NOTORIOUS - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

USA, 1946

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Production: RKO; black and white; running time: 102 minutes: length: 9,136 feet. Released August 1946.

Producer: Alfred Hitchcock; screenplay: Ben Hecht, from a theme by Alfred Hitchcock; assistant director: William Dorfman; photography: Ted Tetzlaff; editor: Theron Warth; sound: John Tribby,

Clem Portman; art directors: Albert S. D'Agostino, Carol Clark, Darrell Silvera, Claude Carpenter; special effects: Vernon L. Walker; music: Roy Webb.

Cast: Ingrid Bergman ( Alicia Huberman ); Cary Grant ( Devlin ); Claude Rains ( Alexander Sebastian ); Louis Calhern ( Paul Prescott ); Leopoldine Konstantin ( Mrs. Sebastian ); Reinhold Schunzel ( Dr. Anderson ).



Noble, Peter, An Index to the Creative Work of Alfred Hitchcock , London, 1949.

Amengual, Barthélemy, and Raymond Borde, Alfred Hitchcock , Paris, 1957.

Rohmer, Eric, and Claude Chabrol, Hitchcock , Paris, 1957.

Bogdanovich, Peter, The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock , New York, 1962.

Perry, George, The Films of Alfred Hitchcock , London, 1965.

Wood, Robin, Hitchcock's Films , London, 1965.

Truffaut, François, The Cinema selon Hitchcock , Paris, 1966; as Hitchcock , New York, 1985.

Quirk, Lawrence J., The Films of Ingrid Bergman , New York, 1970.

LaValley, Albert J., editor, Focus on Hitchcock , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1972.

Brown, Curtis F., Ingrid Bergman , New York, 1973.

Vermilye, Jerry, Cary Grant , New York, 1973.

Durgnat, Raymond, The Strange Case of Alfred Hitchcock; or, The Plain Man's Hitchcock , Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1974.

Fetherling, Doug, The Five Lives of Ben Hecht , Toronto, 1977.

Taylor, John Russell, Hitch , London and New York, 1978.

Deschner, Donald, The Films of Cary Grant , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1978.

Hemmeter, Thomas M., Hitchcock the Stylist , Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1981.

Bazin, André, The Cinema of Cruelty: From Buñuel to Hitchcock , New York, 1982.

Narboni, Jean, editor, Alfred Hitchcock , Paris, 1982.

Rothman, William, Hitchcock—The Murderous Gaze , Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1982.

Villien, Bruno, Hitchcock , Paris, 1982.

Weis, Elisabeth, The Silent Scream: Alfred Hitchcock's Sound Track , Rutherford, New Jersey, 1982.

Spoto, Donald, The Life of Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side of Genius , New York, 1981; London, 1983.

Britton, Andrew, Cary Grant: Comedy and Male Desire , Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1983.

Schickel, Richard, Cary Grant: A Celebration , London, 1983.

Wansell, Geoffrey, Cary Grant: Haunted Idol , London, 1983, New York, 1984.

Taylor, John Russell, Ingrid Bergman , London and New York, 1983.

Dupuis, Jean-Jacques, Cary Grant , Paris, 1984.

Phillips, Gene D., Alfred Hitchcock , Boston, 1984.

Barbier, Philippe, and Jacques Moreau, Alfred Hitchcock , Paris, 1985.

Martin, Jeffrey Brown, Ben Hecht, Hollywood Screenwriter , Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1985.

Douchet, Jean, Alfred Hitchcock , Paris, 1985.

Deutelbaum, Marshall, and Leland Poague, A Hitchcock Reader , Ames, Iowa, 1986.

Humphries, Patrick, The Films of Alfred Hitchcock , Greenwich, Connecticut, 1986.

Kloppenburg, Josef, Die dramaturgische Funktion der Musik in Filmen Alfred Hitchcocks , Munich, 1986.

Sinyard, Neil, The Films of Alfred Hitchcock , London, 1986.

Leamer, Laurence, As Time Goes By: The Life of Ingrid Bergman , New York, 1986.

Modleski, Tania, The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory , New York, 1988.

Higham, Charles, and Ray Moseley, Cary Grant: The Lonely Heart , New York, 1989.

Spoto, Donald, Art of Alfred Hitchcock , New York, 1991.

Kapsis, Robert E., Hitchcock: The Making of a Reputation , Chicago, 1993.

Sterritt, David, The Films of Alfred Hitchcock , New York, 1993.

