Notorious (Blu-ray Review)

From legendary director Alfred Hitchcock comes this “torrid, tense, tinglingly suspenseful” (Cosmopolitan) film that ranks as one of his best.  Academy Award winner Ingrid Bergman “is literally ravishing” (Pauline Kael), and Cary Grant and Claude Rains give “excellent performances” (Variety) in this “taut spy movie that delivers a romantic punch” (The New Yorker). When troubled beauty Alicia Huberman (Bergman) is recruited by American agent Devlin (Grant) to infiltrate a German spy ring in postwar Rio, she accepts…but soon finds herself falling in love with Devlin.  And when she receives orders to seduce a Nazi kingpin (Rains), Alicia must sacrifice the only happiness she’s ever known for a perilous mission that could ultimately cost her and Devlin their lives.


Alfred Hitchcock is known as “the master of suspense,” which is a title he rightly deserves, but not a lot of people realize that his work was just as good in other genres too.  Notorious doesn’t really fall into his usual comfort zone since it’s more of a love story than anything else.  Sure, there’s a off-screen death and an attempted poisoning, but the core of this movie is a love story between two people that are ill-equipped to deal with it.

The movie opens with a scene in a courtroom where we witness a verdict and the defendant’s daughter leaving the courtroom before we learn that the woman’s father was just convicted of being a Nazi spy and sentenced for treason.  The young woman named Alicia (Ingred Bergman) promptly goes to a gathering and gets drunk, all the while being watched by a tall man who has his back to the camera.  When the camera finally reveals the man named Devlin to be Cary Grant, the movie kicks into gear since he is obviously looking after Alicia for some reason.  When she decides to take a drive, he accompanies her which is fairly risky since she is drunk and determined to make him nervous with her driving.  When her speeding catches the eye of a police officer and they are pulled over, Alicia isn’t hauled to jail or even given a ticket once the officer sees Devlin’s badge.

Finally understanding that her passenger is in some kind of law enforcement, Alicia freaks out and Devlin is forced to subdue her and drive her back home.  When she recovers the next morning he explains that he is with the F.B.I. and that they want Alicia to perform a job for her country.  When Alicia scoffs at the idea of doing something out of patriotism, Devlin plays a secret recording of a conversation she had with her traitorous father once she discovered what he was up to and told him how disgusted she was for what he was doing against their country.  Chastened by hearing her own words about how much she loves America, Alicia tells Devlin she will help him.

They travel to Rio de Janeiro and Devlin is updated by his superiors on exactly what the job will be which infuriates him once he learns that the F.B.I. wants to pimp out Alicia to one of her father’s Nazi cronies named Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains).  Devlin learns that Alex fell in love with Alicia long ago but that love was never reciprocated back by Alicia and his boss wants her to make it happen now.  They are hoping that by baiting Alex with Alicia, that she might worm her way into his life and possibly learn what Alex and his German friends are doing in South America.

Devlin is conflicted since he wants to do his duty, but he’s also started to fall in love with Alicia which makes it difficult for him to finally tell her the plan.  Strangely enough, Alicia is less concerned about prostituting herself with a Nazi than the fact that Devlin doesn’t try to stop her from doing it.  When she doesn’t get the response she wants from Devlin, she tells him she will do it which only makes Devlin even more bitter and caustic to her.  In trying to provoke each other, both start down a path neither wants to walk, but there’s no turning back especially once she has to marry Alex.

The rest of the movie ratchets up the tension between the three of them as Alex is aware that Devlin frequently contacts Alicia which only makes him more and more jealous.  There’s a great sequence where Alicia must steal a key, smuggle it to Devlin, and then both of them have to discover what Alex and his compatriots are hiding down in a wine cellar during a party.  Not only do they have to avoid detection, but they are also in a race against time as the champagne is going quickly and sooner or later someone will come down the cellar for more.  Of course, things go wrong and in a bravura scene that shows of the talents of Rains and Hitchcock, we see Alex work out exactly what happened and put it all together without a single line of dialogue.

While many of the movie’s plot points pop up just to keep the movie moving (including a uranium plot-line that’s never resolved), the cast is so good that it really doesn’t matter.  Cary Grant was able to break free of his usual glib and smooth kind of characters with Devlin and his performance is excellent.  Devlin spends the movie conflicted about his feelings and his duty and it’s only at the end that he makes his choice which comes off beautifully.  Ingrid Bergman is also very good in her difficult role.  Alicia is portrayed to be very unlikable at the start of the movie but Bergman is talented enough to generate sympathy for her character even if we don’t really understand her motivations other than to make up for her father’s treason and possibly to provoke Devlin to declare his feelings for her.

