Notorious (1946) Blu-ray Review
Recently a number of Alfred Hitchcock films have been released on Blu-ray. I’ve been excited, because I got a couple of movies that aren’t what I would call ‘typical’ (or perhaps stereotypical?) Hitchcock. I think most people, when they hear Hitchcock, think of the traditional PSYCHO, VERTIGO, or NORTH BY NORTHWEST. In general, thrillers and/or psychological horror. And while I enjoy the style (and these specific movies) a great deal, I like being reminded of the fact that Hitchcock was very much like many of our modern filmmakers – a student of many styles of film.
NOTORIOUS is a story about a precocious but promiscuous woman named Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman). In the opening moments of the film we learn that her German father has just been found guilty as a traitor against the United States. She leaves the courthouse and returns to her home where she throws a party and drinks a great deal to forget about her life. There is a strange new man at this party, though, who catches her interest. Despite being so drunk she can barely speak, Alicia asks this gentleman to go for a ride in her car.
When she is pulled over for driving while intoxicated, she learns that this stranger with whom she has been flirting is also some sort of law enforcement officer. The stranger, Mr. Devlin (Cary Grant), is with an American intelligence agency and has been asked to aggressively secure Ms. Huberman’s aid to engage some old friends of her fathers. These friends happen to be Nazis who are hiding in Brazil. Ms. Huberman was picked to help because of her promiscuous past, and because one of the Nazi leaders, Mr. Sebastian (played by Claude Rains), had a bit of an infatuation with Ms. Huberman. The CIA expect her to exploit this relationship, to sleep with him and engage in a relationship with him, until they have all of the information they need.
It sounds simple enough, but what if she falls in love with the agent assigned to her? This isn’t a new idea, though I’m not aware of anyone who treaded this ground on film before Hitchcock. As a matter of fact, the only problem I have with this movie is how very little time they spent showing the development of the relationship between Huberman and Devlin. In the short two weeks since they met, our heroine fell in love with the uptight Devlin. He refuses to acknowledge his feelings for her, though, and thinks that she could not change from the woman she has been. It’s actually kind of like watching an episode of ALIAS – she’s exploiting the relationship and trying to remember everything she can to curry favor from Devlin, but at the same time she’s being pulled deeper and deeper into the Nazi fold.
Like I said, this is not the type of film that most people remember Hitchcock for making, but his mark is clearly on it in style and the skill with which he moves his story. Cary Grant is absolutely phenomenal in this picture, like most of his work… It’s hard to imagine any present day actors (other, maybe, than George Clooney or Brad Pitt) owning the screen in the way that Grant does from start to finish. Bergman is equally brilliant, and this duo brings together a story that could be a bit slow if they weren’t so fully engaged in these roles. The story comes together rather quickly – but once you move past the initial romantic scene (which doesn’t really make sense), the relationship is maintained well and treated with dignity. This is a worthwhile entry in the Hitchcock lexicon, and as long as you aren’t bothered by the slightly tinny sounds of old audio equipment and the full-screen presentation (no Widescreen option) – you’ll love this film.
Video: (1080p, 1.37:1 Fullscreen Black and White) My only problem with this Blu-ray package is the restoration and transfer, which don’t look that much better in High Definition than I thought it did on the Criterion DVD. If you have that one, you certainly don’t need to upgrade.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) Despite being slightly tinny, the audio quality is generally very well done. For a movie this aged NOTORIOUS presents well on a good system or just from your television.
Commentary with Film Professor Rick Jewell In general, commentaries by film historians and professors are some of the best I’ve ever heard. This one is no exception to that rule – To hear someone talk about a film he obviously loves is quite enjoyable – but this guy is an expert on the film and the time in which it was made as well. This is a phenomenal commentary for fans, history or film buffs, or just someone who wants to see what a good (non-cast) commentary should sound like.
Commentary with Film Professor Drew Casper This commentary IS an exception to my above stated rule. The 2nd on the Blu-ray, Casper’s commentary is not nearly as enjoyable as Jewell’s. This film professor (also from USC) gives a great deal of information about the movie itself (less time on historical perspective) but he also comes across as pretentious and arrogant. His voice is grating and just talks too much, too fast. Check out the other one.
Isolated Music and Effects Track If you’re interested, you can watch the entire movie without any sound other than music and effects. I was surprised this was included, as the score isn’t as good as some of Hitchcock’s other films, but it is presented here for those of you who enjoy this soft of thing. It’s a bit off-putting to me and hard to watch the movie without any dialogue.
The Ultimate Romance: The Making of NOTORIOUS (28:22) This is a good look at the making of the movie and concentrates on the unique angle with which Hitchcock, and writer Hecht, presented a love story.
Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Spymaster (13:10) This is a quick look into how much Hitchcock’s work here (and with other films) shaped the making of spy movies for years to come.
The American Film Institute Award: The Key to Hitchcock (03:20) This is a VERY short feature including snippets of Hitchcock’s AFI Lifetime Achievement Award.
1948 Radio Play starring Joseph Cotton and Ingrid Bergman (59:35) Bergman reprises her role here, in a Lux Radio-produced radio play. This is incredibly interesting and fun to listen to, if you like old-timey radio plays. I thought it was one of the best features on the disc, though I wish you could copy it over to iTunes or an MP3 file.
Hitchcock Audio Interviews: Peter Bogdanovich (02:14) and Francois Truffaut (16:22) Audio only tracks of interviews with “Hitch”. Another interesting anthropological find.
Restoration Comparison (02:50) This feature shows the painstaking process used to restore the movie for its DVD and eventual Blu-ray release.
The disc also includes the original Theatrical Trailer (02:31). Movies this old have really interesting trailers…