A DIVINE SYNERGY: Hitchcock’s Notorious

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 . . . “(Francois Truffaut to Alfred Hitchcock)

Notorious is the shining light of Alfred Hitchcock’s output in the 1940’s and his first true masterpiece. Oh, Rebecca won the Oscar, Foreign Correspondent is a great romp, and Shadow of a Doubt is a fine movie and the first sure sign of Hitchcock settling in as an American filmmaker. But after the 1930’s, which established the director as a European sensation and an auspicious debut in the States, the rest of the decade was a bumpy ride; in fact, after Hitchcock made Notorious in 1946, establishing himself for the first time as a producer as well as director and finally freeing himself from the yoke of David O. Selznick, he went on to make four unsuccessful films in a row, only one of which has transformed its reputation over the passing years.  (We’ll deal with that next week.) 

For all Hitchcock’s troubles, we can blame the war, we can blame the studios, we can blame Selznick. We can look at the vagaries of casting or the unwillingness of wartime audiences (and some influential critics) to follow where Hitchcock led them. They would embrace his sense of experimentation only so far (Spellbound) and reject it outright when he dared show a hated enemy in a positive light (Lifeboat) or lied to the audience (Stage Fright) or experimented with the camera (Under Capricorn, Rope). And we can give Hitch himself a dollop of the blame, for all these things and for being such a puzzle to American critics and producers.

But in 1946, at least, it all came together in divine synergy, and for that everyone can take a little credit. Take David O. Selznick . . . please. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) He didn’t like the script that Ben Hecht and Hitchcock had poured their hearts into and tried unsuccessfully to replace it with a turgid rewrite by Clifford Odets. He did not approve of Cary Grant and wanted to switch him out for Joseph Cotton (whose contract Selznick happened to own). And despite the fact that his tribulations with his own production of Duel in the Sun caused him to sell Notorious to RKO and ultimately wash his hands of the whole thing, that did not stop him from bombarding Hitchcock with the usual daily plethora of memos and complaints. 

But Selznick did one good thing: for the role of Alexander Sebastian, the third side of the triangle that made up the central plot, Hitchcock wanted Clifton Webb, fresh from playing a suave villain in Laura, but Selznick insisted on Claude Rains – perhaps foreshadowing the fact that Rains would become one of my favorite actors – and Hitchcock had the good sense to acquiesce to this request. Webb would go on that year to play another suave villain in The Dark Corner, while Rains would do his part to create the most compelling love triangle Hitchcock ever produced. 

A perfect triangle: Rains, Grant and Bergman

The one constant from the start was Ingrid Bergman, with whom Hitchcock wanted to make a film exploring the dark side of espionage, where a woman would be forced to essentially prostitute herself for the “forces of good.” The gossip says that Hitchcock was in love with her, but the main evidence of that was his willingness to go where he never went with an actor: he let her give him notes on her character!

Like Shadow of a Doubt, another happy experience for the director, a perfect cast was assembled. Like that earlier film, Hitchcock had a delightful collaborative experience over putting together the script, as both Thornton Wilder and Ben Hecht displayed no authorial heat when their “partner” exerted privilege and made whatever changes he wished. 

Technically, however, Notorious does Shadow of a Doubt and Spellbound one better: it is the greatest amalgamation thus far of all of Hitchcock’s themes and symbols given visual form. And it contains something in greater supply than any of his earlier films: heat. The chemistry between Bergman and Grant is electric. It is said that Grant helped Bergman through a bout of nerves during shooting and became a lifelong friend after Notorious wrapped. The film has one of the two greatest filmed kisses in the Hitchcock canon, and this one is a grand culmination of romantic/sexual feeling while the other one – in Vertigo – is feverish and sick. (I also want to give honorable mention to the kiss that introduces Grace Kelly in Rear Window, but that is purely personal.) The chemistry between Bergman and Rains adds to the power of this triangle, while the connection between Rains and his mother, played by the great German actress Madame Konstantin in her only American film role, is the ne plus ultra of destructive mother-son relationships, to be topped only by the Bates family in Psycho

As I mentioned last week, the typical male-female relationship in a Hitchcock film is of a beleaguered hero (usually male) who must incorporate the assistance of an at-first-reluctant helpmate (usually female) to get out of a huge jam that, more often than not, has both the good guys and the bad guys chasing them. Coincidentally or not, the 40’s was the decade where we saw more of these situations with the gender reversed. Young Charlie of Shadow of a Doubt had her policeman; Connie from Lifeboat had her crewman; Constance from Spellbound and Eve Gill from Stage Fright had their boyfriends-accused-of-murder. Interestingly, Joan Fontaine, in both her roles for Hitchcock, had . . . nobody. Instead, she was in direct conflict with her husband until he finally came around to clearing the air about all her, well, suspicions. Despite all these variations, the purpose is always the same: criminal woes breed a successful romantic relationship; indeed, in all but one case, that is the outcome of each film, and the rest is Maguffin McGravy.

