Friday, August 15, 2008

Friday Film Night - Notorious

Today our regular columnist Annie West delves into the archives to find a film that’s just made for romance readers (and writers).

Romantic suspense, film noir, thriller, spy story, romance. Alfred Hitchock’s 1946 film, Notorious, has had lots of labels. To me it’s simply a classic and, I think, required viewing for those who love a darned good romance. The tagline alone is a fantastic hook: Notorious woman of affairs…Adventurous man of the world.

Start with the actors: Cary Grant as TR Devlin (known simply as Devlin) is perfect as a Mr Cool, tough as nails American agent who can handle any situation, except falling in love. Ingrid Bergman is both beautifully vulnerable and defiant as Alicia Huberman, the German-American whose father (to her distress and shame) betrayed his adopted country during the war and has been convicted of treason.

Claude Rains, as Alex Sebastian, is made for the role of older man, rich, charming and gentle, who falls for Alicia like a ton of bricks and can’t believe his luck when she apparently reciprocates his feelings. The fact that he’s a nazi conspirator makes his emotions no less believable. Leopoldine Konstantin as Alex’s mother gives a fantastic portrait of an overprotective mother who is prepared to dislike her son’s choice of woman and chillingly eager to get rid of her.

The plot is pure melodrama and it works wonderfully! Released immediately after WW2, the story is about the American government’s desire to track down nazi sympathisers who are plotting against democratic governments.

Alicia is recruited to fly to Brazil to get information from her father’s friends who don’t realise she’s working for the authorities. What no one expects is that Devlin, who recruits her, will fall for her, as she does him. When her job is revealed – to seduce Alex to learn more about his secret plot, both she and Devlin are shocked. (More about that later). She succeeds so well in her mission she ends up marrying Alex, so as to be on the spot to uncover his secrets.

Unfortunately Alex discovers she’s a spy when he realises she and Devlin have uncovered the secret in his wine cellar. That’s when his mother steps in to dispose of her pesky daughter in law by poison. You can't miss the focus on the coffee cup in this scene! Alicia’s murder must be concealed for if Alex’s co-conspirators learn he’s harboured a government agent in their midst he’d be killed.

The direction is pure Hitchock with wonderful suspense not only as Dev and Alicia race against the clock to find out Alex’s secret, but also as they fall in love and are wrenched apart by Dev’s suspicions and Alicia’s past.

For Alicia isn’t your average romance heroine, especially for 1946. After the shock of her father’s betrayal Alicia finds solace in drink, men and fast cars. She’s most definitely not a “good girl”. That’s part of what makes her so fascinating. One of her first lines in the movie is “The important drinking hasn't started yet.”

When Dev crashes her party at the beginning of the film we know we’re not dealing with a shy and helpless heroine:
Alicia: Do you wanna go for a ride?
Devlin: Very much. What about your guests?
Alicia: They'll crawl out under their own steam. I'm, I'm gonna drive. That's, that's understood.
Devlin: Don't you need a coat?
Alicia: You'll do.
But despite her bravado, she’s determined to make a new start and make recompense for her father’s crimes. Perhaps because of her definitely sullied reputation watching her fall for Devlin is even more poignant. He refuses to believe she’s capable of being anything more than a party girl and is always ready to doubt the changes in her can be real. Yet he falls for her.

Alicia: This is a very strange love affair.
Devlin: Why?
Alicia: Maybe the fact that you don't love me.
Devlin: ...When I don't love you, I'll let you know.
Alicia: You haven't said anything.
Devlin: [kissing her] Actions speak louder than words.

Finally their romance blossoms. Of course that’s the night Devlin finds out that her mission is to seduce another man. The tension is fantastic as he wants to reject the idea yet still doubts she's truly changed. Alicia’s pain is all too believable as she realises the man she’s fallen for is willing to let her seduce another man. He chooses duty over love and his betrayal is a bitter one.The recurring themes of Devlin’s doubt and jealousy, and Alicia’s love and her defiance once she realises he’s given her up, work wonderfully right to the end of the story.

Despite his betrayal of her, Devlin has redeeming features. His anguish over what Alicia is doing is clear even though he works to hide it.

