Notorious

Ingrid and Cary. What a team.

1946 was a great year in film if you like Alfred Hitchcock, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains.This post was dedicated to TOM AT DIGITALSHORTBREAD  who hosted a blogathon and called for submissions about one’s favorite film ending in the year six. Notorious is my favorite Hitchcock film for many reasons, and I am happy to share why.

The Plot

A WWII Nazi war criminal is caught and imprisoned. His daughter is Else (Ingrid Bergman), a party-loving bad girl. She is persuaded to be a spy for the U.S. government who is trying to break up the boys from Brazil. She falls in love with her co-conspirator, Devlin, played by Cary Grant, whose occupation has trained him to distrust everyone, especially the seductive charms of women. He knocks her lights out after she drives recklessly drunk. After the famous kissing scene on the phone, he allows her to prostitute herself with wily, love-sick Sebastian, and then calls her a harlot and a drunk for much of the movie. Now that’s love, gals.

Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman - kiss from the movie Notorious, by Alfred Hitchcock

The plan is to infiltrate the opulent manor of Sebastian and his creepy mother and spy on their operations. The cellar holds the secret, and the key to the door is the small prop with grave consequences for Else. Will Devlin save her in the niche of time and redeem himself?

Hitchcock creates an exotic mood of the thriller by taking full advantage of his exterior settings like the Florida drunk-drive at night, the shots from the plane of the statue of Jesus Christ at the summit of Mount Corcovado, Rio de Janeiro, the bustling city, the race track, and the manor home by the sea. Whether in a crowd or on a terrace with the harbor as a backdrop, you want to be there. There exceptional uses of cinematography for 1946 that are clever and bolster Alfred Hitchcock’s reputation for suspense and an innovative director.

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  1. Else has a hangover and sees Devlin’s silhouette in the doorway. When he approaches, you are Else and through her perspective, the camera turns upside down.
  2. The two and half minute kissing scene which bent censorship rules and joined sensory imagery and eroticism with a chicken in the oven.
  3. Else glides down a staircase with a key in her hand. Hitch uses a crane and zooms into the key in her hand in one graceful moment. The magnificent checkerboard floor, her Edith Head black velvet dress, the diamonds and general beauty of the setting merge with the people. It’s aesthetically balanced and luxurious.
  4. The reflective shots of mirrors in general whether they are binoculars at the race track or in cars or the house.
  5. A perfect final shot with the massive double doors; Sebastian must face his executioners.  If you have not seen this masterpiece, rent it soon. It’s one of the best movies ever, especially from 1946. It’s all the details that I find charming. A favorite is when he wraps the scarf around her midriff. What’s yours? 

Hitchcock: Foreign Correspondent

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In 1939, Producer David O. Selznick signed Alfred Hitchcock to a seven-year contract bringing the British director to Hollywood. Selznick either produced or lent Hitchcock over to other studios, but during their time together, their four collaborations enhanced each other’s filmography. It started off with a bang with a Best Film win at the Oscars for Rebecca. Another Hitchcock film competed that year with six nominations but didn’t win, Foreign Correspondent.  

The 13th Academy Awards in 1940 had some amazing competition:

BEST FILM                                   

Rebecca (Won)
All This, and Heaven Too
Foreign Correspondent  
The Grapes of Wrath
The Great Dictator
Kitty Foyle
The Letter
The Long Voyage Home
Our Town
Philadelphia Story

 BEST DIRECTOR 

John Ford, Grapes of Wrath (Won);  Alfred Hitchcock, RebeccaSam Wood, Kitty Foyle; and William Wyler, The Letter

I have not seen Kitty Foyle (Ginger Rogers won Best Actress) or All This, and Heaven Too, and it would be difficult to pick a winner, but I sure enjoyed The Letter starring Bette Davis.

Foreign Correspondent is a thriller-love-international story involving Huntley Haverstock (Joel McCrea) who’s sent on his first assignment from the New York Globe to interview key political leaders and question them whether Europe will go to war. He falls for Carol (Laraine Day) and befriends another reporter Scott Ffolliott (George Sanders), and the three weave around plot twists and awesome set designs before crashing into the ocean at the story’s end. Nominated for an Oscar for their writing, Joan Harrison and Charles Bennett created a screenplay rich with comedic bantering at a fast tempo. Alfred Hitchcock provides the thrills and suspense whether his protagonist hides in a windmill, escapes via hotel ledge, or pursues an adversary through a sea of umbrellas. How did Hitchcock manage the plane crash? As a guest on the Dick Cavett show, Hitchcock revealed, “I had a test pilot go out off Santa Monica. And dive with a camera on the front of the plane toward the ocean. Pull out at the last moment.” In 1940, this was innovative.

