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Although an October 1944 Hollywood Reporter news item listed Lois Anderson as the film's story writer, no other source credits her. The inspiration for the picture came from a 1921 Saturday Evening Post short story by John Taintor Foote entitled "The Song of the Dragon." In Foote's story, as in Notorious, a woman sacrifices herself sexually in order to gather information from her enemies, and undergoes a transformation as a result of her efforts. Modern sources provide the following information about the film's inception: Ben Hecht, who had worked with director Alfred Hitchcock and Selznick on the very successful 1944 film Spellbound , was signed to write the screenplay in late 1944 at a salary of $5,000 per week, with a fifteen-week guarantee. Working together in New York, Hecht and Hitchcock produced a fifty-page treatment in three weeks and then returned to Los Angeles to write additional treatments.
In April 1945, months before the atomic bomb was tested for the first time in New Mexico, the uranium plot element was added to the story. In a modern interview, Hitchcock recalled that a writer friend had told him about a secret scientific project "some place in New Mexico," and that he, himself, was aware that the Germans were conducting heavy water tests in Norway. According to the modern interview, Hecht and Hitchcock consulted Dr. Robert Millikan, a Nobel Prize winner credited with the discovery of cosmic rays, on how to make an atomic bomb. Millikan reportedly refused to answer the question directly, but confirmed the writers' contention that the crucial bomb ingredient (uranium) could fit into a wine bottle. As a result of the uranium device, Hitchcock was put under surveillance by the FBI for several weeks.
Before the script was completed, modern sources continue, Selznick, who was struggling to finish Duel in the Sun , approached independent producer Hal B. Wallis to take over the production. Wallis, who questioned the credibility of the uranium device, soon abandoned the project, however, and in mid-July 1945, RKO entered into a deal with Selznick. According to the terms of the contract, RKO bought Selznick's "package"-Hecht, Hitchcock, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman-for $800,000 and fifty percent of the net profits. Although Hitchcock received no money from the sale, he was designated as the film's producer and was given free creative reign at the studio. Notorious was the first American film on which Hitchcock worked as both producer and director.
RKO script files contained in the UCLA Arts Library-Special Collections add the following information about the production: Although not credited on screen, Hitchcock co-wrote the screenplay with Hecht. In addition to Hecht and Hitchcock, Clifford Odets, who is listed on one draft as A. B. Clifford, worked on the script, although the extent of his contribution to the completed film has not been determined. [Modern sources claim that Odets was hired to write dialogue for the love scenes.] An early draft of the screenplay included two "happy" endings. In both, "Alicia" and "Devlin" are seen either already married or getting married. In early drafts of the treatment, according to modern sources, Devlin, who was called "Wallie Fancher," dies while fighting with "Sebastian."
MPAA/PCA files contained at the AMPAS Library add the following information about the production: Responding to an early draft of the screenplay, PCA director Joseph I. Breen stated in a May 25, 1945 letter to Selznick that Notorious was "definitely" unacceptable as far as the Code was concerned, because the heroine is a "grossly immoral woman, whose immorality is accepted in stride." Breen suggested changing Alicia from a prostitute to a gold digger whose "total loss of faith in her father" leads her to "get what she can out of life." Although Alicia's sexual habits were toned down in later drafts, Breen continued to object to her character and was especially distressed by an early scene in which an illicit relationship between Alicia and "Ernest" was implied. That scene was eventually altered to appease Breen.
In the May 25, 1945 letter, Breen also advised Selznick to take "counsel" with the FBI, noting that the "industry has had a kind of 'gentleman's agreement' with Mr. J. Edgar Hoover, wherein we have practically obligated ourselves to submit to him, for his consideration and approval, stories which importantly involve the activities" of the FBI. [Modern sources note that Hoover did, in fact, object to the story, both in terms of its sexual content, and its depiction of agent Devlin.] Breen also recommended that Selznick consult with the Brazilian government concerning the film's depiction of that country. In order to obtain the necessary U.S. government clearances, modern sources state, Selznick arranged for Hitchcock and a company representative to meet with Assistant Secretary of State Archibald MacLeish in Washington, D.C.
According to modern sources, Selznick, hoping to capitalize on the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 August and August 9, 1945, tried unsuccessfully to convince RKO to replace Grant, who was tied up until October 1945, with Joseph Cotten and rush the film into production. Modern sources state that Selznick originally wanted Clifton Webb to play Sebastian, while Hitchcock considered George Sanders and opera star Ezio Pinza for the role. Selznick approached Ethel Barrymore to play "Madame Sebastian," but she turned down the part, according to modern sources. Madame Leopoldine Konstantin, who eventually played the role, made her first and only American screen appearance in Notorious.
Hollywood Reporter noted that Hitchcock went to New York to cast the film, and a New York Times article commented that he had "set something of a precedent" by signing four New York stage actors to play small roles in the film. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, Hitchcock tested Don Douglas for a "top role" in the production. (Douglas was not cast, however, and died on December 31, 1945 of appendicitis.) The CBCS lists both Luis Serrano and Ramon Nomar in the role of "Dr. Silva." It is not known which actor played the part, or if both actors appeared in the final film in different roles. Hollywood Reporter production charts include Lenore Ulric in the cast, but her appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Hitchcock makes his customary cameo by appearing as a party guest near the champagne table. In late December 1945, Bergman's five-year, $2,000-per-week contract with Selznick expired, and, according to a New York Times article, Notorious was the last film she made as a Selznick star.
In a modern interview, Hitchcock recalled that, because of the height difference between Claude Rains and Bergman, he had Rains stand on a box during his close-up shots with the actress. In another shot, Hitchcock had a graduated plank constructed, which enabled him to film Rains and Bergman walking toward the camera in a single shot while maintaining the height illusion. A Hollywood Citizen-News news item revealed that cinematographer Ted Tetzlaff created his famous "upside down shot" point-of-view shot of Grant, seen early in the film, with the use of mirrors. According to a November 1946 New York Times article, Hitchcock originally wanted to make his customary onscreen appearance playing a "deaf-mute walking inconspicuously through a street scene 'talking' in sign language to his woman companion." As the couple passes in front of the camera, the woman was to slap Hitchcock's face. When word of the proposed bit got out, Hitchcock received scores of protest letters from deaf-mutes and dropped the idea. In the final film, Hitchcock appears drinking a glass of champagne at Alicia's party.
According to modern sources, in the spring of 1945, Selznick hired Gregg Toland to film rear-projection footage of South America. According to Hollywood Reporter, background shots were filmed in Miami, FL. Production files indicate that other scenes were taken in Baldwin Park in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and at the Santa Anita Racetrack near Los Angeles. RKO borrowed Edith Head from Paramount for the production. According to modern sources, the film cost two million dollars to make, but made eight million dollars in profits. Modern critics cite Notorious as an early, sublte example of a post-war "Red Menace" film.
Claude Rains was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor and Hecht was nominated in the Best Writing (Original Screenplay) category. Ingrid Bergman reprised her role in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on January 26, 1948, co-starring Joseph Cotten. Notorious was remade in 1992 by Hamster-ABC Productions. Colin Bucksey directed and Jenny Robertson and John Shea starred in the television version, which was first broadcast on the Lifetime cable television network on January 28, 1992.