Radio Theater in 1948. Ingrid Bergman reprised her role and Joseph Cotten, with whom she was filming Hitchcock's Under Capricorn (1949), played Cary Grant's role.

The first German version of the movie, called White Poison and released in 1951, was dubbed to eliminate any reference to World War II and the Third Reich. Instead of Nazis, the plot dealt with international drug smugglers.Notorious begins with the title: "Miami, Florida, 3:20 p.m., April 20, 1946," a very specific bit of information that adds little to our understanding or appreciation of the story. Hitchcock used the same time and date specificity at the beginning of Psycho (1960).

The poisoned drink, only suspected in Suspicion (1941) and Spellbound (1945), becomes a real threat to Bergman's life in Notorious.The scene where Grant and Bergman kiss while discussing the chicken she will make for dinner is echoed later in To Catch a Thief (1955). Grace Kelly seduces Grant while discussing poultry, asking if he prefers legs to breasts.

The scene where Alex Sebastian and his mother argue about the house keys behind closed doors is reminiscent of the scenes of Norman Bates arguing with his mother (in fact, himself), also shot outside her bedroom door. In fact, the domineering mother in Notorious prefigures many such characters in Hitchcock's films, including The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964).

The Saturday Evening Post story that inspired Notorious, "Song of the Dragon" (or "Song of the Flame," according to Hitchcock), was also used as the basis for the silent film Convoy (1927), starring Dorothy Mackaill and Lowell Sherman.

The scene where a drunken Ingrid Bergman sends everyone home from her party was later used to amusing effect in the Steve Martin private eye parody, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982).

by Rob Nixon

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teaser Notorious (1946)

Notorious was released in the U.S. in August 1946. Its premiere run at New York's Radio City Music Hall was a smash hit.

In addition to the $800,000 RKO spent to buy the film package (including script, director, and cast), Notorious cost about $2 million to make. It grossed $8-9 million.

Hitchcock makes his usual cameo appearance about an hour into the picture, drinking champagne during the big party at the Sebastian home.

Hitchcock and Ben Hecht worked together on a total of seven films, although Notorious and Spellbound (1945) are the only two for which Hecht received screenplay credit. The writer was also believed to have done uncredited work on Foreign Correspondent (1940), Lifeboat (1944), The Paradine Case (1947), and Rope (1948). Some sources list him as having made some uncredited contributions to Strangers on a Train (1951), which is probably attributable to some help he gave his assistant, Czenzi Ormonde, who did the rewrite of Raymond Chandler's script.

Along with James Stewart, Cary Grant was Hitchcock most-used actor (both stars appeared in four Hitchcock films). In addition to this picture, Grant appeared in Suspicion (1941), To Catch a Thief (1955), and North By Northwest (1959).

Ingrid Bergman also appeared in the Hitchcock films Spellbound (1945) and Under Capricorn (1949).

Bergman and Grant appeared in only one other film together, Indiscreet (1958).

Cinematographer Ted Tetzlaff became a director. One of his best-known films was the suspense thriller The Window (1949).

Composer Roy Webb received seven Academy Award nominations for his film scores (although not for this one). He composed for a number of film noir pictures, as well as several directed by Notorious cinematographer Ted Tetzlaff.

Acclaimed costume designer Edith Head designed Bergman'S clothes for this picture. She also worked on ten other Hitchcock films after this, up through his last picture, Family Plot (1976). Head was nominated for Academy Awards 35 times, including Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (1955), and her designs won eight Oscars.

Famed cinematographer Gregg Toland (Citizen Kane, 1941) did not receive credit as the second-unit director of photography on this picture.

John Taintor Foote, whose 1921 short story inspired the plot of Notorious, was also a screenwriter. Among his screenplays was the Tyrone Power picture The Mark of Zorro (1940).

Ethel Barrymore and Mildred Natwick were considered for the role of Nazi matriarch Madame Sebastian. Hitchcock worked with them both later: Barrymore on The Paradine Case (1947) and Natwick on The Trouble with Harry (1955).

Memorable Quotes from NOTORIOUS

ALICIA (Ingrid Bergman): The important drinking hasn'T started yet.

DEVLIN (Cary Grant): Don't you need a coat?
ALICIA: You'll do.

DEVLIN: Why do you like that song?
ALICIA: Because it's a lot of hooey. Nothing like a love song to give you a good laugh.

ALICIA: Waving the flag with one hand and picking pockets with the other - there's your patriotism.

DEVLIN: I've always been scared of women. But I get over it.

ALICIA: This is a strange love affair.
DEVLIN: What's strange about it?
ALICIA: The fact that you don't love me.
DEVLIN: When I don't love you, I'll let you know.

MADAME SEBASTIAN (Leopoldine Konstantin): Wouldn't it be a little too much if we both grinned at her like idiots?

