Bergman, Grant, Hitchcock... a recipe for cinematic success if ever there was one. Made in 1946, "Notorious" is a dark film that isn't afraid to reveal the morally ambiguous nature of the espionage trade -- a fairly bold stroke given the fact that the greatest conflict in human history had just ended and the "good guys" were practically above reproach. "Notorious" is also unique in that it serves as a bridge between Alfred Hitchcock's classic British mysteries of the 1930s and 40s and his later more Americanized films of the 50s and 60s. There are no real heroes of this tale but the ending still manages to be happy and Hitch isn't nearly as jaded here as he would become in later films like "Vertigo" or "The Rope."
Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) is the lovely daughter of a Nazi agent who has just been found guilty of crimes against the United States. Something of a party girl and wanton woman, Alicia's dubious reputation precedes here wherever she goes (hence the title of the film). Dashing agent T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant) convinces Alicia to go to work for the U.S. and accompanies her on a trip to Rio to uncover the activities of a cell of ex-Nazi agents based there. Refusing to admit his love for Alicia, Devlin callously throws her to the wolves and watches as she marries Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains) to infiltrate the inner circle of the Nazis. Sebastian may be a bit of a dolt blinded by love, but his stern mother (Leopoldine Konstantin) is not so easily charmed -- although her reasons for hating Alicia have little to do with any suspicion about her loyalties and more to do with her own unhealthy relationship with her subservient son. As Alicia and Devlin slowly uncover the mystery so, too, do they fall ever deeper in love with one another. But will Devlin express his love in time or will his stubborn streak lead to ruin?
"Notorious" is among my favorite films and contains all the hallmarks of a classic Hitchcock yarn. Let's see, there's a beautiful blonde heroine, a dashing cad of a hero, a domineering mother figure, slowly building suspense, and the wonderful use of the camera to tell the story in images as much as in words. If you had to pick one film that was quintessential Hitchcock this one would certainly be in the running.
The chemistry between Bergman and Grant is wonderful and one can barely resist the urge to reach out and slap some sense into Devlin. But Konstantin practically steals the show as the mother who clearly delights in her son's missteps. Unfortunately for Rains, his character is given little to do but appear the idiot. This is really a fine ensemble cast and nary a line of Ben Hecht's fine script is spoken wrong.
"Notorious" is presented in its original full frame, black and white format in a 1080p high definition transfer on this Blu-Ray Disc from MGM Home Entertainment. Cobbled together from a number of 35mm source prints, this new restoration offers a fairly seamless experience and only a few scenes stand out as being of lesser quality than the picture as a whole. The image is nice and sharp, which is of the utmost importance for a black and white film, as a soft picture leads to nothing but a mess of gray. Black levels are also solid offering fine detail across the entire spectrum. Like the previously reviewed "Rebecca," this film may not look as staggeringly detailed as one might expect from a high definition release, but it is not for a lack of attention by the studio, but rather because of the inherent limitations of the film stock that has been used to shoot the movie.
Despite it's frequent graininess, all in all this is a solid transfer and I can't begin to imagine what state the film was in before restoration supervisor Scott MacQueen and crew got their hands on it.
The release features the original mono audio track of the film, presented in an uncompressed DTS HD Master Audio format for maximum fidelity. There is of course very little dynamic range and some minor distortion here and there - again due to the inherent limitations of the film itself - but the track is very clean with no audible hisses or pops. Dialogue is always clear and is never eclipsed by the musical score or sound effects (which, by the way, are offered on their own on a separate isolated track). There's nothing here that will challenge your system but it's a relief to just sit back and listen to the film without once having to grab for the remote to hear a muddled passage or two.
The release contains two commentary tracks. The first features film professor Rick Jewell, while the second track features film professor Drew Casper. The movie's music score and sound effects are also included on a separate track.
You will also find the featurettes "The Ultimate Romance" and "Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Spymaster" on this release, as well as "The American Film Institute Award: The Key To Hitchcock."
Of particular interest to fans of the golden age of radio, the complete hour-long Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of "Notorious" is presented uncut with full introduction and commercials. This 1948 production features Ingrid Bergman reprising her role with Joseph Cotten taking over for Cary Grant.
In addition a radio interview with Alfred Hitchcock is included also, as well as the movie's theatrical trailer and a restoration comparison, giving you an impression of the amount of effort that went into the restoration of the movie, and how it paid off in the end.
"Notorious" is a wonderful film that fans of Hitchcock can't possibly be without, especially now that it is available in high definition. Very highly recommended.