Beardsley: I worry about a woman of that sort. [referring to Alicia]
Devlin: What sort is that, Mr. Beardsley?
Beardsley: Oh, I don't think any of us have any illusions about her character, have we Devlin?
Devlin: Not at all, not the slightest. Miss Huberman is first, last, and always not a lady. She may be risking her life, but when it comes to being a lady, she doesn't hold a candle to your wife, sir, sitting in Washington playing bridge with three other ladies of great honor and virtue.

The ending of this film is fantastic, whether you enjoy Hitchcock’s tense thriller scenes or a heart warming romance, or both.

For movie buffs let me just add that Notorious was nominated for the Grand Prize at Cannes as well as for two Oscars. The on-again-off-again kiss on the balcony has gone down in film history as hot stuff as well as a clever way to get around the regulation stipulating kisses could only last a couple of seconds. Plus, Edith Head was responsible for Bergman’s wardrobe. Say no more!

This is a film with style, fantastic dialogue (worth watching twice for that alone), memorable characters, gripping tension and a love story that is poignant and wonderful.

Are you a fan of romantic suspense too? If so, do you have a favourite film or book to recommend?
Annie has decided she wants to write a tough guy hero with the panache and sex appeal of a modern Cary Grant. Plus a heroine as vulnerable yet feisty as Alicia. Her current manuscript is giving her plenty of scope!

Her next release, THE DESERT KING'S PREGNANT BRIDE is currently available in hard cover. No spies there but a hunky sheikh and a heroine who, like Alicia, works hard to hide her longing for love.


  1. Ooh, I like the sound of this movie, Annie. Romantic suspense isn't usually my first pick (that'd be romantic comedies!), but shall watch Notorious at the first available opportunity.

    One that I do love, though - especially for the dialogue - is The Big Sleep. Humphrey Bogart is wonderfully tough and capable and Lauren Bacall is feisty and gorgeous.

    Ooh, no wait! Just remembered my utter favourite romantic suspense of all time - Charade. Just love all things Audrey Hepburn. And Cary Grant is a dream... and I do find something bizarrely funny about someone sticking a pin into a dead person just to make sure they really are dead.

  2. Hi Michelle,

    Do watch out for Notorious. It's worth checking out.

    Charade is an interesting one - that mix of comedy and romance and quite nasty goings on as the thriller side takes over. Audrey Hepburn does that wide-eyed look so well.

    Haven't seen The Big Sleep in ages, but Bogart is such a character there.

    Hm, I think I feel a weekend of watching old classics coming up. Unfortunately not this weekend though.


  3. Annie, what a fantastic analysis of one of my favorite films. I love the conflicted characters in this - nothing is black or white, is it? And they fall in love SOOO against their self-interest and their best intentions and their best interests, in fact! It's so cool! The passion just sizzles. Michelle, you HAVE to get this film out! You'll love it. And Alicia, for all her wild ways, is such a noble heroine. You just love her to death (well, pretty close to death, actually!). Another favorite Hitchcock of mine is Spellbound. Again with Ingrid Bergman and a very tortured Gregory Peck. They fall in love against their best intentions in that one too! Hmm, am I sensing a theme here?

    Hey, please do some more classics like this! I really enjoyed reading your take on this fantastic film.

  4. Anna, I haven't watched Spellbound in years. I have a vague memory of Gregory Peck being affected by the sight of parallel lines bringing back horrors from his past. Thanks for jogging my memory like that. Another one to add to my 'watch again' list.

    Glad you liked the discussion on a classic film. I have to say when I watched it again just last week I was fascinated at how well it stood the test of time, and what a fantastic romance story it is. Not an easy one at all!

    Thanks for dropping by to comment!


  5. Hi, Annie! Ohhh, Cary Grant - my favourite Hollywood hero! I'm in LA right now. Yesterday I went to Mann Chinese Theatre and took a picture of CG's hand and footprints embedded in the concrete. I love the intensity of classic films such as 'Dial M for Murder' and 'North By Northwest'.

    :) Vanessa

  6. Vanessa, how terriric to see those footprints in the concrete! I'm thoroughly jealous. All those stars... Love 'North by Northwest' too.


  7. Annie, you've made me want to go straight out and buy the DVD! What a masterly analysis. I saw the movie many years ago and probably didn't quite cotton onto a few of the concepts. I need to see it again. Good luck with your Cary Grant-type hero. Sounds absolutely splendid!

  8. Christine, I don't know about masterly analysis! But I enjoyed the film so much. Hope you enjoy it this time round.

    I think my debonair but tough CG-type hero needs some work, but what fun!