Arginteanu, Judy, The Movies of Alfred Hitchcock , Minneapolis, 1994.

Boyd, David, editor, Perspectives on Alfred Hitchcock , New York, 1995.

Condon, Pauline, Complete Hitchcock , London, 1999.

Harris, Robert A., Complete Films of Alfred Hitchcock , Secaucus, 1999.

Bellour, Raymond, The Analysis of Film , Bloomington, 2000.

McGilligan, Patrick, Alfred Hitchcock , New York, 2001.


Sight and Sound (London), no. 59, 1946.

Kine Weekly (London), 6 March 1946.

Motion Picture Herald (New York), 17 July 1946.

Variety (New York), 24 July 1946.

New York Times , 16 August 1946.

Monthly Film Bulletin (London), April 1947.

Film Heritage (Dayton, Ohio), Spring 1969.

Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), vol. 1, no. 1, 1979, and vol. 4, no. 1, 1980.

Bonitzer, P., in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), March 1980.

Paganelli, M., in Filmcritica (Florence), January 1981.

Piccardi, A., "I meccanismi del cinema di Hitchcock," in Cineforum (Bergamo), April 1982.

Clark, Randall, "Ben Hecht," in American Screenwriters , edited by Robert E. Morsberger, Stephen O. Lesser, and Randall Clark, Detroit, 1984.

Arnold, Gordon B., "From Big Screen to Small Screen: Notorious Directed by Alfred Hitchcock and Starring Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains," in Library Journal (New York), vol. 114, no. 9, 15 May 1989.

Beebe, John, "The Notorious Postwar Psyche," in Journal of Popular Film and Television (Washington), vol. 18, no. 1, Spring 1990.

McGuinness, M., "The Notorious Alice in Hitchcockland," in Spectator (Los Angeles), vol. 12, no. 2, 1992.

Osteen, M., "The Big Secret: Film Noir and Nuclear Fear," in Journal of Popular Film and Television (Washington, D.C.), vol. 22, no. 2, 1994.

Byars, Jackie, and Eileen R. Meehan, "Once in a Lifetime: Constructing 'The Working Woman' Through Cable Narrowcasting," in Camera Obscura (Bloomington), no. 33–34, May-June 1994–1995.

Howard, T., " Notorious ," in Reid's Film Index (Wyong), no. 16, 1995.

Suarez, J. and M. Manglis, "Cinema, Gender, and the Topography of Enigmas: A Conversation with Laura Mulvey," in Cinefocus , vol. 3, 1995.

Kirshner, Jonathan, "Alfred Hitchcock and the Art of Research," in PS, Political Science and Politics (Washington), vol. 29, no. 3, Washington, September 1996.

Christie, Ian, Leslie Felperin, and Nick Roddick, "Alfred Hitchcock and the British Cinema," in Sight and Sound (London), vol. 6, no. 11, November 1996.

"Classic Scene: Notorious ," in Premiere (New York), vol. 11, no. 3, November 1997.

Butte, G., "Theatricality and the Comedy of the Mutual Gaze in Hitchcock's Cary Grant Films," in Hitchcock Annual (Gambier), Fall 1997/1998.

Gottlieb, S., "Hitchcock and the Art of the Kiss: A Preliminary Survey," in Hitchcock Annual (Gambier), Fall 1997/1998.

Leff, Leonard J., "Ingrid in the Lion's Den: Cutting Notorious ," in Film Comment (New York), vol. 35, no. 2, March/April 1999.

Wood, Catherine, "The Influence of Art of the Master of Suspense," in The Lancet (London), vol. 354, no. 9181, 4 September 1999.

McClain, Buzz, "That Obscure Object of Desire," in Playboy (Chicago), vol. 47, no. 2, February 2000.

* * *

Notorious (1946) is a key film in the Hitchcock canon, one which builds upon thematic elements gradually developed in a series of British ( Blackmail , 1929; Sabotage , 1936) and early American ( Rebecca , 1940; Suspicion , 1941; Shadow of a Doubt , 1943) pictures. But Notorious significantly extends Hitchcock's fascination with men and women bonded in relationships, real or imagined, of an unholy nature. The film takes his portrayal of obsessive behavior in a direction that anticipates Vertigo (1958), Marnie (1964), and, notably North by Northwest (1959), in which, again using Cary Grant in the male lead, he replays Notorious 's chief romantic relationship but reshapes its brooding, uncharacteristically humorless intensity into the format of vibrant comedy.

