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Notorious (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

January 29, 2012 by  



My favorite Hitchcock black and white film!  “Notorious” is a fantastic spy thriller that features great pacing, a wonderful storyline, magnificent performances, impressive camerawork and  for Hitchcock and Ben Hecht, giving them the freedom to show off their creativity with great efficacy.  This Blu-ray release is highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2011 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Notorious

FILM RELEASE: 1946

DURATION: 102 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1 Black and White, English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio, Subtitles: English SDH

COMPANY:MGM/20th Century fox

RATED: Not Rated

RELEASE DATE: January 24, 2012

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Based on the story “The Song of the Dragon” by John Taintor Foote

Produced by Alfred Hitchcock

Music by Roy Webb

Cinematography by Ted Tetzlaff

Edited by Theron Warth

Art Direction by Carroll Clark, Albert S. D’Agostino

Set Decoration by Claude E. Carpenter, Darrell Silvera

Starring:

Cary Grant as Devlin

Ingrid Bergman as Alicia Huberman

Claude Rains as Alexander Sebastian

Louis Calhern as Paul Prescott

Leopoldine Konstantin as Mme. Sebastian

Reinhold Schunzel as Dr. Anderson

Moroni Olsen as Walter Beardsley

Ivan Triesault as Eric Mathis

Alex Minotis as JosephFrom legendary director Alfred Hitchcock comes this “torrid, tense, tinglingly suspenseful” (Cosmopolitan) film that ranks as one of his best. Oscar Winner Ingrid Bergman “is literally ravishing” (Pauline Kael), and Cary Grant and Claude Rains give “excellent performances” (Variety) in this “taut spy movie that delivers a romantic punch” (The New Yorker)!

When troubled beauty Alicia Huberman (Bergman) is recruited by American agent T.R. Devlin (Grant) to infiltrate a German spy ring in postwar Rio, she accepts… but soon finds herself falling in love with Devlin. And when she receives orders to seduce a Nazi kingpin (Rains), Alicia must sacrifice the only happiness she’s ever known for a perilous mission that could ultimately cost her and Devlin their lives.

It had been well documented that Alfred Hitchcock and producer David O. Selznick did not have the greatest relationship.  Despite Hitchcock making three films within his seven-year contract with Selznick and “Rebecca” earning Selznick an Academy Award, the fact is that Selznick was known for interfering with the director and letting people know that he was the one calling the shots.

By the end of Hitchcock’s contract with Selznick, he and writer Ben Hecht were working on a screenplay for “Notorious”.  Inspired by the story “The Song of the Flame” which appeared on “The Saturday Evening Post”, both would craft a spy thriller which would involve the use of uranium.

Bare in mind, this is a year before the United States bombed Hiroshima, but how he got the idea of uranium was a writer and friend of Hitchcock told him about top secret nuclear bomb tests in New Mexico, while knowing that Germans were also conducting experiments in Norway.

Selznick who was in financial trouble at the time felt the idea of uranium being used to make an atom bomb was absurd and with the producers not convinced the film would do well, they sold the film as a package deal to include Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, the screenplay, Ben Hecht and Alfred Hitchcock to RKO.

And because of that, Hitchcock was now free of Selznick’s control and “Notorious” would give Alfred Hitchcock complete control as a director and producer, Ben Hecht as the screenwriter but most importantly, no more interference by David O. Selznick.

“Notorious” would be seen by many as a true “Hitchcock” film (for the black and white era) and many regard the film as their favorite Hitchcock film ever made.

The film was a tremendous hit in the United States that it brought in $4.8 million on its first theatrical American domestic release, film critics lauded the film.

Film critic Pauline Kael wrote praised “Notorious”, “The suspense is terrific: Will suspicious, passive Grant succeed in making Bergman seduce him, or wil he take over?  The honor of the American male is saved by a hairbreadth, but Bergman is literally ravishing in what is probably her sexiest performance.  Great trash, great fun.”

Roger Ebert has the film selected on his list for “Great Movies” and wrote, “Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Notorious’ is the most elegant expression of the master’s visual style, just as “Vertigo” is the fullest expression of his obsessions”.

