As I watched Notorious (1946), I had the same thought I’ve had whenever I watch good old movies: they should do a remake of this movie. Anti-remakers may totally disregard anything I say from this point forward, but I’ll stand by it. This movie is almost perfect. If it weren’t for all the scenes shot against a screen, breaking any sense of reality for a modern viewer, I would say hands off. But it’s these kinds of technical weaknesses, so easily overcome with modern technology, that make me welcome a remake. Keep the screenplay from Ben Hecht, get our modern-day Cary Grant (George Clooney), Claude Rains (how about Kevin Spacey?), try to find a new Ingrid Bergman (maybe Marion Cotillard) and see what we can do. If we could keep the originals, I’d go for it, but I don’t think they’re available. The problem is that the only ones that really go for these kinds of remakes make a total hash of them.
John Huberman is convicted of treason for working for the German government against the United States. Huberman’s daughter, Alicia (Ingrid Bergman), is a bit of a party girl, covering up her shame for her father. A young CIA officer, Devlin (Cary Grant), knows that under her naughty exterior, she is a patriot. He recruits Alicia to help the United States by infiltrating a German spy ring with her bona fides established by her father. By the time they’ve gotten to Rio de Janeiro, they’ve fallen in love. Little did Devlin know, however, that the real plan, as explained by Capt. Prescott (Louis Calhern), is to have Alicia get close to Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains), an old friend of her father who was in love with her, by using her…natural capacities…and collect information. Their love is tested, but she agrees to do it. Once inside, however, she has to deal with Sebastian’s mother (Leopoldine Konstantin) and the German spy ring.
Everyone involved is on the top of their game. Alfred Hitchcock is an excellent director/producer and Notorious is one of the best he ever made. The screenplay, as I said, is very good. What makes it better is the astoundingly good performances. Bergman is leaps and bounds beyond her performance in Casablanca (1942) and is playing twenty years ahead of form. Perhaps it’s the quality and nuance of the character that gave her the opportunity to shine, but shine she does. I’ve seen far more Cary Grant movies and this is easily his best performance. This guy hurts when Alicia gets close to Sebastian and it shows in the tiny moments. Claude Rains is always great, the only difference here is that he’s given a character with some actual ambiguity, some internal conflict. They all are. This goes towards the remake point I was making earlier. These are realistic characters with timeless, mature flaws and conflicts. They don’t seem like silly prigs (despite having to sleep in two separate twin beds).
On this Blu Ray, Hitchcock and his cinematographer Ted Tetzlaff are given as good a screening can be got and it’s pretty marvelous. As is relatively normal for Hitchcock, there are a number of neat angles and effects to heighten the mood. That is, except for those damn projection screens. It’s just one of those things that one has to let go when watching older films. They just didn’t film their scenes on location like they do now. Still, the image is pretty sharp (when it isn’t purposefully giving Bergman the soft focus) and the sound is crisp. Roy Webb is no Bernard Herrmann, but the score is memorable and lovely. Like the screens, it is very much ‘of its time’ with wild, dramatic orchestrations during the climactic moments, but that is forgivable when it sounds good.
There is one problem I have with Notorious. Most of the scene transitions are quite large with long fades and occasional brief inserts that break-up momentum. I’m thinking specifically of one moment where Alicia meets up with Sebastian for the first time, fade, Devlin is sitting outside and lights a cigarette, fade Alicia and Sebastian are sitting in a nice restaurant (having just eaten, I think). If you made that sequence now, you’d have a shot of Alicia and Sebastian going into the restaurant, a shot of Devlin observing them, and another shot of them going inside to make it clear everyone is in the same place. The way it is, you have to make a hard assumption to piece it together because the café where Devlin is sitting is so unlike the restaurant. It’s nit-picky, but these are the things that annoy me. Great movie, though.