The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest English-Language Films list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious, from Ben Hecht’s script, is about how love blinds.
Two postwar U.S. spies, a misogynist and a dipsomaniacal libertine, are in Rio de Janeiro on assignment. The daughter of a convicted Nazi spy, Alicia Huberman has been newly recruited by the O.S.S. to keep tabs on Alex Sebastian, another Nazi spy. Alicia is in love with her operative, Devlin; Alex is in love with Alicia. Alex proposes to Alicia, who accepts, believing this is what Devlin wants, and not caring enough about herself to realize how “notorious” this will confirm for Devlin she is. When Sebastian discovers his wife is an American spy, he poisons her with arsenic.
Devlin has only to speak up, to protest the hellish intrigue into which the O.S.S. is prepared to plunge the woman he loves, to show her the depth of his feeling. Instead, he protests the assignment only behind her back. He is like stone to her, demanding she make up her own mind, oblivious to the fact that she isn’t practiced, like him, in compartmentalizing duty and feelings. In effect, Devlin allows Alicia to become a whore for Uncle Sam in order to prove to himself she is a whore. He is blaming Alicia for her misguided attempt to please him, and she nearly loses her life as a result. The finale, when the two escape Sebastian’s clutches, is sorely ironic. Devlin will likely prove a possessive mate. Moreover, Sebastian’s tragic fate, implicit in the film’s last shot, ruthlessly engineered by the film’s ostensible hero, adds yet another wrinkle of moral ambiguity to the mix.
Hitchcock’s liberated, expressive use of the camera is at a new peak, and Cary Grant, beauteous Ingrid Bergman, and Claude Rains all give the performances of their lives.
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