It’s the marvelous cinematography by Rudolph Maté, the production designs and the special effects by Alexander Golitzen, Paul Eagler, and Thomas T. Mouilton that make Foreign Correspondence wonderful to watch. Hitchcock’s silent era foundation has a place here–messages, maps, hotel signs, road signs, and telegrams silently convey the narrative. His attention to details is one admirable reason why he’s great after all these years. 4/5.

Which Selznick-Hitchcock film is your favorite? I haven’t seen The Paradine Case.
Is it as good as Spellbound? 

Barbara Stanwyck: Sorry, Wrong Number

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Sorry, Wrong Number(1948) is a film noir starring Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster. Directed by Anatole Litvak with Sol Polito as cinematographer, it was first written as a radio play in 1943 starring Agnes Moorehead, then adapted to the screen by Lucille Fletcher.  The film’s structure and the cinematography maximize suspense. Of course, what makes the film is the performance by Barbara Stanwyck whose Leona starts off bossy and queenly but sinks to a mental state of fragility that commands pity by the story’s end. It’s a meaty role any serious actress would crave and Barbara delivers.

Leona Stevenson is a manipulator. As the pampered daughter of a pharmaceutical magnate from Chicago, she falls for a small town, handsome Henry Stevenson (Burt Lancaster) and manipulates him to marry her. Her health is a form of manipulation, too. If she convinces herself she is an invalid, she can control her husband to be at her side. One night, as she frantically calls looking for her missing husband, she overhears men discussing their murderous plot to kill a woman.  From there, the story weaves back and forth from flashbacks to real-time. The phone is the central object that connects the murderers, her husband, and Sally Hunt (Ann Richards) who reappears after an eight year break up with Henry. The phone is the thread that keeps the narrative alive and progressing. The story feels like a Nancy Drew mystery when Sally Hunt reveals her part in the plot, but otherwise,  we learn what mischief Mr. Henry Stevenson is up to in a compelling way. Barbara’s facial expressions and distress is palpable, and I am biting my nails with expectancy when out of the dark shadows the tension mounts to the apex and end of the story.

Anatole Litvak’s choice to use mirrors on his sets is highly effective for enhancing the mystery. Mirrors in the restaurant to check what’s behind you, mirrors over the bed or strategically placed to highlight the phone or a hand. The phone booths, the three-story spiraling staircase, the marquis rock on Leona’s finger, and Edith Head‘s costume designs make Sorry, Wrong Number a thrilling visual treat.

I only wish I could have heard this on the radio. With the lights off. I bet it was magnificent.

Read This: All the Light We Cannot See

2015 Pulitzer Winner for Fiction
2015 Pulitzer Winner for Fiction

When I was in the Navy, “Radiomen” who sat in the transmitter room dialed up frequencies, turned the knobs, listened to the static, and locked in. Those out at the Receiver Tower caught the signals from the ships; sender and receiver linked, and the messages were sent.

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On a similar level, that’s what this remarkable historical novel is about–two youths, the transmitter, blind and aware Marie-Laure LeBlanc, who delicately probes her world with a fearless, quiet grace, and the receiver, Werner Pfenning, indoctrinated in the Nazi Youth Program, lost and crippled as he blindly receives the signals surrounding him. Anthony Doerr’s descriptive prose and poetic language carries the reader through the tumultuous years in France when the world was glued to the radio while World War II stripped away families and hope.

It is an easy read and entertaining novel with supporting characters that resonate. I haven’t loved a book in a long time, but this story, I can’t help but think anyone would like it.  However, I was surprised to read a NY Times book review from May 8, 2014 written by William t. Vollmann found HERE and his negative criticism of Doerr’s antagonist, Sergeant Major Reinhold von Rumpel, insinuating he was a cliche, too one-sided to be believed and that Doerr’s writing was lazy at times. I disagree.

When the two children finally meet, the sender and receiver connect, and the ending is satisfying. This is a Pulitzer winner I can cling to with enthusiasm. It is only a matter of time before it is made into a film. What child star could play the heroine Marie-Laure with the care that Anthony Doerr lovingly created in words?

Describing the science behind radios, gemology, and the animal kingdom with clarity and ease, this historical fiction novel is a mesmerizing page turner. 10/10. 

“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever” (48).

The Shell Collector, Four Seasons in Rome, and About Grace are Doerr’s three earlier novels. I am in a rush to read them. Is there one you recommend? What did you like about All The Light We Cannot See? 

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