My selections at the TCM Classic Film Festival included a daily dose of Alfred Hitchcock, watching one of his films apiece from the '30s, '40s, and '50s between Friday and Sunday.
On the festival's first full day I saw Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in NOTORIOUS, one of my very favorite Hitchcock films. In fact, it might just give FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940) a run for its money as my all-time favorite Hitchcock film.
I hadn't seen NOTORIOUS on a big screen since my parents took me to see it at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the '70s, so the chance to see it in a theater again was a real treat, despite some previously described issues with the print.
I usually sit in the back half of the theater, but I enjoyed joining my friend Aurora of Once Upon a Screen up near the front of the Egyptian for this film, so we could see what she described as a "BIG!" Cary Grant. Although my eyes couldn't handle watching a film that close on a regular basis, I had a good time seeing a familiar movie from a different perspective. Watching a huge Grant and Bergman really did help bring home in a fresh way what gorgeous and charismatic stars they were. And what a delight to watch the movie with such an enthusiastic audience!
NOTORIOUS was introduced by former TCM ESSENTIALS cohost Rose McGowan, pictured here in a photo courtesy of TCM. McGowan spoke briefly about her love for the film and about Hitchcock's cleverness getting around censors at a time when long screen kisses were forbidden.
Although McGowan's introduction wasn't filmed, she was also interviewed by Ben Mankiewicz at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel that day, which can be seen in the festival video gallery under Thursday's listings.
The plot of NOTORIOUS is, of course, familiar to classic film fans in general and Hitchcock admirers in particular. Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) is the daughter of a man convicted of treason against the United States, and she drowns her sorrows as a goodtime party girl in Miami. However, a U.S. spy agency has proof that Alicia herself is a patriot, and she's recruited by Devlin (Cary Grant) to atone for her father's sins and help the United States by spying on a Nazi ring in South America.
Despite troubled pasts, Devlin and Alicia begin to trust one another and fall in love. Then Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), an old friend of Alicia's father who is part of the Nazi group, proposes marriage to Alicia, and Devlin's boss (Louis Calhern) encourages her to go through with the marriage. Alicia and Devlin, not having a good understanding of each other's motivations, become bitter toward one another while continuing their espionage activities.
Then Alicia begins feeling strangely ill and can't seem to shake it...
NOTORIOUS is simply a great, great film. Grant and Bergman have unparalleled chemistry, and every other element is perfection, including Claude Rains as Sebastian. The film has excellent pacing and suspense, with classic moments such as the camera zeroing in on the all-important key to the wine cellar in Bergman's hand. The last few minutes comprise one of my favorite movie endings ever, as all is resolved admidst romance, danger, and a touch of humor too. No matter how many times one watches this film, one finds more to notice and enjoy, the mark of a true classic.
Something I noticed after the fact, while reviewing stills from the film, is that Cary Grant deliberately looks away from Ingrid Bergman in many of the scenes. Some of this is a reflection of the plot, as the two secret agents must exchange information in public without seeming to engage with one another. However, it can also be read as Devlin's attempts to keep himself at an emotional distance from Alicia, particularly after she agrees to marry Sebastian. It's one of Cary Grant's best performances, as a man who's simultaneously unreadable and in emotional turmoil. Bergman's emotions are much more apparent, but again it's one of my very favorite Bergman roles.
The cast also includes Madame Konstantin, Moroni Olsen, Reinhold Schunzel, Ivan Triesault, and Alexis Minotis.
My fellow fans of the ubiquitous "dress extra" Bess Flowers won't be surprised to learn she's one of the guests at the party Alexander Sebastian throws to introduce his new wife to local society.
NOTORIOUS was filmed in black and white by Ted Tetzlaff. The screenplay was by Ben Hecht, with uncredited contributions by Clifford Odets and Hitchcock himself. The score, which McGowan noted as a favorite Hitchcock score in her introduction, was by Roy Webb. The movie runs 101 minutes.
NOTORIOUS has had multiple DVD releases, including a 2001 Criterion release with commentary tracks by Rudy Behlmer and Marian Keane, and a 2008 release with commentary tracks by Drew Casper and Richard Jewell. The 2008 DVD is also included in the excellent 8-film Alfred Hitchcock Premiere Collection. This more recent DVD can be rented from Netflix or ClassicFlix.
It's also had multiple VHS releases and came out last year on Blu-ray.
Most highly recommended.
Coming soon: A look at Day Three of the festival, including a review of THEY LIVE BY NIGHT (1948).