Imagine if Alfred Hitchcock made a film noir.
He did. It’s called “Notorious,” and it is near the top of the noir heap.
Cary Grant plays Devlin, an agent with some secret government agency. At a party, he meets Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), the daughter of a German man convicted of treason. Devlin convinces Alicia to participate in an undercover assignment to get information on Nazis who’ve relocated to Brazil.
One of these Nazis is Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains), who is quite taken with Alicia and marries her. One night, the happy newlyweds throw a party, and Devlin discovers that some bottles of wine are not filled with wine at all.
To cover his prowling in the basement, Devlin kisses Alicia, and allows Alex to catch them. Devlin passes it off as drunken misbehavior and leaves.
Alex investigates, and disovers he has married an American agent. He and his mother begin poisoning poor Alicia, who grows sicker and sicker. Of course, Cary Grant rescues her in the end.
But what a ride. There is real chemistry between Grant and Bergman, moreso than she had with Bogie in “Casablanca.” The two became lifelong friends.
Hitchcock shows a spectacular command of camera and lighting techniques. In a few scenes–including the introduction of Devlin–characters are in complete shadow. It’s disoncerting, as we’re so used to seeing our characters illuminated.
This isn’t the “noirest” of the films noir–the protagonists knew just what they were in for–but it still qualifies.
Funnily enough, our post-Hiroshima cold war bugaboos appear. What’s in the fake wine bottles? Uranium ore, enough to build a nuclear bomb.
This isn’t my favorite Hitchcock film, but it’s in the top five. “Notorious” is beautifully written and directed, with virtuoso performances from a most-excellent cast.