Alfred Hitchcock Travels “North by Northwest”

25 01 2011

“In this picture nothing was left to chance, and that’s why, when it was over, I took a very firm stand. I’d never worked for M-G-M before, and when it was edited, they put on a lot of pressure to have me eliminate a whole sequence at the end of the picture. I refused.” — Alfred Hitchcock

“North by Northwest,” Hitchcock’s final picture of the 1950s, put a cap on his most productive and successful decade while revisiting many of his past themes one last time. Written by Ernest Lehman, the movie starred Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint and James Mason, along with many other fine actors. Lehman signed on to work on the film based on two concepts: One was Hitchcock’s idea about a chase across Mount Rushmore, in which the hero would hide in Lincoln’s nose. (One of the film’s working titles was “The Man in Lincoln’s Nose,” in fact.) The other was a tale from World War II about women working in an inactive intelligence office who made up an operative with such a high degree of detail that the Germans actually tried to find this fictitious agent.

Grant plays Madison Avenue ad man Roger Thornhill, whose life runs like a whirlwind; at the start of the picture, he’s grabbing a taxi with his secretary in tow. She taking notes from him on who to call and where to send flowers, never missing a beat, until he gets out and sends her back to the office to carry out his instructions.

At his club, where he’s meeting clients, Grant realizes that he needs to tell his secretary one more thing. He flags down a waiter who’s calling for a George Kaplan, leading two thugs standing at the door to decide that Thornhill is Kaplan. They hustle him into a car and drive him to a Long Island mansion with the name “Townsend” on the lawn, where Thornhill is questioned by a man played by James Mason, who we later learn is Phillip Vandamm. Vandamm can’t get anything out of Thornhill except protestations that he is not Kaplan, so Vandamm decides to get rid of him. He has his thugs pour boubon down his throat until he’s hammered, then put him in a car on a cliffside highway. Thornhill manages to drive the car until he’s pulled over by the police, who arrest him for drunk driving. (Grant had been driven by drunk women before in Hitchcock’s “Notorious” and “To Catch a Thief.” Nice that he got to do his own drunk driving this time out!)

The next morning, Thornhill is bailed out by his mother, played by Jessie Royce Landis, and his attorney, played by Edward Platt. With two local police detectives, they visit the mansion to see if Thornhill’s story of attempted murder is true, but Thornhill is greeted by a woman who convinces everyone but him that he had been a guest at a party and had gotten drunk on his own.

Thornhill and his mother head back to Manhattan and visit George Kaplan’s room at the Plaza, but learn nothing about Kaplan other than, based on his clothes, he can’t look much like Thornhill. Thornhill takes a cab to the United Nations, where Townsend is about to address the General Assembly – and Thornhill believes that his captor was this Townsend. The real Townsend stops to chat with Thornhill, but as they talk, Townsend collapses, a knife in his back. A crowd forms as Thornhill runs, now wanted for murder.

Spectacular bird's-eye view shot of Grant running out of the U.N.

On Kaplan’s trail, Thornhill goes to Grand Central Station to catch a train to Chicago. Onboard he bumps into Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) who hides him from the police. She takes a liking to him, and when they reach Chicago, she tells him that she knows Kaplan. She gets on the phone and arranges a meeting, although Thornhill is unaware that she is working for Vandamm.

In one of the most famous sequences of Hitchcock’s career, Thornhill takes a bus from Chicago into farm country, where he’s to meet the elusive Kaplan. A crop dusting biplane turns toward Thornhill, swooping down and almost hitting him before opening fire. Thornhill takes refuge in a cornfield but is smoked out by the crop dust. Reaching the highway again, Thornhill flags down a gasoline truck, nearly getting run over himself. The plane swoops in low, smashing into the truck and exploding. Thornhill steals one of a rubbernecker’s truck and shoots back to Chicago.

He confronts Kendall at her hotel, but she claims not to know what happened to Kaplan. She slips out for a meeting, and Thornhill follows her to an auction where she meets Vandamm and his right hand man, Leonard (played by a young Martin Landau). After making some ugly accusations against Kendall, Thornhill sees that he is surrounded by Vandamm’s goons. He disrupts the auction and is arrested, but after receiving special instructions, the police take him to an airport.

