CINÉ-REAL #04 – NOTORIOUS
Notorious (1946) was directed and produced by a 46 year old Alfred Hitchcock. The film stars Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains. It was shot in late 1945 / early 1946, and was released by RKO in August 1946.
To give himself utmost control, Hitchcock shot nearly all of the film indoors, on RKO sound stages. Second unit crews shot establishing exteriors and rear-projection footage in Miami, Rio de Janeiro and at the Santa Anita Park racetrack. This also allowed for long days of filming without worry about changes in light and enabled Hitchcock to overcome some other small problems that arouse. For example; Claude Rains, was 4 inches shorter than Ingrid Bergman. For the scenes where Rains and Bergman were to walk hand-in-hand, Hitchcock devised a system of ramps that boosted Rains’ height yet were hidden from the camera.
A MacGuffin is a plot device, in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist is willing to do and sacrifice almost anything to pursue. The MacGuffin often has little or no narrative explanation as to why it is considered so desirable. In Notorious the MacGuffin is Uranium ore hidden in bottles of wine, however it could just as well have been–maps, codes, diamonds etc.
Creation out of limitation
The censors at the time forbade a kiss lasting longer than 3 seconds, and so to overcome this Hitchcock got Bergman and Grant to alternate kissing with dialogue, while never leaving each other’s arms. The sequence lasts 3 minutes in all, it begins on a balcony overlooking Rio, encompasses a telephone call and a discussion of the dinner menu, and finishes with them parting at the apartment door. The 3 second rule led to a better scene.
Hitchcock choreographs the visuals so that they precisely reflect what is happening to the characters internal world. For example there is a famous shot that begins early in the film when Alicia awakens with a hangover, and there is a gigantic foreground close-up of a glass of Alka-Seltzer. From her point of view, she sees Devlin in the doorway, backlit and upside down. As she sits up, he rotates 180 degrees.
Devlin then suggests Alicia act as a spy for the US. When she refuses he plays a secret recording of her that that highlights her patriotism. As the record begins, she is in shadow, as it continues, she is in bars of light. As it ends, she is in full light.
The most famous and well crafted shot begins with a wide from a high landing above the entrance hall of Sebastian’s mansion and finishes, all in one motion, with a close-up of a key in Alicia’s nervously twisting hand.
During his interviews for his book on Hitchcock Francois Truffaut told him “Notorious gets a maximum of effect from a minimum of elements…. Of all your pictures, this is the one in which one feels the most perfect correlation between what you are aiming at and what appears on the screen…. To the eye, the ensemble is as perfect as an animated cartoon…”
NB: Hitchcock’s cameo in Notorious does not come until after the one-hour mark; when he became a television star in the 1950s, he slotted his cameos in the first few minutes so audiences would feel free to watch the film without watching for him.