Given the hoopla surrounding Universal's recent release of their library of Alfred Hitchcock films, we thought that it would be nice to give his other works a spin. "Notorious" is one of three Hitchcock movies carried by Anchor Bay Entertainment. These were among the first Hitchcock features available on DVD and a welcome addition to any fan or completist's collection.
Before we begin with the review itself, I would like to say that Ingrid Bergman is one of the most beautiful women of all time. She isn't the rail-thin type of today's "glamour girls" (this is not to say that she's voluptuous or a plus-size), but her radiance has not been matched by any female star since her.
"Notorious" stars Cary Grant as an American intelligence officer named Devlin. He recruits Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) to re-establish contact with Alexander Sebastian, a Nazi now living in South America. The Americans think that Alicia will be a convincing eavesdropper because Sebastian once knew her and was in love with her. Devlin becomes tormented because he himself has fallen in love with Alicia.
Sound familiar? Well, the plot should if you've seen last year's "Mission: Impossible 2," directed by John Woo, written by Robert Towne, and starring Tom Cruise and Thandie Newton. As the movie's action sequences were already mapped out before there was a shooting script, Towne had to graft a plot onto Woo's set pieces. Guess what? He lifted just about everything from Ben Hecht's Oscar-winning screenplay (1947, Best Original Screenplay). Let's do a by-the-numbers rundown, shall we?
In both movies:
-the hero and the heroine fall in love during a perilous sequence involving careening cars;
-the hero recruit's the heroine, sending her back into the clutches of her evil ex-lover;
-the assignment is given to the heroine at the hotel during a candlelit dinner sequence;
-the bad guys are developing a weapon (the bomb/the virus) that could affect the geo-political balance of internation affairs;
-the hero and the heroine rendezvous and exchange information at a racetrack;
-the heroine pro-actively devises a way to save the hero when he is in danger of being caught;
-finally, the hero rescues the heroine, who has been drugged.
There are some key differences between the two films, though, that reflect the different goals, themes, and social attitudes of the filmmakers. In "Notorious," Devlin is pissed off at her for taking the assignment. Yes, Alicia does the job because she loves Devlin and thinks that she's doing what he wants her to do, but he's too jealous to think clearly and professionally. This is a big difference from "M:I-2," where Ethan doesn't harbor any ill-feelings towards Nyah because he is too much of a 21st-Century man to let feelings get in the way of work.
Another difference is in the portrayal of the chief villain. In "Notorious," Alex genuinely loves Alicia, whereas Ambrose just wants to have sex with Nyah in "M:I-2."
The title of the film refers to Ingrid Bergman's character, a woman with a reputation for sleeping with many men. There are no direct references to her "extracurricular" activities, but the dialogue constantly makes oblique mentions of the appropriate mores of respectable women.
This is also the film famous for having the longest kiss in cinema. Back in the 1940s, American censors dictated that kisses couldn't be longer than a certain number of seconds. Hitchcock danced around this limitation by staging a sequence of dialogue with his two stars breathlessly saying their lines in between smooches while desperately hugging and tugging around their hotel room. It's a far more erotic moment than seeing two pairs of bare asses being acrobatically flung about in, say, "Basic Instinct."
The film will seem fairly dated to most viewers because this isn't a slam-bam-wham spy feature that resembles the likes of James Bond or "Mission: Impossible." Surprisingly for a film from the "Master of Suspense," the pacing is a bit on the slow side. Indeed, terming this film a "classic" has more to do with the fortuitous combination of Bergman, Grant, and the great scene at the end when Grant carries Bergman down the steps.
Earlier, we see Grant climbing a stairway. Later, we see him carrying Bergman down the same set of steps. However, to build tension, Hitchcock cuts the sequence so that it takes longer for him to get down than it does for him to get up. If you count the number of steps that Grant takes, you'll find that he encounters more steps going down than going up! This scene is key for anyone who wants to learn a few lessons in constructing a thriller.
The film is presented in the original "Academy" frame of 1.33:1 (full frame on 4:3 TV sets). The transfer itself is clean and strong, but the print itself is in need of cleaning. Dirt, scratches, nicks, and grain mar the print. Keep in mind, though, that the commercial limitations of this DVD release probably prevented Anchor Bay from spending the money to clean up the film's negatives. Too bad, because the gorgeous Ingrid Bergman looks absolutely stunning in this film.
The mono Dolby Digital audio track is taken from the original audio track. This is actually a pretty good track for an old film because hiss is kept to a minimum. Dialogue is clear and strong. Audio effects are rather shobby, but that has to do with the recording technologies of the time, not the way the DVD was mastered.
There are no extras whatsoever except for chapter stops, but that's like saying that it's optional to include song stops on a music CD. Sorry, but I have to be truthful to the DVDTown numerical scale. This disc earns a big fat zero for "extras."
This release of "Notorious" falls under the "thank heavens it's on DVD" category. No one's going to be thunderstruck by this presentation of the movie. However, bear in mind that this film has been kicked around by different studios over the decades, and whatever promotional work done for the film's original release has been destroyed, has deteriorated, or has been misplaced in the great unknown. We're lucky to have the film itself intact.