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Notorious (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on January 31, 2012

Hitchcock had a number of excellent films in the noir style (or genre or movement or whatever you want to call it).  Some are rather easily identifiable as noir, including greats like Shadow of a Doubt and The Wrong Man.  With others, one tends to think of them as “Hitchcock films” before thinking of them as “noir films.”  Notorious belongs to this latter category.  Perhaps because of its elegance, its Selznick sheen.  Or perhaps because most of the more blatant noir elements are reserved for the third act.  But it’s got enough of those elements to qualify.  The suspense and tension, the deception, battles of will, espionage, dark psychological edge, ethical decisions and scenes of deep chiaroscuro lighting.

But maybe even more than a great noir, it’s a great romance.  Devlin and Alicia are tragically stifled by their defense mechanisms.  Their love becomes the victim of a game of emotional chicken, with neither party willing to yield at the crucial moment.  Bergman’s performance is one of her best, perhaps even surpassing Casablanca.  With subtle expressions we see her guard raised and lowered, the veneer of strength as false but well-crafted as the hairpiece she wears.  She also does some of the finest “drunk acting” I’ve seen, glassy-eyed with just enough stumble to sell it.  We also sense that Grant’s practiced skepticism and mistrust is a put-on, but he refuses to budge, stubbornly testing Alicia every step of the way.  When he finally crumbles, it’s a wonderfully cathartic moment, inside one of the film’s most suspenseful scenes.

And let’s not forget Claude Rains.  You almost feel sorry for our villain, caught between a woman who has thoroughly hoodwinked him and a domineering mother (a Hitchcock staple).  By this point however, we’re too much on Alicia’s side to support his vengeful scheme.

Ben Hecht’s script is letter-perfect, not a single line feels clunky or misplaced.  The exposition feels organic, not forced, and there are a number of beautifully crafted lines.  The cinematography, as stated above, is elegant, and the framing emphasizes the power structures in place.  And of course that magnificent crane in to Alicia’s palm, or those telling close-ups of coffee cups.  So what’s holding me back from the “Masterpiece” rating?  It’s really, really close.  It just lacks that je ne sais quoi to push it over the top.  Maybe it needs a couple more really impressive scenes as opposed to really effective ones.  Or something.  Whatever the case, it’s still one of my favorite Hitchcocks and one of my favorite noirs.  Rating: Great


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