There Thornhill meets the Professor (Leo G. Carroll), who works for the U.S. government. He explains that there is no Kaplan; he was invented to distract attention from Kendall, who is a double agent working against Vandamm, trying to stop him from leaving the country with microfilm hidden in a Buddha – the film’s Macguffin. The Professor gets Thornhill to agree to help, since he his harsh words at the auction have put Kendall’s life in danger.

Thornhill accompanies the Professor to Rapid City, South Dakota, where, pretending to actually be Kaplan, he meets Vandamm at the Mount Rushmore cafeteria. Thornhill proposes to let Vandamm leave the country that night with the microfilm in exchange for the girl, but when she hears this, she pulls a gun and shoots him. Vandamm and Leonard rush out of the cafeteria, and Thornhill his taken away in an ambulance to a wooded spot where we see that he miraculously is unharmed, thanks to the blanks in Kendall’s gun. They make up, but she has to go join Vandamm for his flight out of the country so that he does not suspect her true mission.

Thornhill is horrified to hear this, and he slips out of the hospital where the professor has stashed him. He makes his way to the mountainside house of Vandamm and overhears Leonard telling his boss that Kendall has betrayed him, and that it’s time to get rid of her. Thornhill gets a message to Kendall, and as Vandamm and Leonard escort her to the airplane and her doom, she grabs the Buddha and runs to Thornhill’s side.

The two of them are chased across Mount Rushmore by Leonard and another of Vandamm’s men. They nearly fall to their deaths, and Thornhill tries to lighten to mood by proposing marriage. As they try to hold on, Leonard finds them and steps on Thornhill’s fingers, but is shot by a park ranger. Thornhill pulls Kendall to safety, and in one of the fastest scene changes in film history, Thornhill is suddenly pulling Kendall into the upper berth of a train car, as they are now safe and married.

Cary Grant himself claimed he could not follow the plot of “North by Northwest,” and while the story is very elaborate, it actually holds together well. Hitchcock even goes to the trouble of having Vandamm address the mystery of who killed Lester Townsend at the U.N.; this was more explanation than Hitch usually bothered with.

If Ernest Lehman set out to create the ultimate Hitchcock film, he certainly succeeded in style and in references to previous works, especially “The 39 Steps”; Roger Thornhill is the latest in a long line of wrongly accused heroes in Hitchcock’s films. Most of all, the movie recalls “The 39 Steps,” with its chase-driven plot, its fascination with trains and a mystery woman who, this time, gives the hero refuge. Its auction scene echoes “The Skin Game,” and the fall from Mount Rushmore hearkens back to “Saboteur.”

The many locales in “North by Northwest” give Hitchcock the chance to create one set piece after another; Hitchcock was known for his action sequences in interesting places, from the chase at the British Museum in “Blackmail” to the fight on the merry-go-round in “Strangers on a Train.” Here, key moments occur at a luxurious Long Island Mansion, at New York’s Plaza Hotel, at the United Nations, at Grand Central Station and at Mount Rushmore. Even the barren landscape of the airplace sequence takes on a special significance as Roger Thornhill strains to locate George Kaplan.

Like “Saboteur,” another of Hitchcock’s chase movies, “North by Northwest” blazes from one American locale to another; the two movies also kill off their villains with a fall from a patriotic monument – in “Saboteur,” it was the Statue of Liberty. But “North by Northwest” is much more fast-paced and busy than “Saboteur,” which had a meandering feel to it. Here, Roger Thornhill is in constant pursuit of George Kaplan; his goal is well-defined and never out of mind.

Hitchcock on the set, skipping his normal suit and tie on a hot day.

Hitchcock said that with the exception of the train going into the tunnel at the very end of the picture, “North by Northwest” was devoid of symbolism, yet I’d suggest that Roger Thornhill’s famous gray suit had meaning, as it stamps Thornhill as a New York ad man. The other moment of symbolism occurs when Thornhill shaves in a public bathroom at Grand Central Station, using a tiny razor from the train. Thornhill responds to a scowl from another man with a helpless shrug; surely the tiny razor represents Thornhill’s powerlessness in his situation?

This was Cary Grant’s last film with Hitchcock, and as always, he makes a dashing hero, even when he’s confused and scowling. James Mason is a delightfully slimy villain, certainly the equal of Claude Rains in “Notorious.” Eva Marie Saint lives up to her part in the film, and Martin Landau is dismissive of women as he drops hints about his character’s homosexuality, mentioning his “women’s intuition,” and admitting that he’s jealous of Vandamm’s relationship with Kendall.