“Notorious” was nominated for two Academy Awards (for “Best Supporting Actor” and “Original Screenplay”) and in 2006, was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

“Notorious” begins with Alicia Huberman’s (played by Ingrid Bergman) father being convicted as a Nazi spy.  We are then taken to a party in which government agent T.R. Devlin (played by Cary Grant) takes an inebriated Alicia back to his home.  When she awakens, he tells her that the government wants to recruit her in order to infiltrate an organization of Nazis wo have relocated to Brazil after World War II.

Alicia agrees to the job, despite the rocky start with T.R. Devlin and they head to Rio de Janeiro for details of her assignment.  While in Brazil, the two fall in love.

But the romance is quickly ended when Devlin gives Alicia the assignment and her job is to seduce Alex Sebastian (played by Claude Rains), a friend of her father and a member of the Nazi group.  Devlin tries his best to tell his superiors that Alicia is not fit for the job but he loses the battle.  So, when he tells Alicia about her job, he puts on a brave face and makes her feel that the duty is more important than their love and for Alicia, she is heartbroken and thinks that Devlin was just pretending to be in love with her.  So, she quickly takes the job.

So, while Alicia grows closer to Alex and manages to infiltrate his home, she notices that during a dinner, one of the guests becomes hysterical after seeing a few wine bottles and immediately is taken out of the room.

As she makes her reports to Devlin, she also uses those moments to see if he would get jealous that Alex Sebastian has become one of her “playmates”.    Meanwhile, Alex Sebastian sees both of them together and wonders if she is in love with him.

So, jealous that Devlin may be trying to get close to Alicia, he asks her to marry him.

So, Alicia goes to meet Devlin and his superiors and tells them that Alex Sebastian has asked her to marry him, but she wants to see if Devlin’s emotions would change (and get a hint that he actually does care for her) but once again, Devlin puts on the stoic face and tells her in a cold demeanor that she can do what she wants and that marrying him would be a good idea.

Hurt by his words, Alicia has decided to marry Alex Sebastian.

As Alicia tries to find anything unusual at the Sebastian home (aside from his mother being cold to her), she notices that Devlin gave her a key ring but it is missing a key, a key to the wine cellar.  So, during a party at the Sebastian home, Devlin shows up to the party (to Alex’s chagrin), but she secretly takes Alex’s key and both she and Devlin secretly go into the wine cellar.  Devlin accidentally knocks a wine bottle and inside is not wine, they find black sand which Devlin takes samples.  And as he tries to clean everything back up, they know that they will be caught by her husband and so to cover their tracks, Devlin pretends he is drunk and gives Alicia a passionate kiss.

Devlin tells Alex that he has always wanted Alicia and loved her before he did, but she chose him.  And at first, Alex believes the story until he discovers that a key is missing from his key ring.  The key to the cellar and as he goes to investigate, he notices that one of the bottles have been opened and feels that his wife is a double agent working for the United States.

So, Alex and his mother decide they must eliminate Alicia.

But will Devlin be able to rescue her in time?

 

VIDEO:

“Notorious” is presented in 1080p High Definition (full screen 1:33:1, black and white). While the film has its fair share of scratches, because of the film’s popularity, it had received restoration for a DVD release years ago, removing a lot of blemishes.  I have the first DVD that was release for “Notorious” before the restoration, so I can easily say that this film had been cleaned up.  A lot of the white specks are gone and while there are some occasional (and short) flickering, the fact that this film has made it to Blu-ray definitely adds much more detail and clarity than ever before.

You notice the fine layer of grain but most of all how black levels are nice and deep and how the clarity and the detail of the film is quite apparent. For any fan of “Notorious”, this HD release is the best looking version of the film to date!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Notorious” is presented in English monaural DTS-HD Master Audio (via a 2.0 mix). The dialogue and music of Roy Webb is crystal clear, clear midrange and a slight hint of hiss, click or crackle for this classic film. But again, comparing it to the original DVD that I have, I was quite pleased with this lossless soundtrack.

Subtitles are presented in English SDH.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“Notorious” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary by Rick Jewell – A really in-depth audio commentary by film professor Rick Jewell on the film but also the involvement of Selznick and discussion of RKO.
  • Audio Commentary by Drew Casper – A second audio commentary by film professor Drew Casper about “Notorious”.
  • Isolated Music and Effects Track – While watching the film, you can listen to Roy Webb’s soundtrack and the effects (no dialogue).
  • The Ultimate Romance: The Making of Notorious – (28:22) A featurette about the romance between Alice Huberman (Bergman) and Devlin (Grant).
  • Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Spymaster – (13:10) A featurette on how Hitchcock films influenced the spy genre.
  • The American Film Institute Award: The Key to Hitchcock – (3:20) Featuring Alfred Hitchcock’s granddaughter Mary Stone talking about Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifetime Achievement Award and footage when Ingrid Bergman returned the key that was used in the film.
  • 1948 Radio Play – (59:35) Featuring a radio play featuring Joseph Cotton and Ingrid Bergman.
  • Hitchcock Audio Interviews – An excerpt featuring Peter Bogdanovich interviewing Alfred Hitchcock (2:14) and Francois Truffaut interview Hitchcock (16:22).
  • Restoration Comparison – (2:50) A short featurette showing how the film was restored with footage before and after.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (2:31) The original theatrical trailer for “Notorious”.

“Notorious” is my favorite black and white film made by Alfred Hitchcock.

The film was a spy thriller, a dramatic love film in which the characters are both in love, but because of duty, their love is prohibited.   And you are left wondering if these two will ever find a way back to each other.  The performances by Ingrid Bergman and Gable was fantastic, the antagonist Claude Raines was a wonderful casting choice and most of all, it’s a film which Alfred Hitchcock called the shots.

He did things his way and because of that, there are a few key things that people will remember.  I remember watching it when I was younger, over the years I had the opportunity to read several books and learn more and more about the making of this film.  From how Hitchcock found a way to develop a long romantic and passionate kissing scene and by keeping within the Production Code’s “three second kissing rule”.  It was definitely a passionate kiss with a scene that last for over two minutes long but had the characters interrupt their kiss every three seconds, talk, and continue again.

Also, the film would be known for its famous crane shot as Alicia is coming down the stairs and we see the camera zoom in on the key inside the hand of Alicia.

An earlier scene featured a policeman on his bike trailing both Devlin and an inebriated Alicia. Hitchcock was adamant in making this scene realistic as possible, especially capturing the light from the bicycle beaming on the necks of both talents.  Needless to say, Hitchcock really pushed his cinematographer Ted Tetzlaff (“My Man Godfrey”, “The Talk of the Town”, “The More the Merrier”) to the limit with “Notorious” but it’s those intricate details that Hitchcock cared about.

Also bare in mind that this was the predecessor to the spy films of the ’60s, before James Bond and it would be no surprise if “Notorious” helped inspire those films (in fact, there is a special feature on this topic).  “Notorious” features both talents in suave clothing at dinner parties, we are also get the elegant location in which both Devlin and Alicia are in Rio.

But for me, the efficacy of this film is somewhat of its heartbreaking romance theme.  We know Alicia loves Devlin but because of her love, she will do what he wants…even if it means sleeping and being romantic with another man and accomplishing what is needed to get the information he and his superiors have wanted.  As a viewer, we just wonder how long will Devlin get it through his head that she is only doing this for him and what a conundrum it came to be.

As for the Blu-ray release, similar to “Rebecca” and “Spellbound”, there are many special features to keep fans interested.  With the commentary tracks, featurettes and radio plays, sure… these three releases are absolutely solid.  Sure, one day, “Notorious” may get a new restoration with better restoration technology and newer special features may be included in a future release but for all it’s worth, I’m really content with this Blu-ray release.

Overall, this is my favorite Hitchcock black and white film!  “Notorious” is a fantastic spy thriller that features great pacing, a wonderful storyline, magnificent performances, impressive camerawork and  for Hitchcock and Ben Hecht, giving them the freedom to show off their creativity with great efficacy.

This Blu-ray release is highly recommended!






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