Dad always had a thing for one Miss Ingrid Bergman, and since today is his birthday, I thought I’d say a few words about my recent experience with Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious. If ever you had the pleasure of watching even five minutes of an Ingrid Bergman film, you know how easy it is to lose yourself in almost any of her scenes. I first met her not in the gin joints of Casablanca but aboard the Orient Express, on which she picked up her third Oscar in 1975. Another actress I’ve come to know backwards, Ingrid Bergman is placed easily in the “there’s just no one like her” column, alongside so many others of the Golden Age — there’s simply no one like Bette Davis; who’s greater than Katharine Hepburn; show me an actress who rivals Ingrid Bergman.
In Mr. Hitchcock’s Notorious, she plays Alicia, the daughter of a Nazi spy who is recruited by the United States to spy on a group of Nazis in Rio de Janeiro. At the beginning of the film, she gets properly smashed at her own party, and just to sweeten the pot for me, the ravishing Mr. Cary Grant sits watching her. He plays the government agent who recruits and escorts her through the mission, but not before she takes him on a frighteningly drunk drive through Miami. I was in love with both of them faster than they were with each other. To round out the otherwise flawless cast is Claude Rains in an evil, Oscar-nominated performance. For those whose bells are ringing with familiarity, Mr Rains is the wonderfully talented actor who was shocked to discover gambling was going on in Rick’s Casablanca bar. I’ve come across Mr. Rains in a number of films, and I’m always floored by his range; a lovable villain or a frustrating leading man, he’s always a treat to watch (and I imagine to work with as well).
I have to paraphrase one the best descriptions I ever heard about the unrivaled style of Alfred Hitchcock: he doesn’t simply show you the explosion; he tortures you for 15 minutes with the ticking of the bomb. In the case of Notorious, the bomb is a cooler of wine (champagne) bottles that will result in disaster as soon as it’s empty. Mr. Hitchcock’s mandatory cameo at the bar doesn’t help any as he slams back a glass before walking off camera. And bless that well-known party shot of Ingrid Bergman holding a small but crucial key; a key that is strongly related to the ticking bomb of a wine cooler. Dressed in (yet another) of Edith Head’s gorgeous costumes, Hitchcock’s camera moves slowly from the balcony of the second floor down to Miss Bergman’s hand that is clutching the key. Delicious!
Full of wine, politics, domineering German mothers, poisonings, and sexual remarks that always take me by welcomed surprise, Notorious is another that has been stamped as “Hitch’s favorite.” I think I’ve stopped counting the number of films that display the same stamp, but I think that this time, I’m willing to believe it.