The opening credits are designed once again by Saul Bass, who starts with type against a green background, then introduces an isometric grid which slowly reveals New York City. We see shot after shot of crowded sidewalks, followed by a bus pulling into the street just as Hitchcock dashes toward it. It’s one of Hitch’s more clever cameos, and he gets it out of the way almost immediately, setting the pace for the story to come.

It took a long time to settle on the title “North by Nortwest,” a phrase that comes from “Hamlet,” and which Hitch manages to reference by putting Thornhill and the Professor on a Northwest Airlines flight. Working titles included “The Man in Lincoln’s Nose,” “The Man on Lincoln’s Nose,” and “In a Northwesterly Direction.” Whatever the names it might have had, “North by Northwest” remains one of Hitchcock’s most enjoyable and lighthearted films.

In the trailer, Hitchcock plays travel agent, taking advantage of his growing recognizability from his duties as host of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”

Next, we’ll look at “Psycho,” a film that launched Alfred Hitchcock in a new direction and gave us the modern horror film.

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Alfred Hitchcock Visits the Continent “To Catch a Thief”

1 12 2010

“It was a lightweight story. It wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. I didn’t want to end up with a completely happy ending. That’s why I put in that scene with the tree, when Cary Grant agrees to marry Grace Kelly. It turns out that the mother-in-law will come and live with them, so the final note is pretty grim.” — Alfred Hitchcock

Sometimes, Mr. Hitchcock, lightweight stories have a way of translating into wonderful movies. Such is the case with “To Catch a Thief,” released in 1955 and starring Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, two stars who are like twin diamonds in this dazzling movie, undoubtedly the most glamorous Hitchcock every made.

Grant plays John Robie, formerly a jewel thief called “The Cat,” now living in the south of France. When a new string of robberies resembles his work, the police are quick to assume that Robie is once again up to his old tricks. They attempt to corner him at his villa, but Robie escapes their clumsy efforts. He finds his old gang from the French Resistance, all working at a restaurant run by another of their number, Bertani, who gives him some clues and sends him off to elude the police with the help of beautiful Danielle Foussard. Although young, Danielle is infatuated with Robie; she’s also convinced he really is the thief, and even tries to get him to make her his apprentice.

Bertani’s clues send Robie to H.H. Hughson, played by John Williams. Hughson is an insurance man, and Robie gets his help in concocting a plan to catch the Cat in the act. While Hughson dines with his wealthy American clients, Jessie and Francie Stevens, at a posh hotel, Robie joins them, charming Jessie, the mother, but arousing Francie’s (Grace Kelly’s) suspicions that he intends to steal their jewels.

After spending a romantic evening with Robie, kissing while fireworks explode outside, Francie awakens to find her jewels stolen. Robie goes on the run again, hoping to catch the thief in action again the next night. Instead, he is attacked, but in the struggle his attacker falls to his death. It is Mssr. Foussard, father of Danielle, who blames Robie for his death. The police decide that Foussard must have been the thief, although Robie points out that he had a wooden leg.

Francie and Robie make up and formulate their next move after a high speed car chase with Francie at the wheel – a scene that is more than a little reminiscent of the drunken drive Ingrid Bergman takes Grant on in “Notorious.” They decide that the Cat is sure to strike again at the upcoming masquerade ball that Francie and her mother are attending; the two women, dressed in spectacular gowns, are accompanied by Robie in full disguise as a moorish servant. Robie gives away his identity to the watching police, then slips away momentarily, coming back moments later to dance with Francie. Of course, this is Hughson in Robie’s costume; Robie is now on the roof, awaiting the Cat.

Before long, the Cat arrives – and it is young Danielle, who admits under duress that she worked with her father, under the orders of restaurateur Bertani. Later, back at Robie’s villa, Francie and he profess their love, and Francie tells him how much her mother will love Robie’s home.