ALICIA: You can add Sebastian's name to my list of playmates.
DEVLIN: Pretty fast work.
ALICIA: That's what you wanted, wasn't it?

DEVLIN: Miss Huberman is first, last, and always not a lady. She may be risking her life, but when it comes to being a lady she doesn't hold a candle to your wife, sitting in Washington playing bridge with three other ladies of great honor.

SEBASTIAN (Claude Rains): Mother. I need your help. I am married to an American agent.

ALICIA: Say it again, it keeps me awake.
DEVLIN: I love you.

Compiled by Rob Nixon

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teaser Notorious (1946)

The idea for Notorious came initially from a story by John Tainter Foote published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1921. Hitchcock told French director Francois Truffaut the story was called "The Song of the Flame." Most sources give the title as "Song of the Dragon." In any case, it was producer David O. Selznick, to whom Hitchcock was under contract, who gave the director the story from his file of unproduced ideas.

The Foote story was about a young woman in love with the son of a prominent New York society woman. The young woman fears a secret from her past will destroy her chances of happiness she slept with a foreign spy to gain valuable secrets. Hitchcock talked the story over with writer Ben Hecht, and they decided to keep only the part about the young woman pressed into sexual service for her country.

As the two developed the story, Hitchcock came up with an idea for the "MacGuffin," centering the Nazi spy plot around wine bottles filled with uranium ore. According to the story Hitchcock told for many years, the idea came to him in 1944 (a year before the world became of aware of the atom bomb). He said a writer friend of his had told him about a secret project in New Mexico, and he also claimed to be aware of the Germans conducting undercover experiments in Norway. And Hecht read an article about uranium, which he believed had something to do with the work being done in New Mexico and Norway and was rumored to be development of an atomic bomb.

Hitchcock and Hecht went to see Dr. Robert Millikan at the California Institute of Technology to run their uranium idea by him. He warned them they could get arrested if they discussed the atom bomb too much, and told them hydrogen was the element they hoped to harness, not uranium. Satisfied they weren't giving away government secrets, the two kept the uranium idea. But Hitchcock claimed he was kept under surveillance by the FBI as a result of the idea and the meeting with Millikan.

Hitchcock said Selznick decided not to produce the picture under his own banner because the uranium plot was too unbelievable. The producer sold the entire package - director, script, and cast - to RKO for $800,000 and 50 percent of the profits. Hitchcock and RKO's William Dozier took over as production executives.

Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto disputes the director's claims about guessing the importance of uranium. According to Spoto, Hecht and Hitchcock didn't put the final touches on the script until just before shooting began in October 1945. By that time, the atom bomb had been used against Japan and Hitchcock had interviewed several actors for supporting parts who were German refugees carrying rumors of escaped Nazis in South America (the film's location and a crucial plot point), Spoto said.

Spoto and others also said that although it was true Selznick was not enthusiastic about the movie's plot, the main reason he sold the package to RKO was that he was deeply embroiled in the production of his epic Western Duel in the Sun (1946) and needed the money.

Some memos in the RKO and Selznick archives seem to suggest that playwright Clifford Odets may have been hired to do minor script revisions just before filming began, but there is no evidence of any Odets contributions incorporated into the script and no record of any payment made to him.

Some sources say that Selznick originally wanted Vivien Leigh for the role of Alicia. But Bergman was under contract to him and one of his biggest stars.

Bergman was Hitchcock's choice from the beginning. The two had worked well together on Spellbound (1945), and Hitchcock, who had something of a crush on his star, was eager to work with her again.

Hitchcock had also worked previously with Cary Grant on Suspicion (1941). When the Notorious package was sold to RKO, Grant and Bergman were already locked in as part of the deal.

Hitchcock wanted Clifton Webb for the role of Alex Sebastian, the German who Bergman marries to gain access to the Nazi plot, but Dozier prevailed in his choice of Claude Rains.

When Ethel Barrymore rejected the role of Sebastian's domineering mother, RKO suggested Mildred Natwick. But the director felt the role required a stronger presence. The part finally went to legendary German actress Leopoldine Konstantin (credited as "Madame Konstantin"), one of several German refugees cast as the escaped Nazis in the film. Konstantin had acted for three decades with Max Reinhardt's famous theater troupe and made several pictures in Europe. But she was so unknown here she received a mere pittance for her work, even though she was fifth billed. Notorious was her only American film and her last screen appearance.

by Rob Nixon

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teaser Notorious (1946)

By all accounts, production of Notorious proceeded very smoothly. Principal photography lasted from October 1945 to February 1946.

Hitchcock and Bergman's happy working relationship was enhanced by the opening of their previous picture in November 1945 during production of this movie. Spellbound received enthusiastic reviews and within weeks of its release was well on its way to earning eight times its cost.