And last but not least, is the wonderful Claude Rains who is good in every movie he’s in.  For awhile, despite being a Nazi, Alex engenders some sympathy from the audience because he truly does love Alicia and even treats her better than Devlin does.  Of course by the end, he shows his true colors (poisoning people kind of does that), but he’s great in the role and adds a lot to the movie.  While this isn’t the genre he is the most famous for perfecting, Notorious bears the unmistakable fingerprints of Alfred Hitchcock.  His use of tension and some incredible camera shots guarantee that the master was fully engaged on this movie.  This is one of my favorite Hitchcock movies just because it is so different and because of this incredible cast.


The film’s 1080p (1.37:1) transfer is the best I’ve seen released so far but it’s not perfect.  The black and white footage has some nice detail which in some scenes is excellent, but in others it can look soft.  There’s also a lot of rear projection footage in the movie which stands out even more in high definition.  As for print damage, there’s still some specks and some minor scratches along with some flicker issues but none of them are obtrusive enough to really complain about. Film grain is present but it’s not too heavy and it simply gives it a film-like look that hasn’t been scrubbed away by DNR. We all have to keep in mind that this is an old film after all and for it’s age, it looks pretty good in high definition.


Notorious‘ lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix is appropriate for a film it’s age but it’s a shame that it couldn’t be more improved.  Dialogue is the most important focus for this film and I’m happy to report that it’s clear and easily understood.  There’s no hiss or other sound defects which frequently plague older films.  Roy Webb’s score isn’t overshadowed by the rest of the movie but it is fairly subdued.  For a film this old, just like with the video quality, I can overlook a lot since this is probably as good as it’s ever going to get and I’m just glad to get it in high definition.

Special Features  

There’s a nice mix of extras on here that are balanced well and I especially liked hearing from Hitchcock directly.  The bad part is that they are all in standard definition.

  • Commentary with Film Professor Rick Jewell – This is a pretty comprehensive commentary but Jewell seems more interested in talking about the history of RKO and Selznick than the movie.  When  he finally does start talking about the movie, he does have a lot of good info but fans of the movie may not like the film history detours.  Of course, if you are into film history, then you will really like this one.
  • Commentary with Film Professor Drew Casper – Another commentary that’s more on point but it isn’t as effective as Jewell’s since it seems that Casper is reminiscing more than commentating.
  • Isolated Music and Effects Track – The score for Notorious‘ may not be up to the usual Bernard Herrmann standards, but it is effective and this isolated track shows just how well it supported the film.
  • The Ultimate Romance: The Making of Notorious They either could have focuses on the thriller aspect of the film or the romantic side and they went with romance which makes sense since it’s the core of the movie.  With that as it’s focus, this featurette covers how the romance played into the film.
  • Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Spymaster – A short but nice look at how Hitchcock contributed and influenced the spy genre through his films.
  • The American Film Institute Award: The Key to Hitchcock – A very short but touching look at clips of Hitchcock receiving an AFI award that’s hosted by his granddaughter.  We also see Ingrid Bergman present the infamous key to the wine cellar from Notorious to him as well which is pretty cool.
  • 1948 Radio Play starring Joseph Cotton and Ingrid Bergman
  • Hitchcock Audio Interviews – I’ve listened to hours of Bogdanovich talking to Orson Welles and was always fascinated by the conversation so I was happy to see a collection of chats on here with Hitchcock.  The bad news is that the one with Bogdanovich is only a little over two minutes long but the good news is that Truffaut one is a lot longer.  I really liked this extra!
  • Restoration Comparison – A before and after look at the restoration efforts for this release.
  • Theatrical Trailer

Final Thoughts  

This is a very mature film that is still surprising to audiences today with its unusual storyline that was really ahead of it’s time.  The cast is wonderful in this and Hitchcock’s many touches including that incredible shot with the key, keep audiences and film students happy.  This Blu-ray looks great and sounds pretty good but combined with a bunch of fantastic extras, makes this one easy to recommend as a blind buy purchase.

Order your copy today!


2 Responses to “Notorious (Blu-ray Review)”

  1. Brian White

    Your reviews have been kicking a$$ as of late.

    Good job!

  2. Sean Ferguson

    Thanks Brian! There’s more on the way!