There is so much to admire in “To Catch a Thief,” which is like Hitchcock’s homage to France. The beaches, the villas, the marketplaces are all lovingly photographed in widescreen in warm, sun-drenched color and cool shadow, all of which helped cinematographer Robert Burks win an Academy Award that year. You can almost smell the flowers when Grant and Williams are chased through the marketplace, in a very funny scene. And then there’s the spectacular color of the masquerade ball…

Grant and Kelly share a rare chemistry on screen; it’s a shame this is their only film together. Danielle, played by Brigitte Auber, is portrayed as a young woman, barely more than a girl, although she is very attractive. Francie is more mature, and more of a match for Robie. The scene in which they swim at the beach club in Cannes is delightful, as Danielle playfully suggests they find shallower waters so she and Francie can compare physiques. The screenplay, by John Michael Hayes, handles this racy suggestion as an innuendo. The script is full of these bon mots, such as when Jessie suggests that Robie stole more than diamonds from Francie – meaning not her heart, but her virtue.

The costuming by Edith Head also plays an important part in the film. Grace Kelly carries off her elegant wardrobe like no one else could, especially a black and white outfit that turns heads in the hotel lobby, and then in the famous gown that Hitchcock asked to have designed so she would look like she’d been wrapped in gold. Grant, meanwhile, picked out his own wardrobe, making smart choices for his casually elegant former thief.

Hitchcock appears early in the film, sitting at the back of a bus Grant has boarded; Grant gives him a look, but Hitch seems not to notice. Now fifty-one years old, Grant is well into his dour, later years, although he does turn on the charm during his early scenes with Francie and Jessie Stevens.

Here’s a look at the trailer for “To Catch a Thief,” capturing a bit of the French scenery:

Next, Edmund Gwenn returns, along with newcomer Shirley MacLaine and John Forsythe, for the black comedy “The Trouble with Harry.”

The famous birthday celebration where Hitchcock's secretary said, "Mr. Hitchcake would like you all to have a piece of his cock."

 





The Golden Age of Alfred Hitchcock

10 11 2010

I’ve been working on a list of the ten best Hitchcock films to run on my Hitchblog in the future. So far, most of this work has taken place in my head; since I’m only up to “Dial M for Murder,” and I have not yet seen anything beyond “Psycho,” I don’t want to feel like I might be prejudiced against Hitch’s later films – the ones with the less than stellar reputations, like “Torn Curtain” or “Topaz.”

Still, it’s hard to imagine that any of Hitchcock’s many decades as a filmmaker could place more pictures on my list than the 1950s, which leads me to dub this era the Golden Age of Alfred Hitchcock.

I realize I’m not going very far out on a limb with this, but let’s look at it based on more than just the overall superior quality of Hitch’s 1950s film output, shall we?

In the 1950s:

  • Alfred Hitchcock made three consecutive films with Grace Kelly, arguably his greatest female star, as well as two movies with Cary Grant and three with James Stewart.

  • He made one movie each with the stars Marlene Dietrich, Montgomery Clift and Henry Fonda, as well as giving Shirley MacLaine her first role in a film.

  • The 1956 movie “The Man Who Knew Too Much” featured the debut of the hit song “Que Sera Sera,” which won an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
  • He promoted himself from his usual cameo appearances to do a serious introduction to the 1956 film “The Wrong Man.”

  • In 1955, he debuted the TV series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” which ran seven seasons and led to three seasons of “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.” He directed 16 episodes of “Presents” and one of “Hour.”
  • He filmed introductions to every episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” catapulting him from a fairly recognizable director to one of the most distinctive and captivating host personalities in the world. His drawling “Good evening,” his brilliant self-caricature and his morbid sense of humor are still recognizable today.

  • Music from the TV series was released on the popular 1958 album “Alfred Hitchcock Presents Music to Be Murdered By,” with Hitch on the cover. It’s still available on CD, along with the follow-up album, “Circus of Horrors” – and you can order it from Amazon here.

  • “Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine” launched in 1956, and is still running today, putting Hitch’s face on newsstands every month through much of its run. Although Hitchcock was not personally involved with the magazine, it featured original fiction and adaptations of TV episodes. It’s still running today, and you can subscribe to it here.

Now, as to the Silver Age…





100 Moments with Alfred Hitchcock Part 1

28 09 2010

Recently, Roger Ebert posted his list of “100 Great Moments in the Movies” on his Chicago Sun-Times blog. After counting how many of those movies I’d seen (58!) I thought it would be fun to do something like it for our own Mr. Hitchcock. Since I’m only up to 1947 in his long career, I thought I’d split the list and post the first half now.

