"One of Hitchcock's most complex and beautiful films"
Notorious isn't one of Hitch's most popular movies, but it's one of his best. The plot is unbelievable, a Romance plot, but the situations ring true. Hitchcock takes a pulpy spy thriller situation and turns it into a meditation on truth, deception and romantic love.T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant) enlists Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) in a scheme to infiltrate a nest of Nazi collaborators hiding out in Rio de Janeiro. Their leader, Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains) was once in love with Alicia, and by pretending to be in love with him, Alicia gains access to his house and his nefarious activities. But Alicia and Devlin fall in love, which adds a difficult complication: how can Alicia keep pretending to love Sebastian when her heart belongs to Devlin?
The performances are all excellent. Grant lends dark shadows to his debonair persona. Bergman is deeply sympathetic and luminous as the "notorious" woman (in Hitchcock's scheme, the femme fatale is "fatale" only to a Nazi: she and not he is the protagonist). Rains makes a fascinating villain: a civilized, wealthy Nazi who doesn't mind killing whoever double crosses him, yet who is an otherwise charming, even kindly older man. We like Rains, and feel sorry for him because he truly loves the Bergman character, yet doesn't know he's being manipulated into betraying himself. Plus, he has a domineering mother (the unforgettable Leopoldine Konstantin) who dislikes Alicia and still controls her middle-aged son. Because every character is beautifully portrayed as sympathetically as possible, our loyalty is divided. We empathize with everybody, yet we know somebody has to win and somebody lose. And the price of loss is death.
Hitchcock's structure is elaborate, with the final scenes played out as a mirror image of the earliest ones. He also creates some dazzling setpieces, most notably a sequence in a wine cellar; a long zoom from an overview of an entire room filled with revellers to a single tiny key in Bergman's hand; and a last-minute rescue straight from the pages of a fairytale. Everything works in "Notorious".Excellent acting, startling visuals, and a compelling, morally complex story make "Notorious" a classic.