Director and female star managed to get along famously despite his infatuation with her. Hitchcock once told the story of how Bergman, attending one of the frequent dinner parties at his home, hysterically refused to leave his bedroom until he made love to her - an episode that almost surely never happened. But his obsession with the star was obvious enough to cause tension during the filming of Notorious between him and his wife of many years, Alma Reville.

Mrs. Hitchcock may have had another reason for jealousy, according to biographer Donald Spoto. Her husband's longtime collaborator, script doctor, and adviser, she was often shunted aside during his successful writing partnership with Hecht.

The scene of Bergman drunkenly speeding along a South Florida road with Grant as her passenger was shot in the studio with rear projection. The projected shots had a motorcycle cop gaining on them. As he gets closer to the car, he goes out of frame to the right, and the film cuts to him riding next to the car, this time in the studio. Hitchcock suggested to cinematographer Ted Tetzlaff that he shine light on the backs of Grant's and Bergman's necks as the projected motorcyclist moves off to their side. According to Hitchcock, Tetzlaff was irritated that the director thought of this instead of him and snapped, "Getting a bit technical, aren't you, Pop?"

Hitchcock was his usual unflappable self during production. While in conference with Tetzlaff on the set one day, a fire broke out. Hitchcock finished his sentence to Tetzlaff, turned to some stagehands and said quite coolly, "Will someone please put that fire out?" He then returned to his conversation.

Because Rains was so much smaller than Bergman, Hitchcock placed him on boxes in the close shots. In one shot, however, the two had to be seen walking in full frame with the camera panning from one to the other. Hitchcock solved the height issue by having Rains walk on a plank that gradually rose as he came toward the camera.

While filming one shot, Grant carped that he was supposed to open the door with his right hand but he was holding his hat in that hand. "Have you considered the possibility of transferring the hat to the other hand?" Hitchcock replied.

To get around possible censor objections to kissing scenes that were too long and passionate, Hitchcock devised a scene where Grant and Bergman would neck and nibble at each other for a few minutes while they discussed food, moved about the apartment, and spoke on the phone.

Hitchcock said he was inspired to do this scene in part by the memory of a young couple he spotted from a train in France. The boy was urinating against a wall and the girl had hold of his arm, never letting go. "She look down at what he was doing, and then look around at the scenery, and down again to see how far he's got on," Hitchcock explained. "And that was what gave me the idea. She couldn't let go. Romance must not be interrupted, even by urinating."

When scriptwriter Ben Hecht watched the filming of Grant and Bergman kissing while discussing dinner, he said, "I don't get all this talk about chicken!"

by Rob Nixon

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teaser Notorious (1946)

Awards and Honors

The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor (Claude Rains) and Best Original Screenplay (Ben Hecht).

On the centenary of Hitchcock's birth in 1999, the British Film Institute asked a panel of noted filmmakers, among them Martin Scorsese, Atom Egoyan, Milos Forman, and Baz Luhrmann, to list the director's ten best films. Notorious came in third behind Psycho (1960) and Vertigo (1958).

The Critics' Corner: NOTORIOUS

"Ben Hecht has written and Mr. Hitchcock has directed in brilliant style, a romantic melodrama which is just about as thrilling as they come velvet smooth in dramatic action, sharp and sure in its character and heavily charged with the intensity of warm emotional appeal. As a matter of fact, the distinction of Notorious as a film is the remarkable blend of a love story with expert thriller that it represents." - Bosley Crowther, New York Times, 1946

"The Hitchcock 'touch' is apparent in several scenes, notably at a party where suspense is built magnificently as the champagne slowly disappears. The American agent in the wine cellar is working against the thirst of the celebrants." - New York Herald Tribune, 1946

"This is truly my favorite Hitchcock picture; at any rate, it's the one I prefer in the black-and-white group. In my opinion, Notorious is the very quintessence of Hitchcock...It's still a remarkably modern picture, with very few scenes and an exceptionally pure story line. In the sense that it gets a maximum effect from a minimum of elements, it's really a model of scenario construction." - Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock (Simon & Schuster, 1983)

"The suspense is terrific...Bergman is literally ravishing in what is probably her sexiest performance...Great trash, great fun." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies (Henry Holt, 1984)

"Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious is the most elegant expression of the master's visual style, just as Vertigo (1958) is the fullest expression of his obsessions. It contains some of the most effective camera shots in his - or anyone's work, and they all lead to the great final passages in which two men find out how very wrong they both were. This is the film, with Casablanca (1942), that assures Ingrid Bergman's immortality." - Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Time, 1999

"Hitchcock's first truly great film. An intense triangle drama which constantly forces you to change your feelings about the three leads, this is also a sumptuous romance, with Grant and Bergman sharing what was then the screen's longest close-up kiss. Gorgeously shot in luminous monochrome, it's all wrapped up with an extremely suspenseful last reel." - Kim Newman, Empire, December 2000

by Rob Nixon

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teaser Notorious (1946)