Here, then, are the first 50 of 100 Moments with Alfred Hitchcock, with annotations below:

  1. A cad is haunted by visions of a dead girl in “The Pleasure Garden.”
  2. A young woman’s silent scream opens Hitchcock’s first great movie, “The Lodger.”
  3. The Lodger (Ivor Novello) arrives at his new home, startling his landlady.
  4. An angry mob tries to kill the Lodger.
  5. Amateur boxer “One-Round” Jack Saunder is beaten by boxing champ Bob Corby in “The Ring”
  6. Ivor Novello rides down an escalator as he falls from grace in “Downhill”
  7. Farmer Sweetland makes a list of potential new brides in “The Farmer’s Wife.”
  8. A young divorcee gives herself up to the press after being humiliated in court at the end of “Easy Virtue.”
  9. A detective watches his quarry through the stem of a glass in “Champagne.”
  10. Hitchcock brings the Isle of Man to life in “The Manxman.”
  11. Hitchcock teases actress Anny Ondra in the sound test for “Blackmail.”
  12. A woman is forced to kill her attacker in “Blackmail.”
  13. The blackmailer is chased through the British Museum in “Blackmail.
  14. A back-alley speech about Ireland’s freedom is disrupted by gunfire in “Juno and The Paycock.”
  15. A cross-dressing killer leaps from the high-wire to his death in “Murder!”
  16. At an auction in “The Skin Game,” nouveau riche Edmund Gwenn outbids wealthy aristocrats.
  17. A young couple books passage home on a tramp steamer after an unsuccessful cruise, only to nearly die when the ship begins to sink in “Rich and Strange.”
  18. Hitchcock revisits his German expressionist roots with “Number 17.”
  19. Johann Strauss outshines his father when he conducts “The Blue Danube Waltz” in “Waltzes from Vienna.”
  20. Peter Lorre’s surprisingly charming terrorist in “The Man Who Knew Too Much.”
  21. Richard Hannay tries to hide from the police by kissing an unwilling fellow traveller in “The 39 Steps.” Unwilling fellow traveller immediately gives him up to the authorities.
  22. “Am I right, sir?” With his dying breath, Mr. Memory reveals the secret of “The 39 Steps.”
  23. Peter Lorre shoves the wrong man — a suspected spy — off a cliff to his death in “Secret Agent.”
  24. A saboteur is killed by his former comrades in the explosive finale to “Sabotage.”
  25. The spectacular tracking shot that takes viewers from an overhead view of a hotel lobby across a crowded dance floor and into the eyes of a killer in “Young and Innocent.”
  26. The rush to secure rooms in a crowded hotel lobby at the start of “The Lady Vanishes.”
  27. The young lovers of “The Lady Vanishes” enter the Foreign Office to find old Mrs. Froy alive and well after all.
  28. Charles Laughton climbs a ship’s mast, then throws himself to his death to avoid capture in “Jamaica Inn.”
  29. Joan Fontaine opens “Rebecca” with the line “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again…”
  30. Mrs. Danvers drives Joan Fontaine half crazy while describing her late mistress in “Rebecca.”
  31. Mrs. Danvers refuses to leave her late mistress’s room as Manderly burns to the ground in “Rebecca.”
  32. An American reporter in Holland chases an assassin through an umbrella toting crowd, then hops into a car and continues the chase into the windmill-dotted countryside.
  33. “Mr. And Mrs. Smith” grill each other over breakfast, leading to a break in their marriage.
  34. John Aysgarth charms — and is charmed by — Lina McLaidlaw at the start of “Suspicion.”
  35. Lina imagines Aysgarth killing his best friend in “Suspicion.”
  36. Aysgarth brings his ailing wife a frightening looking glass of milk in “Suspicion.”
  37. Barry Kane and Patricia Martin encounter a troupe of circus freaks in “Saboteur.”
  38. A fifth columnist plummets to his death from the Statue of Liberty in “Saboteur.”
  39. Mr. Newton and Herbert discuss the best way to kill one another over a family dinner in “Shadow of a Doubt.”
  40. Uncle Charlie, “the Merry Widow Murderer,” momentarily thinks he’s off the hook in “Shadow of a Doubt.” Bounding up the stairs to get ready for dinner, he turns to see his niece framed in a doorway, still certain that he is a killer.
  41. A young pilot realizes that his naivete may have helped the enemy in “Bon Voyage.”
  42. Although imprisoned, a French Resistance leader struggles to secure escape for his friends in “Aventure Malgache.”
  43. Walter Slezak is hauled into the “Lifeboat,” only to mutter “danke schein,” revealing to his fellow passengers that he’s German.
  44. Slezak’s character, now revealed to be the captain of the U-boat that sunk his fellow survivor’s ship, exhibits what seems to be super-human stamina, rowing his fellow survivors toward a German ship.
  45. As Gregory Peck kisses Ingrid Bergman for the first time in “Spellbound,” a series of doors open, symbolizing Bergman’s icy doctor’s sexual awakening.
  46. Gregory Peck breaks through to the traumatic childhood memory of accidentally killing his brother in a shocking, silent moment of “Spellbound.”
  47. Hitchcock outfoxes the censors by having Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant kiss briefly and repeatedly in “Notorious.”
  48. “Oh Dev, they’re poisoning me.” Devlin finds Alicia half-dead at the hands of her own husband in “Notorious.”
  49. Devlin leaves Alicia’s husband to his ruthless comrades at the end of “Notorious.
  50. Mrs. Paradine tells her lawyer, Gregory Peck, that she despises him even though he’s won her freedom in “The Paradine Case.”





