Notorious, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Written by Ben Hecht. Starring Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, and Claude Rains. Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures. Running time: 101 minutes.
To stop a Nazi plot, an American agent pimps the woman he loves to a dangerous Nazi. This is the premise of the drama and thriller Notorious, one of director Alfred Hitchcock’s best films. Written by celebrated screenwriter Ben Hecht, Notorious was released in 1946 and stars Cary Grant as U.S. agent Devlin, Ingrid Bergman as the daughter of Nazi Alicia Huberman, and Claude Rains as Nazi Alex Sebastian.
What lifts Notorious above the level of good thriller is the lead characters’ internal conflicts and the story’s ironic suspense. To set these up, Hitchcock masterfully establishes the characters’ premises and problems to create a situation that he will play throughout the film.
The story opens in Miami, where Alicia’s father, a Nazi spy, is sentenced to twenty years in jail. Alicia, a good-time girl and alcoholic, marks the occasion with a party, where she meets and is attracted to the handsome Devlin. Their mutual attraction stalls when Devlin reveals he is an American agent. After Alicia sobers up, the mission-dedicated Devlin asks her to help him bust a gang of Nazis in Brazil, but angry about his earlier deceit she refuses. After Devlin reveals evidence of Alicia’s patriotism, she agrees to help stop the Nazis.
In romantic Brazil, Alicia and Devlin become lovers, but because Devlin can’t forget her tramp past he won’t declare his love to her. Alicia swears she has forsaken her past ways, but Devlin still refuses to believe or trust her. Before their first romantic dinner, Devlin is called into a meeting with his boss to learn the exact nature of Alicia’s assignment. In shock, Devlin returns to tell Alicia that she must become a tramp again, by becoming the lover of Alex Sebastian, a ruthless but lonely Nazi helping to develop a secret Nazi project. Devlin wants Alicia to prove her tramp days are over by refusing the assignment—and Alicia wants Devlin to prove he trusts that she has changed by declaring his love and telling her not to take the job. But neither is open with the other about their true desires, so Alicia takes the assignment. Now Devlin must dangle Alicia as bait to Sebastian. While Devlin watches, the Nazi chomps on it.
This situation—a man pimping his lover or her being pimped by her lover to an evil and dangerous man—is intensely dramatic for several reasons, and the suspense proceeds on two levels. . . .