Having watched Alfred Hitchcock‘s Notorious for the first time I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Did I just watch a drawn-out romance within an espionage setting, or vice versa, a triangular spy game with several she-loves-me/she-loves-me-not sub-plots, both of which involve the same woman?
The plot is as such: Cary Grant plays Devlin, a suave and manipulative government agent who convinces Alicia (Ingrid Bergman), the daughter of a German-American convicted of treason, to fulfill her patriotic duties and spy on – and eventually marry – the dangerous Nazi leader, Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains).
I would think that with a plot containing elements of espionage, forced marriage, and Nazis that this film would inevitably leave me searching for a toothpick to chisel out the remnants of fingernail clippings left festering within my teeth as a result of the numerous suspenseful moments to which the master of the genre himself is known to cause. Sadly, that was not the case in Notorious.
From start to finish Hitchcock’s direction (camera placement, character and object framing, continuity, editing, and lest not forget the great performances he elicits from his actors) is flawless, dare I say, masterful. However, as esthetically pleasing and meticulously crafted as this film is it’s still missing that all important element found in other bona fide classics; a plot worth caring about. Therefore it would behoove me to give this film 5 bedazzling stars were I to base it solely on its technical merits.
Regardless of how interesting and clever every goddamn frame of this film is I still found it, at times, to drag. Yet, even worse than noticing when a film drags is being able to see what’s going to happen, especially during moments meant to induce stress upon the viewer. It is because of these two elements, and no other reasons, that I can not – within good judgement – give it a higher rating. But hey, since when is four stars considered a bad thing?
In the end Notorious will forever be seen by me less as a film with a patient-testing pace and unsuspenseful sequences and more of a technical marvel that everyone who is interested in seeing how to properly photograph a film – film student, or not – must see.