Alfred Hitchcock Triumphs with “Notorious”

19 09 2010

“The story of ‘Notorious’ is the old conflict between love and duty. Cary Grant’s job – and it’s a rather ironic situation – is to push Ingrid Bergman into Claude Rains’s bed. One can hardly blame him for seeming bitter throughout the story, whereas Claude Rains is a rather appealing figure, both because his confidence is being betrayed and because his love for Ingrid Bergman is probably deeper than Cary Grant’s. All of these elements of psychological drama have been woven into the spy story.” – Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock reached a new peak in moviemaking with “Notorious,” released by RKO Pictures in 1946. Playing on fears that lingered in the new, postwar era, “Notorious” wraps together romance, espionage, suspense and glamor. As Hitch mentions above, the movie starred Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant and Claude Rains, with a script by Ben Hecht from a short story that had been set in World War I.

Hecht and Hitchcock moved the story into the days just after World War II. Bergman plays Alicia Huberman, whose German father is found guilty of treason against the United States as the story begins. As her father is thrown into prison, Huberman gets drunk with her houseguests, trying to forget that she, too, is under suspicion. When she awakens the next morning, one guest is left: T.R. Devlin (Grant), an FBI agent who needs her help. The agency has learned that some of her father’s German compatriots have relocated to Brazil, and they need Huberman to infiltrate the group and find out what they’re planning.

After Devlin says that her service could help her father, Huberman agrees, and they fly to Rio de Janeiro – but during the flight, Devlin tells Huberman that her father died in prison that morning. It’s this kind of manipulation that characterizes the whole film. Devlin and Huberman fall in love while waiting for her assignment to begin, and when her orders come through, Devlin is visibly disgusted, as she has been instructed to get close to one of her father’s friends by seducing him. Knowing her reputation for partying and sleeping around, Devlin turns cool, making snide remarks about how it will be easy for her to draw on past experience to get close to Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains). Sebastian will be easy prey, as he was in love with Huberman years before.

Devlin’s behavior could be a ploy to motivate Huberman into the assignment, or to protect her by pretending he never really cared about her – or he could just be lashing out, frustrated at what’s being asked of her and powerless to do anything about it.

Huberman, with Devlin at her side, meets Sebastian while horseriding, and soon Huberman and Sebastian are a couple. Sebastian is suspicious of Devlin, though, who keeps showing up wherever they go; he’s getting information from Huberman, but she tells Sebastian that he’s an old flame she now detests. Sebastian asks her to prove that he means nothing to her by marrying him.

After the wedding, Huberman reports to Devlin that the only place she hasn’t been able to search for evidence of the German group’s activities is the wine cellar. Only Sebastian has the key, so Devlin tells her to suggest a party, during which they can get into the wine cellar.

The tone of the movie shifts with the party; the romance (and romantic frustrations) of the first half of the movie give way to sheer suspense: First, Huberman must steal the key; then, during the party, they have to slip away to the wine cellar. The pressure escalates as the guests drink champagne faster than expected, which means Sebastian will have to get more bottles from storage.

