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  Notorious Spy In The House Of Love
Year: 1946
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Louis Calhern, Leopoldine Konstantin, Reinhold Schünzel, Moroni Olsen, Ivan Triesault, Alex Minotis, Wally Brown, Charles Mendl, Ricardo Costa, Eberhard Krumschmidt, Fay Baker
Genre: Thriller, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 2 votes)
Review: Miami in 1946, and with the Second World War over, the job of finding and bringing escaped Nazis to trial is well under way. Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) has seen her father caught through these endeavours, and is now struggling to cope with life as the daughter of a known war criminal; the day he is convicted, she heads home, well aware that she is under surveillance herself, and proceeds to get very drunk with her friends. But there's a man at that get-together who she does not recognise, a certain Devlin (Cary Grant) who has ulterior motives for wanting to be around her: how does Alicia fancy being a spy?

Notorious was a big critical and commercial success on its release, something which cheered its creator Alfred Hitchcock as for many it was his most personally accomplished film to date. On the surface of things it was a romantic thriller, except it was not hard to look a little deeper into its sickly machinations to see something far removed from the director's previous suspense pieces, and indeed many of those that arrived later. The love triangle that emerges is one of the most corrosive in his work, rivalling Vertigo for the abnormal psychology of its affairs, except that here we're intended to see the emotion as redemptive rather than destructive, which many viewers may find hard to do.

Devlin works for the C.I.A., you see, and wishes to recruit Alicia to go to Rio de Janeiro to infiltrate a Nazi spy ring as a double agent of sorts. As everyone thinks that she is a fascist sympathiser herself thanks to her father, who she grew to hate once she discovered the implications of his occupation, she has the perfect cover story and will be able to make the moves on Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains), one of a collection of exiles in Brazil who are still plotting the downfall of the world's governments. But what do they have in mind? We know it's imperative that Devlin and his team find out, but we also recognise that they're effectively using Alicia as a prostitute to wheedle the information out of Sebastian, who has been in love with her from afar from a few years before.

It's a mark of how topsy-turvy Notorious is that we neither feel drawn to the good guys, the Americans, nor the bad guys, the Nazis, but do feel sorry for Sebastian - Rains is uncomfortably pitiful here - because he is being played by both sides and headed towards inevitable upset, to put it mildly, as a result. Devlin is not happy about Alicia's assignment, mainly because he has fallen in love with her and she with him, so understandably is none too keen on her screwing the secrets out of the man who they both actually despise - the story is surprisingly upfront about its sexual angle for a movie of of this era, and probably got away with it because little good comes from the unions, with Alicia's reputation as a loose woman effectively punished by what befalls her later on in the plot. Although it does mean Hitchcock could depict some steamy kissing as a substitute for bedroom action as we all know what they were getting up to.

Alicia goes as far as marrying Sebastian, who for all his sophisitcation is a sap, but then that's a theme of the movie, that all the elegance in the world counts for little when you're corrupt inside and willing to corrupt others to get what you want: this applies to both the creepily polite friends of Sebastian, his imperious mother (a sinister, repellent Leopoldine Konstantin), and actually to the American secret service - especially Devlin. We keep hoping that he will prove himself worthy of the woman he professes to love, but the acts of espionage he forces her to get involved in are horrendously damaging to her, both mentally and eventually physically. Many admire this ruthlessness in the tone of Notorious, but you can just as easily find it too cruel and callous to truly warm to, and the fact that Devlin does finally live up to his hitherto unearned hero staus by the end (one of Hitchcock's tensest sequences) doesn't exactly whitewash how everyone, good guys as well as bad, have treated the unfortunate Alicia, and the fact that she's played by a luminous Bergman at the top of her game makes it even less palatable. Music by Roy Webb.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Alfred Hitchcock  (1899 - 1980)

Hugely influential British director, renowned as "The Master of Suspense" for his way with thrillers. His first recognisably Hitchcockian film was The Lodger, but it was only until Blackmail (the first British sound film) that he found his calling. His other 1930s films included a few classics: Number Seventeen, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, Secret Agent, Sabotage, The Lady Vanishes, Young and Innocent and Jamaica Inn.

Producer David O. Selznick gave Hitchcock his break in Hollywood directing Rebecca, and he never looked back. In the forties were Suspicion, thinly veiled propaganda Foreign Correspondent, the single set Lifeboat, Saboteur, Notorious, Spellbound (with the Salvador Dali dream sequence), Shadow of a Doubt (his personal favourite) and technician's nightmare Rope.

In the fifties were darkly amusing Strangers on a Train, I Confess, Dial M for Murder (in 3-D), rare comedy The Trouble with Harry, Rear Window, a remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, To Catch a Thief, the uncharacteristic in style The Wrong Man, the sickly Vertigo, and his quintessential chase movie, North By Northwest. He also had a successful television series around this time, which he introduced, making his distinctive face and voice as recognisable as his name.

The sixties started strongly with groundbreaking horror Psycho, and The Birds was just as successful, but then Hitchcock went into decline with uninspired thrillers like Marnie, Torn Curtain and Topaz. The seventies saw a return to form with Frenzy, but his last film Family Plot was disappointing. Still, a great career, and his mixture of romance, black comedy, thrills and elaborate set pieces will always entertain. Watch out for his cameo appearances in most of his films.

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