Notorious Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

There is a scene around an hour into NOTORIOUS that remains one of Hitchcock’s finest moments, one of the defining shots of his career, one that perhaps best sums up what he desired to show. It begins on top of the staircase, in an overhead shot of a grand room so high that two chandeliers are in frame. There are numerous full bodies gathered and only after a bit do we realize Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains are at the center. The camera moves in, quite elegantly, on the figures until we are nearby. It keeps going, eventually landing directly on Bergman’s hand, clutching a crucial key.

Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman, THE BELLS OF ST. MARY’S) has turned to an existence of drinking and apparent self-destruction after her father is found to be guilty of cooperating with Nazis. At a party, U.S. government agent T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant, the same year he played Cole Porter in NIGHT AND DAY) falls fascinated. One hangover morning, he presents her with an opportunity: go to Brazil and help get information related to a spy ring, headed by Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains, MR. SKEFFINGTON), who she is already familiar with as a former friend of her father’s.

It’s in Rio de Janeiro that Devlin and Alicia begin their expected romance, despite the former’s uneasiness about her reputation as something of a bedhopper. Soon enough, the relationship between Alicia and Sebastian turns into one of marriage, the German being duped into the faux romance that will lead to some of the finest suspense the master himself has ever put on film.

Alfred Hitchcock’s NOTORIOUS, his 25th sound film, offers a sublime combination of mystery, romance and noir. Released between 1945’s SPELLBOUND and 1947’s THE PARADINE CASE, NOTORIOUS is one of the best Hitchcock made in the decade, which began with Best Picture winner REBECCA and ended with non-essential UNDER CAPRICORN.

Written by Ben Hecht (who earned his sixth and what would be his last Oscar nomination here), the screenplay offers complex scenarios and divine development, in addition to laying out fine opportunities for the primary cast to play through the intrigue–there is another strong Hitchcock-directed turn from Grant (although it doesn’t quite match the dynamics of NORTH BY NORTHWEST), perhaps the second best turn from Bergman in her career (the first, naturally, is found in CASABLANCA) and a remarkably strong, deep performance from Raines, giving what could be a career best turn which also earned him his fourth Oscar nod.

There is another scene of particular note in NOTORIOUS, one of the two that cannot be avoided when discussing it. (The other appeared in the lede.) It is a kissing scene that lasts around two and a half minutes, a loophole that thumbs its nose at the Production Code that had strict enforcements against lengthy embraces. To get around the rule, Hitchcock had Grant and Bergman kiss up to the limit, then part lips and exchange dialogue briefly, only to have them fall back into one another right after. It is, like the aforementioned key shot, definitive Hitchcock, a full-on demonstration of how to hold cards close yet signify that there will be no ordinary presentation herein. There is constant suspense in the build-up and unending satisfaction in the payoff. NOTORIOUS, in an oeuvre that is one of the most sublime in all of film history, is one of Hitchcock’s best.


Video: 1.37:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “This new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a Lasergraphics Director film scanner at Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging in Burbank, California, from three elements: the 35 mm original camera negative and a 35 mm nitrate fine-grain, both held by the Museum of Modern Art, and the 35 mm safety fine-grain held by the British Film Institute. Several sections of the original negative, the primary source for this restoration, have sustained damage over the years and been replaced by duplicate negatives; for some of these portions, the fine-grains were used. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI Film’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for jitty, flicker, small dirt, grain, and noise management.”

NOTORIOUS looks simply stunning in this release. Despite the apparent damage mentioned in the booklet, this transfer is stellar, with excellent details, fine textures strong contrast. This will be a must-see for Hitchcock fans.

Audio: English Mono. “The original monaural soundtrack was first restored in 2001 from a 1954 35 mm acetate release print and a 35 mm nitrate fine-grain master. Additional restoration was performed by the Criterion Collection for this release, using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX.”

Dialogue is clean and the music comes through quite nicely.

Audio commentary featuring Alfred Hitchcock scholar Marian Keane: A 2001 track, recorded for Criterion’s DVD release.

Audio commentary featuring film historian Rudy Behlmer: Recorded in 1990 for Criterion’s LaserDisc release.

Once Upon a Time…“Notorious” (52:02): This 2009 documentary directed by David Thompson looks at the making of NOTORIOUS and the era in which it was made. Included are interviews with the likes of Hitchcock, Ingrid Bergman, Peter Bogdanovich, and more.

Powerful Patterns (29:42): This new piece features an analysis of the film’s final scene.

Glamour and Tension (23:25): Cinematographer John Bailey discusses the visual style of NOTORIOUS.

Poisoned Romance (21:01): Author Donald Spoto (The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock) discusses NOTORIOUS.

Writing with the Camera (15:54): This piece covers the pre-production work of Hitchcock on NOTORIOUS.

Lux Radio Theatre (59:56): A 1948 radio adaptation of NOTORIOUS, featuring Joseph Cotten, Janet Scott and more.

Pathe Reporter Meets… (0:48): A 1948 newsreel briefly featuring Hitchcock interviewing Bergman


Also included with this Criterion Collection release: an essay by critic Angelica Jade Bastien.


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