Rummaging around in the wine cellar, Devlin knocks a bottle from a shelf, revealing that it holds not liquid but what turns out to be uranium ore. With Sebastian coming down the stairs, Devlin and Huberman kiss, then explain that he forced himself on her. Sebastian doesn’t believe him, and when he returns to the cellar for champagne, he finds the remains of the broken bottle – proof enough that Devlin and Huberman are against him.

Concerned that his comrades will kill him if they find out the truth, Sebastian wants to murder his wife, but his elderly mother says it has to be gradual. They begin poisoning Huberman, and when she misses her meeting with Devlin, he becomes concerned. He breaks into Sebastian’s home and finds her in bed, more dead than alive. Sebastian finds Devlin making his way out of the house with his wife, but because his friends are on hand, too, he can’t reveal what really happened. Devlin and Huberman make their escape, leaving Sebastian in the company of his ruthless friends, who have already figured out that there’s something strange about the situation.

The original ending of “Suspicion,” made five years earlier, was supposed to have Joan Fontaine write a detailed letter about Cary Grant’s crimes, then ask him to drop it in the mail. He was then going to kill her and go ahead and post the letter. That didn’t happen in the film, of course, but Hitchcock got to revisit that kind of sophisticated ending, in which the audience has to consider the outcome for the cast, in “Notorious.” We assume that Huberman will be cured, because Devlin said he’d take care of her; we assume that their love wins out, and we assume that Sebastian will be killed by his comrades. By implying all this rather than showing it, Hitchcock creates a more intelligent ending than, say, having the villain fall to his death as in “Saboteur.”

“Notorious” boasts a phenomenal cast, of course. Cary Grant is grim throughout – he almost never cracks a smile, except when he’s putting on an act, making the viewer wonder about his own past. Ingrid Bergman is desperate but determined to do right for her country and herself. The most chilling moment of the movie comes when Devlin finds Huberman sick in bed. Holding her close, he asks what’s wrong, and she whispers, “Oh Dev, they’re poisoning me.”

As a villain, Claude Rains is rather pathetic – he’s manipulated by Bergman and Grant, his friends, and, most of all, his mother. (One of my favorite moments in the film happens when Sebastian starts to tell his mother that he’s been betrayed by his wife. Before the wedding, she had warned him that Huberman was not marriage material; later, when Sebastian starts to explain the situation, his mother smirks at him, expecting him to say that Huberman is cheating on him. When he instead says that he’s married to a U.S. agent, his mother quickly turns off her “I told you so” look and takes control of things.)

Hitchcock tells this story in a sure, simple way, with few of the flourishes that had charaterized his earlier films, other than Huberman’s distorted vision on waking up after a night of drinking, and, later, when she’s succumbing to the poison. Ben Hecht’s script – which was sharpened a bit by Clifford Odets – crackles, although some of the patter might be hard to believe coming from non-American actors less talented than Bergman and Grant.

“Notorious” features a scene that’s famous for working around the production code while subverting it to his own ends. In a scene near the start of the movie, Bergman and Grant are shown in a hotel room, kissing and holding each other. As they continue to kiss – briefly, but continuously – they make their way across the room toward the ringing telephone. The quick kisses were Hitchcock’s way around the production code, which dictated that screen kisses could only last a few second. The finished scene conformed to the guidelines while creating a scene that was far more erotic than the Hays code had anticipated.

The uranium ore found in the wine cellar is among Hitchcock’s most famous McGuffins, one which was only decided upon late in the production. Selznick reportedly didn’t understand its significance, and probably assumed that audiences wouldn’t get it, either, but by the time the film premiered, radiation and atomic bombs were front page news.

This was the second to last film Hitchcock made with producer David O. Selznick, who sold distribution rights to RKO to help him finance his own over-budget “Duel in The Sun.” Although Selznick was distracted by “Duel,” he did have some input, notably making Sebastian’s mother a stronger character.

Hitchcock was credited as producer on “Notorious,” a role he’d play more and more in years to come. Also, as the trailer below shows, he’s now being called “The Master of Suspense,” a nickname that came into use in the late 1940s, which would stay with him for the rest of his career.

Hitchcock would still make one more film with Bergman and two more with Grant. Claude Rains would appear in several episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”

Next, we’ll take a look at the “Paradine Case,” starring Gregory Peck, Ann Todd and Charles Laughton.








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