Always a manipulator of audience perceptions and expectations, director Alfred Hitchcock did a pretty audacious thing for 1945 - right at the end of World War II, he created a sympathetic Nazi character in Notorious (1946), a romantic thriller involving scheming Germans living incognito in South America. Not that Hitchcock portrays the activities and philosophies of the Nazis in a positive light or makes Sebastian (played by Claude Rains) the "hero" of the story. That distinction goes to Cary Grant as FBI agent T.R. Devlin, but there again, Hitchcock toys with our sympathies. Assigned to enlist the American-born daughter (Ingrid Bergman) of a Nazi war criminal in a plot to trap the Germans, Devlin often appears cagey, bitter, and apparently insensitive to the young woman's feelings or the imminent danger she faces. On the other hand, Sebastian is shown to be a cultured man who truly loves his colleague's daughter (possibly more than Devlin does); in essence, he's a put-upon, emotionally vulnerable man with a domineering mother, fatally betrayed by the one person he truly cares about. At the end of the movie, you almost feel sorry for him.

Playing games with the audience is not the only thing that makes Notorious a quintessential Hitchcock experience. There are the technical hallmarks - an incredible zoom-in from a high crane shot to an extreme close-up of a significant plot detail in Bergman's hand; a famous kissing scene (designed to override the objections of censors) with Grant and Bergman nibbling away at each other while talking about food; the suspenseful inter-cutting of the final scene. Here also are prime early examples of some trademark Hitchcock themes and motifs - a woman complicitous in her forced transformation to a different person, later brought to its most obsessive heights in Vertigo (1958); the figure of the mother both adoring and deadly, who appears in various forms in Strangers on a Train (1951), Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963), and Marnie (1964). And, of course, the MacGuffin, the narrative device Hitchcock once defined as the thing that motivates the actions of the characters but which is of minor interest to audiences.

The MacGuffin in this case is uranium ore hidden in wine bottles in Sebastian's basement. Hitchcock always claimed to be remarkably prescient in his choice of this detail. According to the story he told for many years, the idea came to him one day in March of 1945 (several months before the world became of aware of the atom bomb) during a script session with veteran screenwriter Ben Hecht. Hitchcock said he was aware uranium was an unstable, rare element that might eventually be used to develop a nuclear weapon. In fact, he claimed he was placed under federal surveillance for making such an accurate guess. Whether or not he came up with the idea during the early scripting phrase, or a couple months after the bombing of Japan when the final screenplay was delivered, is open to debate. But he was right about one thing - the audience didn't care about the mysterious wine bottles.

The real suspense in Notorious is generated not by the "MacGuffin" but by the love story, the triangle between a federal agent, a Nazi, and the beautiful woman perilously trapped between them. And that's another unmistakable touch of the director - a romantic involvement that is heavily shaded with repression, obsessiveness, and deception. Biographers have suggested that Hitchcock was an expert in depicting these complex relationships because of his own infatuation with Bergman, with whom he had earlier worked with on Spellbound (1945). Hitchcock once told the story of how Bergman, attending a dinner party at his home, hysterically refused to leave his bedroom until he made love to her - an episode that almost surely never happened. But his obsession with the star was obvious enough to cause tension between him and his wife of many years, Alma Reville, during the filming of Notorious. Mrs. Hitchcock may have also had another reason for jealousy. Even though she was her husband's longtime collaborator, script doctor, and adviser, she was shunted aside during his successful writing partnership with Hecht on this film. Hitchcock and Hecht worked together three times previously, creating Spellbound, Foreign Correspondent (1940), and Lifeboat (1944), and they would make three more films after this - The Paradine Case (1947), Rope (1948), and Strangers on a Train.

The love story was given an extra dimension by the presence of Madame Sebastian, whose relationship with her son is part firm-handed mother and part jealous spouse (some Hitchcock biographers have said it is based on the director's relationship with his own wife). After Ethel Barrymore rejected the role, RKO suggested Mildred Natwick. The part finally went to legendary German actress Leopoldine Konstantin (credited as "Madame Konstantin"), who had acted for three decades with Max Reinhardt's famous theater troupe and made several pictures in Europe. But she was so unknown here she only received a meager salary for her work, even though she was fifth billed. Notorious was her only American film and her last screen appearance.

Producer/Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Ben Hecht
Cinematography: Ted Tetzlaff
Editing: Theron Warth
Art Direction: Carroll Clark, Albert D'Agostino
Original Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Cary Grant (T.R. Devlin), Ingrid Bergman (Alicia Huberman), Claude Rains (Alexander Sebastian), Leopoldine Konstantin (Madame Sebastian), Louis Calhern (Prescott).
BW-102m. Closed captioning.

by Rob Nixon

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