Sunday, December 5, 2010

Don't Make a Scene: Notorious

The Set-Up: Sex and Food: the two are essential to any Hitchcock movie recipe (along with a tea-spoon of mother-love, a dash of a chase, a side of entrapment that may or may not be kosher, an overflowing cup of Catholic-guilt, one peppered MacGuffin and a measured cameo).  This marvelous scene from Notorious has a main course of both—the rest will come later.

Crossroads figure in a lot of Hitchcock, too, and here Alicia Huberman, society-girl with a past, trying to clear the family name working for Uncle Sam, and government op Devlin (that's it, just Devlin) are at the turning point in their relationship, torn between love and duty, dedication and betrayal.  The stakes are high—mushroom-cloud high—with America at war with the Nazis.  All's fair in love and war, they say.  But what if it's both.  Then sacrifices must be made...even those of the heart.

Devlin had been assigned Miss Huberman—the daughter of an American traitor—finding her a bit tipsy-turvy after Dad's conviction.  He recruited her for her Dad's connections...and wouldn't you know it...they fall in love.  Now, they're in romantic Rio, awaiting an assignment, and Devlin has just picked up a bottle of champagne for a consummate dinner that Alicia is preparing for them.  Then Devlin finds out what the assignment is: Alicia must seduce an old snuffed flame (Claude Rains) to track down what a coven of Nazi 
conspirators are doing there.  'Tis a pity the government thinks she's a whore.

Duty calls.  Love has no answer.  This painful scene, where Devlin breaks the news to her (and not gently, as he is simultaneously ending their affair and testing the extent of her love for him), is a fascinating study of situation, acting and staging. The dialogue, by Ben Hecht (with an overlay of nastiness from Clifford Odets—who knew something about dishing out betrayal) is arch and pointed. 

But what's between the lines is equally important.  A visual artist, Hitchcock, as he so often does in his films, bends time a bit to draw things out.  Here, his cutting allows for reaction shots before the next line of dialogue, allowing us to see the effects of the plunge of the dagger, or the measured pause before a response.  For these two were a couple, once locked in embrace, and now they are separate, not even facing each other.

Ingrid Bergman's Alicia wears her heart on her sleeve, then retreats behind an ironic arched eyebrow, then moves away from the scene of the crime of the heart to retreat to "the old" Alicia, taking solace in drink, which Hitchcock discreetly veils.

Cary Grant's Devlin plays his cards close to his vest.  He's a spy.  He doesn't betray much of himself, just others, and Grant brings out the monster in his own persona: Devlin does not smile, his eyes are cold, he speaks evenly with little emotion.  He deflects with a cigarette, a downward glance, a harsh sentence spoken like an uncaring "how are you," a face like a slammed door. And like any good spy he enters a room looking for the escape route.  But this time, he's cornered.  In his amoral world he is being judged by the one person whose opinion he cares about: he's a cad, he's a heel, he's betrayed the woman he loves, and himself, as well. 

Duty calls.  Love has no answer.

Oh, and that missing bottle of champagne?  He left it at the mission briefing—along with his hopes, his morality and large portion of his humanity.


ALICIA HUBERMAN: What's the matter?  I wonder if it's too cold out here? Maybe we should eat inside.

ALICIA: Hasn't something like this happened before?

ALICIA: What's the matter?  Don't look so tense. Troubles?

ALICIA: Well, handsome, I think you better tell Mama what's  going on, or all this secrecy is going to ruin my little dinner.

ALICIA: Come on, Mr. D., what is darkening your brow?
DEVLIN: After dinner.
ALICIA: No, now.  Look, I'll make it easy for you.  The time has come when you must tell me that you have a wife and two adorable children, and this madness between us can't go on any longer.

DEVLIN: I'll bet you've heard that line often enough.

ALICIA: Right below the belt every time.

ALICIA: Oh, that isn't fair, Dev'.

DEVLIN: Skip it.  We have other things to talk about.  We've got a job.

ALICIA: Oh, so there is a job.

DEVLIN: You, uh, you remember a man named Sebastian?

ALICIA: Alex Sebastian?
ALICIA: One of my father's friends, yes.

DEVLIN: He had quite a crush on you.

ALICIA: I wasn't very responsive.

DEVLIN:  Well, he's here.  The head of a large German business concern.

ALICIA: His family always had money.
DEVLIN: He's part of the combine that built up the german war machine and hopes to keep on going.
ALICIA: Something big?

DEVLIN: It has all the earmarks of being something big.  We have to contact him.

ALICIA: Go on.  Let's have it all.
DEVLIN: We're meeting him tomorrow.  The rest is up to you.  You've got to work on him and land him.

ALICIA: Mata Hari.  She makes love for the papers.
DEVLIN: There are no papers. 

DEVLIN: You land him.  Find out what's going on inside his house, what the group around him is up to, and report to us.

ALICIA: I suppose you knew about this nasty little job of mine all the time.

DEVLIN: No, I only just found out about it.

ALICIA: Did you say anything?  I mean, that maybe I wasn't the girl for such shenanigans?

DEVLIN: I figured that was up to you—if you'd care to back out.

ALICIA: I suppose you told them "Alicia Huberman will have this Sebastian eating out of her hand in a couple weeks.  She's good at it.  Always was."

DEVLIN: I didn't say anything.

ALICIA: Not a word for that little lovesick lady you left an hour ago?

DEVLIN: I told you, that's the assignment.

ALICIA: Now don't get sore, Dev'. 

ALICIA: I'm only fishing for a little birdcall from my dream man. 

ALICIA: One little remark, such as "How dare you gentlemen suggest that Alicia Huberman...

ALICIA: ...the new Miss Huberman be submitted to so ugly a fate."

DEVLIN: That's not funny.

ALICIA: Do you want me to take the job?

DEVLIN: You're answering for yourself.

ALICIA: I am asking you.
DEVLIN: It's up to you.

ALICIA: Not a peep, hm? 

ALICIA: Oh, darling, what you didn't tell them, tell me—that you believe I'm nice, that I love you, and I'll never change back.

DEVLIN: I'm waiting for your answer.


ALICIA: What a little pal you are.

ALICIA: Never believing me, hmm?  Not a word of faith.  Just, down the drain with Alicia.  That's where she belongs. 

ALICIA: Oh, Dev', Dev'.

ALICIA: When do I go to work for Uncle Sam?

DEVLIN: Tomorrow morning.

ALICIA: Oh, we shouldn't have had this out here. 

ALICIA: It's all cold now.

ALICIA: What are you looking for?

Devlin: I had a bottle of champagne.  I must have left it somewhere.

Fade to Black


Words by Ben Hecht, Clifford Odets and Alfred Hitchcock

Pictures by Ted Tetzlaff and Alfred Hitchcock

Notorious is available on DVD from MGM Home Video (and out of print from The Criterion Collection).

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