Monday, March 2, 2009

Notorious... It's My Favorite


I'm in a funk and it is making me want to write and reveal.
Here is a paper I wrote about my favorite film of all time: Alfred Hitchcock's 1946 film, Notorious.

The paper was for the admissions for Chapman University. It had to be 2 pages in length and incorporate the reasons I adore this film.

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1946 film, Notorious, is my favorite movie because it combines several elements that I admire. The film encompasses the essence of post-war era film, stars Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant, director Alfred Hitchcock, and a clever resistance to the production codes of the time.

In Notorious, Ingrid Bergman plays the part of Alicia Huberman, a woman with loose morals who we first see as promiscuous, drunk, and cynical. Whether it is for her ravishing looks, outlandish partying, or deceitful father, Alicia is the center of attention. This character is a prime example of the female Gothic character (a victim as well as victimizing woman) found within post-war film noir. She is wronged by men (particularly her romantic partners in the movie, T.R. Devlin played by Cary Grant, and Alexander Sebastian, played by Claude Raines) and society (the United States C.I.A. as well as the Germans in Rio) but she also makes them her prey. Alicia is, as she puts it, “the Mata Hari— she makes love for the papers.” She is powerful when she uses her sexuality, street smarts, and looks, but she lives outside of her designated gender role, seeking power and freedom that is not rightfully hers (with in the guidelines of the time). She drinks too much, parties too hard, and yet Bergman portrays her with a sensitivity that makes her loveable and believable. She wants Devlin’s love as well as a normal life that is disassociated with her father’s Nazism and her less than perfect track record. This character is complex. She is funny, hard boiled, sensitive and has feminist qualities. Alicia Huberman is a main character, though not credited as such, without her, there is no conflict and no picture and as far as I am concerned, the same can be said about Ingrid Bergman. She is my favorite film character in perfected by my favorite actress.


Cary Grant depicts T.R. Devlin, a mysterious, handsome C.I.A. agent whose first name is never revealed. He brings a sense of humor to the picture that is not at all flighty; it is dark and sometimes shrewd. Devlin acts as the perfect juxtaposition to Alicia’s character. He is supposed to be a man of high morals, a government worker, who follows and uses the rules to their full potential. He is smart and uptight but a romantic when the mood calls for it. His character appears at first, in a film noir fashion, as a black silhouette. He does not reveal his name for quite a while and he is very quiet. I fall in love with this character every time I watch the film. He says most of my favorite lines, including “Dry your eyes baby, it’s out of character.” and when Alicia tells Devlin, “My car is outside,” he simply responds with “Naturally.” Devlin is statuesque in contrast to Alicia’s fluidity. He says so little yet says exactly what he means and exactly what she wants to hear. Devlin is Alicia’s “dream man” and though he (and the audience) has to wait to take her away from her old life, he ends up satisfying her dream of a life of “daisies and buttercups.”


Notorious finds a new genre of drama and humor for Cary Grant, outside of his classic screwball comedy films such as Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, and Arsenic and Old Lace. Both Grant and Ingrid Bergman played characters that were contrary to their public images at the time. In 1946 Cary Grant was seen as a happy-go-lucky kind of guy and the life of every party. in her early career, Bergman was seen as “saint-like” (at the time) due to her previous work in The Bells of Saint Mary’s, Casablanca, and Spellbound. They brought a new authenticity to their acting abilities as well as to Notorious when they starred as Alicia Huberman and T.R. Devlin. Their acting in this film and willingness to break expectations are two of my favorite elements within this classic.

Hitchcock presents several shots which I especially admire. When Alicia is in bed nursing a nasty hangover there is a camera angle that throws off equilibrium with a rotating, first person point of view shot. It attains empathetic, claustrophobic, and nauseating feelings, provided by the character and for the audience. There is a shot on the plane, when Devlin says “…we’re coming into Rio.” Alicia leans over his lap to look out of the opposite side of the plane. He looks directly at her and we see him fall in love in that instant. The shot sets two characters in completely separate worlds: she is focused on the future that lies ahead and he is focused on her. This shot is quick, simple, and perfect. Many transitions in this film are achieved with quick dissolves and fades. My favorite transition of all time is found in this film. The two characters dine at a street café, sitting opposite one another. This is where they discuss love, hate, and all that lies in between. When the mission is set and their bond is put into jeopardy, Devlin is sitting in his chair sipping coffee and Alicia is absent from her chair. The shot then dissolves into a scene at a restaurant where Alicia is sitting on her side of the table, but in a different locale. For a split second, the dissolve looks like the two are sitting together, but as it clears, Alexander Sebastian takes Devlin’s place and the plot ensues. This message is loud and clear but can be missed at first glance. The attention to detail is beautiful. There is one series of shots (though I could go through all of them, if given the chance) that is worth noting. The first is a lengthy shot of Alicia and the tea cup that carries the poisoned coffee. Hitchcock wanted both the cup and Ingrid Bergman to be in sharp focus so he had props make a tea cup three times the size of the original. The tea cup takes on personification that cannot be ignored. The cup’s haunting, human-like presence creates a new suspense that is only enhanced further by what happens next. When Alicia realizes that she is being poisoned and that Alex and his mother know who she is, she becomes panicked and her vision blurs. Alex and his mother become disfigured silhouettes and the sound as well as the lighting becomes distorted. There is nowhere for Alicia or the audience to go and the psychological thriller is fully developed; there is only hope for a rescue. Hitchcock’s resourceful nature comes through in with my last favorite shot. He used a lift that would take his camera, a focus man, and himself to the top of Sebastian’s ballroom for a long shot of the party and would take him down for an extreme close up of Bergman’s hand clenching the wine cellar key. This shot, though elaborately staged, is essential to finding out the weight that this key has for the plot. The key is symbolic of relationships between Devlin and Alicia, the Allies and the Germans, Alex and Alicia as well as others. The ingenuity is amazing and the shot is beautifully accomplished.

Hitchcock’s cunning manipulation of the production code is something I consider very admirable. He found loopholes everywhere regarding morality codes and post-war sentiment, and most famously a kissing scene.


The film writer, Ben Hecht, and he created lines that subtly questioned the pro-American ideals of the time such as: “No thank you. I don’t go for patriotism…waving the flag with one hand and picking pockets with the other. That’s your patriotism.” They cleverly created a movie completely about Nazism and international affairs without ever uttering the word “Nazi.” Also, they defied moral standards by working their way around the rules. The three-second kissing standard made by the Production Code Administration was contrived into a three-minute scene where Bergman and Grant nuzzled and cuddled with a kiss here and there. The kiss was awkward for the actors to shoot, but beautiful to watch. All of these elements combine for a cinematic masterpiece and my favorite film of all time.


Hope you enjoyed it...let me know! :)

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