In 1946, the war with the Axis powers might have been over but the threat of Nazism still was quite prevalent -- in Hollywood, that is.
CIA man Devlin (Cary Grant) is assigned to watch over Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), a socialite whose father has been convicted of spying for the Nazis. Devlin persuades her to go to Rio de Janeiro and use her family’s name to infiltrate a post-war Nazi group headed by Alex Sebastian. Alicia pretends to fall in love with Sebastian but he becomes increasingly suspicious of his new wife and her growing relationship with friend, Devlin. When Devlin realizes he himself is falling in love with Alicia, it not only might compromise their mission but Alicia’s life as well
While Notorious might come off as an espionage caper, the heart and soul is not the diabolic schemes of the Nazis but the chemistry struck by the romance between Grant and Bergman. Their three-minute kissing scene is as arousing and erotically charged today as it was over 50 years ago. [At that time, the Hollywood Production Code would not allow for kisses to last longer than three seconds, so Hitchcock had them separate every three seconds but kept them embraced for over three minutes.]
The seductive attraction between these mega-stars was maintained from the opening sequence (in which they take a drunken joyride) to the wine cellar scene to the climatic descent of the Sebastian staircase where Devlin helps escort his incoherent, almost catatonic love from the clutches of the Nazi henchmen.
The third member of this love-triangle is Claude Rains who plays the role of Alex Sebastian. Despite playing the role of a Nazi, his character is not that of a cartoonish stooge but a reserved little man who is bullied by his mother and genuinely in love with Alicia. When he finds out Alicia has betrayed him, he is devastated (creating audience sympathy for him).
In the final sequence, Devlin carries Alicia outside to his car in which Sebastian pleads with Devlin to let him join them. He fears for his life, for the other Nazi conspirators wait for him at his front door. Instead of bloodbath execution, Hitchcock ends it with a simple request from one of the Nazis: "Alex, will you come in, please? I wish to talk to you."
The door closes behind Sebastian as he enters; the audience knows that his time has come.
Aside from the on-screen relationship of Bergman and Grant, one of the best known elements of this film is use of a realistic "MacGuffin" -- a sample of uranium concealed in a wine bottle. Hitchcock and scriptwriter Ben Hecht devised the idea of using nuclear materials without knowing that American scientists were in the process of developing the A-bomb. Hitchcock claims he was under FBI surveillance because of his "MacGuffin" but nothing was ever proven to justify this fact.
RATING: 8.0 (of 10). A compelling spy mission interwoven with a romantic love story, Grant and Bergman are at their best here -- as is Hitchcock.
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