Is there anyone who hates Alfred Hitchcock? I've never heard of such a thing. I haven't seen all of his films, even though so many of them are always on Netflix Instant. I guess I just forget, somehow. I always seem to have the best times watching his movies, and I am always surprised by how engrossed in them I become. I have the best memory of going to see Vertigo not too long ago at Northwestern with some dear friends of mine. I did a bit of grumbling at first and wasn't sure if it would be worth it, but seeing the old film, on actual film, with great people, was a really cool experience. And afterward, all three of us in Clark's diner, huddled over coffee, discussing and pondering. I wish more movie going experiences were that good, which is why I always think about it so fondly. So, Hitchcock conjures warm and fuzzy memories for me, who knew!
Today I watched Notorious, which he directed in 1946. It follows Alicia after her father is convicted for treason against the US. She drinks often and parties often, trying to put the past behind her. She gets drunk one night with T.R. Devlin, and suggests they go drive around and be irresponsible. He ends up knocking her out so he can safely get them home. When she comes to, he suggests that she work on a mission for the government with him - to spy on some of her father's Nazi friends. This includes, to the surprise of both of them, Alex Sebastian, a man who was very in love with Alicia at some time. She is tasked with seducing Sebastian to infiltrate his house and find out what sort of nefarious things he is up to. Devlin and Alicia had become involved with each other, but she must now leave him...and she finds herself becoming too caught up in her new task.
I really liked this movie. The story was so engaging and suspenseful. I was constantly worried about the situations that Alicia and Devlin were getting into, and hoping that they would find a clever way out. There is a scene where, during a boozy party, they investigate the wine cellar that Sebastian keeps locked. Downstairs, they look for clues and try to listen for footsteps. The scene is intercut with the dwindling supply of champagne upstairs - someone will be coming down any minute for more! I thought it was so tense, I actually felt my heart start to race!
The film isn't just great plot, however. The cinematography is incredible. Ebert writes one scene up in great detail, saying, "There are more famous shots the next morning. Alicia awakens with a hangover, and there is a gigantic foreground closeup of a glass of Alka-Seltzer (it will be paired much later in the movie with a huge foreground coffee cup that we know contains arsenic). From her point of view, she sees Devlin in the doorway, backlit and upside down. As she sits up, he rotates 180 degrees. He suggests a spy deal. She refuses, talking of her plans to take a cruise. He plays a secret recording that proves she is, after all, patriotic--despite her loose image. As the recording begins, she is in shadow. As it continues, she is in bars of light. As it ends, she is in full light. Hitchcock has choreographed the visuals so that they precisely reflect what is happening" (The Great Movies, 336). I love that Hitchcock doesn't just make "normal" thriller or horror movies, he elevates them with his brilliant style and strange obsessions.
If you haven't seen this film, I highly recommend you check this out. I can't imagine it not being fun to watch, but that's just my opinion. Grab some friends and brew some coffee or tea and have a nice night in.
Have any of you seen Notorious? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Notorious