Of all the films made by Alfred Hitchcock, the one that most closely aligns with the feel of Hollywood’s Golden Era is Notorious. The action of the characters and the look and feel of the scenes adheres to the conventions and formulas of that period’s filmmaking. And I mean this in a positive sense. The production values are excellent. The actors are the finest. The dialog and plot are very well done. A good case can be made that this is the best movie made in Hitchcock’s long and successful career as a filmmaker. The movie takes place in 1946. World War II had just ended and Nazis were still topical. Ingrid Bergman’s character, Alicia Huberman, is the daughter of a German spy recently convicted of espionage in the United States. She is a loyal American and agrees to help the U.S. government in the person of T. R. “Dev” Devlin played in his typically winning way by Cary Grant. Naturally they fall in love but the problem is the government wants Alicia to become romantically entangled with a German industrialist living in Rio de Janeiro named Alex Sebastian (played by the inimitable Claude Rains in his remarkably idiosyncratic way). She is supposed to find out what dastardly plots these escaped Nazis are planning. This of course leads to jealousy and spite in Devlin and pain and anger in Alicia. When circumstances force her to marry Sebastian to maintain the espionage this further poisons the relationship between our two star crossed lovers (are there any other kind?). The plot has twists and turns and uranium salts (which got Hitchcock in trouble with the real US Government) but throughout we root for the love story and hiss at the bad guys (in this case Nazis and the US Secret Service). The remarkable thing in this movie is that although Claude Rains is the evil Nazi you kind of sympathize with his character at certain turns. He is the unfortunate man in a house with two women, his new wife and his domineering mother. And he is haunted by the ubiquitous Cary Grant popping up everywhere and presumably a rival for his wife’s affections. Who wouldn’t want an atom bomb available under those difficult circumstances?
Hitchcock’s cinematic work began well before Hollywood’s Golden Era and in England. He continued to create popular and original thrillers well into the 1960s, long after the studio system had disappeared. Thus, Hitchcock is not defined by or limited to the Golden Era sensibilities. But Notorious without a doubt possesses the “classic” look of that era and definitely deserves its reputation as a masterpiece. Anyone interested in Hitchcock or the movies of the ‘30s and ‘40s should consider viewing this film.
Now put all that aside. Notorious is a great story. Hitchcock provides all kinds of suspense and intrigue. Everyone on both sides is hiding something from everyone, including themselves. So much deception even starts to trip up the deceivers and eventually it all starts to crumble. The ending is a collapse all around and a fitting finale. I highly recommend this movie and hope you’ll enjoy the performances not only by the three main characters but also from all those bit part Nazis doing their best to be wonderfully evil.