“A man doesn’t tell a woman what to do; she tells herself.”
Response to Peary’s Review:
With that significant caveat out of the way, however, I’m ready to concede that Notorious remains one of Hitchcock’s most tightly crafted and suspenseful thrillers. Bergman is simply marvelous in the lead role, and Peary rightfully gives her the Best Actress award in his Alternate Oscars book, where he points out that Bergman “went against type” (having previously been viewed as “good, pure, and wholesome”) to play “a woman who [is] somewhat alcoholic, [has] slept around, and takes a sleazy job that requires that she give her body to a man she doesn’t love”. Nonetheless, her nuanced character here “has strength, resilience, and courage”; she’s someone who “refuses to hate herself or lose her self-respect”, despite the repeated “spite and condescension” she receives from Grant. She “sees no reason to defend herself”, instead “just carry[ing] on, doing what’s right and expecting nothing in return”. It’s a fascinating portrayal, to be sure.
Claude Rains is note-perfect in the critical yet challenging supporting role as “one of Hitchcock’s most refined villains”, a man who allows lust and a serious crush to cloud his better judgment, only to realize far too late what a fool he has been. Meanwhile, Austrian actress Leopoldine Konstantin will probably be forever associated (by Americans, at least) with her role here as Rains’ “venomous mother” (in real-life, she was only four years older than him, but so it goes); she’s the epitome of a truly nightmarish mother-in-law, and fits in nicely with the “slimy bunch” of Nazis Bergman must ingratiate herself with. While the film’s climactic (and controversial — see IMDb’s message board) ending is justifiably lauded, watch for the “even more exciting… party sequence in which lovers Grant and Bergman slip off to snoop in the wine cellar and the jealous Rains walks towards the cellar to get more wine”; as Peary notes, “it’s one of Hitchcock’s classic suspense scenes with action taking place all over the house”, and remains perhaps the film’s most memorable sequence.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)