music friday: lynyrd skynyrd, “free bird”
what i watched last week

by request: notorious (alfred hitchcock, 1946)

This request comes from Jeff Pike … it went to the top of the list because I already owned it on DVD. It is one of my favorite Hitchcock films, and I looked forward to revisiting it.

I often say I am not a big Hitchcock fan, but that’s an exaggeration to make a point, which is that I think it’s silly to assume every movie he made is great. It does a disservice to truly great movies like Notorious to suggest that films like Rope or Spellbound are its equal. Also, by 1960 he had already made his best films. I like Psycho, but it’s not up to Vertigo, and movies like Torn Curtain and Topaz aren’t even in the conversation.

Having said all of that, I do find many of Hitchcock’s films to be classic, indeed. Notorious is one (Vertigo is my all-time favorite, making #16 on my Fave Fifty list). One of the best things about Notorious is the casting. Hitchcock wasn’t always the best director of actors, and he often seemed a bit casual with his casting, as if it didn’t matter who was in his movies (hello, Robert Cummings). But Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant aren’t just great screen actors, they are also screen icons, and Hitchcock makes good use of this. The two stars essentially play a prostitute and her pimp, and Hitchcock and screenwriter Ben Hecht play cleverly with this as they deal with the censors of 1946. But because Bergman is the whore and Grant the pimp, we never quite lose our affection for the actors, and thus we sympathize with the characters (who, after all, are performing their duty for their country). We experience their pain, because we know they are in love and we also know they must fulfill their roles as pimp and prostitute.

Added to this are several sequences worthy of the master of suspense, and the censor-skirting near-three-minute kiss that is actually a long series of three-second kisses. Notorious is an excellent example of what people mean when they say Hitchcock was a great director. It’s taut, it blends humor into the suspense, it’s fun to watch, and it hints at subtexts worthy of endless analysis. #81 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 movies of all time. 10/10.