On its surface, Notorious appears to exploit the period's patriotic fervor by connecting the post-World War II hunt for escaped Nazis to such narrative staples of classic Hollywood cinema as the damsel in distress and the "bad" woman redeemed by the love of a "good" man. In fact, Hitchcock and screenwriter Ben Hecht artfully interweave those plot elements to conceal Notorious 's true subject: sexual betrayal which poisons several sets of criss-crossing relationships within the world of the film.

Paramount among those relationships is the one between Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), the daughter of a man convicted for Nazi war crimes, and T. R. Devlin (Grant), a federal agent who convinces her to atone for her father's sins by spying on a Nazi group based in Rio de Janeiro. Alicia performs her role too well: Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains), the primary target of U.S. surveillance, proposes marriage. In one of the screenplay's dark ironies, Alicia accepts the offer because Devlin fails explicitly to dissuade her from doing so—thereby infuriating the already jealous Devlin by acquiescing to what she thought he wanted her to do in the first place. Though she clearly loves Devlin, as he loves her, she proceeds with her action largely to spite him. ("Love" and the self-serving uses to which that word is put formulate a primary element in the Notorious narratology.)

The romantic relationship between Alicia and Devlin continually undermines 1940s cinema conventions. The couple is kept apart for long stretches of the film, limited to fleeting meetings in which wounded pride prevails on both sides to deny the articulation of true feeling. In Grant's against-type performance, Devlin is cynical and unyielding, a man whose cruel willingness to believe the worst of Alicia inflicts pain almost as lethal as the poison administered to her in the last section of the film. Much of the dialogue between them (within allowable limits of the period's censorship code) is as abusive as any spoken by a romantic couple in the Hitchcock canon. (Alicia: "You can add Sebastian's name to my list of playmates." Devlin: "Pretty fast work." Devlin: "You almost had me believing in that little hokey-pokey miracle of yours—that a woman like you could ever change her spots" Alicia: "I see, some kind of love test." Devlin: "You look all mashed up. Must have been quite an evening.") Moreover, an abrupt ending fails to certify a permanent union, or even that the heroine will reach the hospital alive.

Alex Sebastian is jealous too, with justification. He functions in the narrative as another figure betrayed by the person he adores. (Devlin feels betrayed by Alicia; Alicia feels betrayed by Devlin and by her father; others in the film believe that Alicia has betrayed her Nazi father by refusing to testify on his behalf; Alex's mother feels betrayed by her son's marriage to Alicia: all are variations on the film's central preoccupation.) The presence of Alex's mother, the Nazi dragon who rules his roost and one of those oedipally inclined mother figures in the Hitchcock universe, enables Alex to become a relatively sympathetic figure, an extraordinary risk for a film released in 1946 and a major instance of Hitchcock's development of the complex villain figure. Positively exultant when she learns from him that her suspicions have been confirmed ("Mother . . . I am married to an American agent"), Madame Sebastian assumes the major burden of spectator hostility by reclaiming her authority over her son and directing the attempt on Alicia's life. The film's final shot reasserts Alex's importance to the narrative by forcing the viewer to speculate on the future of this villain manqué, another Hitchcock son who, in Norman Bates's words 14 years later, learns that "a son is a poor substitute for a lover."

Notorious emerges as a major film in the critical debate weighing charges against Hitchcock's alleged misogyny. Like Melanie Daniels at the end of The Birds (1963), Alicia Huberman is rendered virtually catatonic, near death at the film's conclusion; and it is only when she reaches this state that Devlin appears able to treat her with compassion. (See, for an illuminating and balanced reading of this issue, Tania Modleski's The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory , 1988.)

Camera movement and frame composition repeatedly reinforce Notorious 's major themes of stealth, mistrust, and betrayal. Notable among many examples of the film's visual virtuosity are distorted point-of-view shots to reflect the effects of Alicia's drinking early in the film and her poisoning toward its conclusion; pans to and closeups of keys, wine bottles, and coffee cups, props which function as instruments of violation in a film that explores the invasion of privacy on numerous levels; the frequency of intense closeups; the device of photographing Devlin with his back to the camera to deny the spectator full access to him; the justifiably famous shot in which the camera glides from a high perch downward to record the presence of a key in Alicia's hand. In a genuinely imaginative way, Notorious links its form tightly with its content.

—Mark W. Estrin

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: