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Film / Notorious (1946)

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"A man doesn't tell a woman what to do. She tells herself."
T. R. Devlin

Notorious is a 1946 spy thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains.

Shortly after the end of World War II, Alicia Huberman (Bergman), the American daughter of a convicted Nazi spy, is recruited by government agent T. R. Devlin (Grant) for an important assignment. A few Nazis, led by one Alexander Sebastian (Rains), have relocated to Brazil for an evil plan. Her mission, should she choose to accept it, is to infiltrate the group and find out their goal. She infiltrates the group, and eventually marries Sebastian, over his mother's objections. How long can Alicia uphold her charade? Can Devlin save the day if her cover's blown?

Not to be confused with the biopic Notorious (2009) about The Notorious B.I.G. or the 2016 TV series.

This film provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Sebastian is about the nicest, most debonair Nazi you'll ever meet—in fact he probably cares more about Alicia than Devlin does.
  • Argentina Is Nazi-Land: Well, Brazil.
  • The Baroness: Madame Sebastian is far more ruthless than her Nazi agent son.
  • Big Bad: Alexander Sebastian.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Devlin saves the day when it seems Alicia might die from the poisoning. How big? Count the steps, there are a lot more when he's going down than when he went up them.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The key to the wine cellar is labeled UNICA, which in Italian means "unique" — an appropriate name, since it's a different shape from all the other keys on Sebastian's key chain.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Invoked by Devlin who refuses to admit his love for Alicia because it would have endangered their mission.
  • Creator Cameo: As always with Hitchcock films. In this one, he's quaffing champagne at Sebastian's party.
  • Dutch Angle: Used in the first Impairment Shot (see below).
  • Driving a Desk: Some badly rendered shots of Devlin and Alicia tooling around Miami.
  • Drunk Driver: Alicia drunkenly swerves on the road while Devlin calmly sits as a passenger. Even leads to a cop driving alongside on a motorcycle, apparently not afraid that she might swerve into him.
  • Epic Tracking Shot: A celebrated camera stunt in which the camera swoops down from a second floor balcony down to Bergman on the ground floor, and then gets a tight closeup of a key clutched in her hand.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Alicia's sudden realization that she has been poisoned.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex: Despite common perceptions of the 1940's, the plot is based on Alicia's history and experience with many men, something which is regarded as neither extraordinary or even noteworthy, and she and Alexander Sebastian sleep together before marriage (before even a proposal) after only a few weeks together.
  • Evil Matriarch: Madame Sebastian, again.
  • The Faceless: John Huberman, Alicia's father, is only shown from behind in the courtroom scene.
  • Fakeout Makeout: Devlin invokes a passionate kissing scene with Alicia in the basement to cover up their snoopery when Alex arrives at the scene.
  • Fanservice: Alicia squirming around in bed at the beginning of her "recruitment" scene.
  • Femme Fatale Spy: Alicia is asked by the US government to seduce (and eventually marry) a Nazi agent in order to have someone with inside access to his house who can look out for the illegal activities the US government suspects are going on in there. When told the nature of her assignment, Alicia even mentions Mata Hari, saying, "Mata Hari, she makes love for the papers."
  • Figure It Out Yourself: The Rule of Drama required the lead couple to keep quiet about their feelings. Devlin wanted Alicia to say no to the mission and she wanted him to tell her he loved her.
  • Forced Perspective: Hitchcock got the shot where Bergman is in the background and the coffee cup is in the foreground, with both in focus, by using a giant coffee cup placed farther away than it appears.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Justified, since Sebastian was a longtime suitor of Alicia, and she purposefully seduced him.
  • Go Seduce My Archnemesis: Devlin orders Alicia to sleep with Sebastian. She complies, and he berates her for it. Interestingly, when Devlin's superiors demonstrate the same hypocrisy toward Alicia that he has, Devlin defends her.
  • Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Alicia runs to alcohol to help deal with her personal life, and the problems that arise from it.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Patrick McGilligan's biography Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light describes how the infamous kissing scene ingeniously circumvented the Hays Office's rule against "excessive and lustful kissing". The censors internally defined "excessive" as "longer than three seconds", so Hitchcock had Alicia and Devlin embrace, kiss each other, nuzzle a little, chat softly about making arrangements for dinner, kiss again, nuzzle, kiss again...
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Alex arranges for the telephone to be removed from Alicia's room so she cannot contact anyone for help. This comes back to bite him in the last moments of the film, where the Nazis realize that the story about having called the hospital for Alicia does not make sense, since there is no telephone in her room: Alicia and Devlin are away safely, but he is left to face the music.
  • Honey Trap: Alicia is this for Sebastian. She seduces him and marries him to find out what he and his fellow Nazis are up to.
  • Impairment Shot
    • The first is early in the film. Alicia wakes up from a hangover to see a Dutch Angle shot of Devlin, tilted sideways as he stands in the doorway. Then, as Devlin approaches the bed, the camera turns until he is upside down.
    • The second is towards the end. Alicia, realizing that she is being poisoned, stands up and attempts to flee. Alexander and Ma Sebastian go out of focus and then are shown in silhouette before she faints.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Alexander doesn't really seem to be that evil at all. There's not even a single instance of Putting on the Reich, and he only comes to the decision to kill Alicia after being bullied by his mother, and after seeing what the other Nazis did to a scientist who let on too much.
  • MacGuffin: The uranium in the wine cellar.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: What they did to poor Dr. Hubka.
  • Momma's Boy: Alex Sebastian. His mother still has her hooks in good and deep. Alex manages to stand up to her by marrying Alicia. Unfortunately, Alicia turns out to be an American spy, and so Alex's mother is able to step in and exert control again.
  • Ms. Vice Girl: Alicia has a major drinking problem and has quite the reputation, but is basically a good person even so.
  • My Beloved Smother: Lady Sebastian, yet again. A particularly evil example (even before they learn the truth about Alicia, Lady Sebastian clearly hates the idea of her son having a girlfriend).
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: Devlin keeps sniping at Alicia about her promiscuous past and eventually suggests that she abandon the whole project, since he doesn't want his girlfriend to be that kind of girl.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Claude Rains didn't bother to sound like a Frenchman in Casablanca, and he doesn't bother to sound like a German here.
  • Offscreen Karma: It's implied that Alex is going to be offed by his Nazi associates for marrying an American spy.
  • Oh, Crap!: Sebastian, when the other Nazis find out about his marrying an American agent.
  • Overt Rendezvous: Devlin and Alicia are strictly meeting in public, at the horse races and on a park bench in the city of Rio.
  • Perfect Poison: Averted. The Sebastians attempt to kill Alicia by spiking her coffee, but it is done gradually to give the impression that she is simply ill. This keeps their fellow Nazis from growing suspicious and also prevents Alicia from acting until it is already too late.
  • Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo: Dr. Anderson mistakenly picks the poisoned coffee, but Alex and his mother are quick to let him know, which in turn sparks Alicia's "Eureka!" Moment.
  • Pretty in Mink: Alicia wears an ermine wrap and a mink coat.
  • Really Gets Around: Alicia, in the backstory. This is one of the reasons why she's selected for the mission.
  • Revenge Before Reason: At the end of the film, with the Nazis aware that he brought a spy into their organization, Sebastian begs Devlin to take him away along with Alicia. While the group would be spooked either way now that their cover is blown, Sebastian could've provided valuable intelligence on their activities. Instead, Devlin just leaves him to his fate.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: This was just a year after the Nazis' defeat, at the dawn of the Atomic Age, with all the fear of what might happen if somebody else was able to create an atom bomb. There was considerable effort put into searching for hidden Nazis and bringing them to justice.
  • "Shut Up" Kiss: Devlin gives one to Alicia after she decides to taunt him for falling in love with a bad girl like herself.
  • Sleeping Single: Alicia and Sebastian are shown doing this in one scene, which must have seemed odd even in 1946 what with all of Devlin's jealousy and talk of Alicia's "playmates".
  • Spanner in the Works: Lady Sebastian's plan of slowly poisoning Alicia would have worked, but they never realized that Devlin was an agent and that he was enough in love with her to go to look for her.
  • Those Wacky Nazis
  • Throw 'Em to the Wolves: At the end of the film, Devlin refuses to take Sebastian with him and Alicia, instead leaving him with the other Nazis, who know that he's blown their cover. They do not seem pleased with his behavior.
  • Wet Blanket Wife: Devlin is a Rare Male Example. He recruits Alicia to seduce and marry a Nazi leader so she can spy on him, but once he falls in love with her he starts taking digs at her for sleeping with the Nazi before she married him and trying to make her choose between him and the mission.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Devlin, although he's partially justified in doing so, as she nearly killed him with her drunk driving, then became hysterical upon realizing he is a government agent. As his body blocks the view, we never see the blow, just hear it.