Combustible Celluloid
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With: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Louis Calhern, Leopoldine Konstantin, Reinhold Schunzel, Moroni Olsen, Ivan Triesault, Alex Minotis, Wally Brown, Charles Mendl, Ricardo Costa, Eberhard Krumschmidt, Fay Baker
Written by: Ben Hecht
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 101
Date: 08/15/1946

Notorious (1946)

4 Stars (out of 4)

A Perfectly Hideous Party

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Notorious is generally considered the best of Hitchcock's films from the 1940s, although the Master himself was said to prefer Shadow of a Doubt (1943). It's a nearly flawless espionage thriller that has been mimicked many times since, but never equaled.

Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) turns to drink and men after her father is convicted of treason. A spy named Devlin (Cary Grant) approaches her, asking her to use her connections to spy on her father's former friends. The two fall in love, but complications arise when Alicia's target, Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), also falls in love with her, and he's a formidable rival.

Events climax at a very tense party in which Devlin tries to find out what's going on by snooping around in Sebastian's wine cellar. Hitchcock often slows down the pace -- and increases the suspense -- by showing Alicia's POV, or with certain gleeful little cheats (such as adding a few steps to extend the descent of a staircase). Two of the most justly celebrated scenes are Hitchcock's awesome crane shot that ends on Bergman's hand holding the all-important key, as well as Grant and Bergman's hot kissing scene, played out in one long shot and made up of dozens of little pecks and nibbles (one long kiss was forbidden by the censors).

Ben Hecht has sole screenwriting credit, though the script is reportedly based on a story by John Taintor Foote. Likewise, Hitchcock and Clifford Odets may also have contributed.

Anchor Bay released the first DVD, followed by the great Criterion Collection version, both out of print as of 2009. MGM's new version is now available. In 2012, Fox/MGM released a new Blu-Ray, alongside Rebecca and Spellbound. Looking at them together, it's clear that Notorious is by far the most sophisticated of the three. The high-def transfer is truly spectacular, highlighting the grain of a beautiful black-and-white film print. It features lots of good extras, some of which carry over from the Criterion edition, and some of which were new to the 2009 MGM edition (such as two critical commentary tracks). Unfortunately, it's not comprehensive, so completists will want to keep everything.

In 2019, the Criterion Collection issued a new Blu-ray edition.

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