With Notorious, however, we have a different set-up: Alicia Huberman (Bergman) and Agent Devlin (Grant) are pretty much straight down the line equals in this film. Perhaps the focus falls more heavily on Alicia in the latter half, due to the nature of the plot. Maybe it’s the brilliance of both actors, coupled with the director’s love for both, but there is an equal weight of attractiveness, of dysfunction, of anger, of passion that makes it impossible to fit Grant into the slot inhabited by Madeleine Carroll or Eva Marie Saint, even though Saint will end up inhabiting something of both the Bergman and Grant roles from Notorious when she appears for Hitchcock in North by Northwest thirteen years later. 

Alicia and Devlin are similarly damaged by the clash between their patriotic and personal feelings. Alicia has endured a highly public disgrace when her beloved father is convicted of treason after helping the Nazi cause. While it is made clear from a recording held by the government that Alicia despised her father’s actions, she is torn apart by the way he is paraded before the public as his arrest and trial come and go. She has resorted to drink and sex to numb her feelings, and this is how we find her the night she gives a party and finds herself drawn to a handsome crasher, a government agent named Devlin. Although it is not spelled out, Devlin has perhaps been at his job too long. He has seen the human effect of the actions his agency has taken to preserve American freedom and safety, and in order to maintain his ability to work, he has made himself numb to feeling. (I have to say that after watching Grant one week apart, first in Suspicion and now here, I have a deeper respect for his ability to act, not just wield star power.) 

Guess who?

One of the things Hitchcock does when he’s fully on his game is to give his star(s) a wonderful entrance. Bergman bursts out of the courtroom where we’ve been peeping through a crack in the door to hear her father’s sentence passed, and her entrance gives the scene tension and life. But Grant’s first appearance is one of his best ever: at the party, his whole first extended shot is of the back of his head as Alicia takes note of him and begins to flirt. We don’t need to see his face! That exquisite outline is unmistakable. 

In those first moments, Grant is a charming mystery man, a calming presence to a drunken Alicia – and a lifesaver when she insists on taking him for a joy ride. (This is yet another foreshadowing of North by Northwest, only it will be Grant cascading drunkenly behind the wheel in that film.) Although the arrival of a motorcycle cop forces Devlin to reveal his identity to Alicia, his game with her is only beginning. Only by focusing on the damage wrought on Alicia’s psyche can Devlin get through the assignment of charming her into accompanying him to Rio de Janeiro in order to get her to assist him in some as yet unknown way. It helps that Alicia is an alcoholic, something Hitchcock captures brilliantly with his camera work, as when Alicia wakes up the morning after her ride and can’t seem to focus properly on the still-present Devlin.

Almost makes it worth the hangover . . .

While waiting for orders in Rio, Alicia and Devlin fall hard for each other. This marks one of Hitchcock’s most triumphant slides around the censors of his career since he felt it was imperative to show his audience that both these people were grown-ups, especially given what Alicia would soon be asked to do. Hitchcock stages the longest kiss of his career, lasting two and a half minutes. The challenge was that the censors literally timed all acts of romance to make sure none of them lasted long enough to kindle true passion. And so Hitchcock directed his two stars into a sort of kissing dance through Alicia’s apartment, out onto the balcony and back inside. There’s a sexual spark here more overt than almost anything you are bound to find in Hollywood films of that era. 

Unfortunately, passions are dashed after Devlin is called back to his office and learns the true nature of Alicia’s assignment. Horrified at what he must ask her to do,  he must now convince her to do it: look up an old friend of her father’s, loyal Nazi Alex Sebastian, now returned with his mother and Nazi retinue to Rio, and seduce the guy in order to find out in what unknown but undoubtedly bad-for-America business Alex’s crew is engaged. 

That business – the smuggling of uranium ore for nuclear purposes in bottles of wine – is the film’s Maguffin. The real business at hand is the personal havoc wreaked on both Alicia and Devlin as a result of their shared assignment. To this end, every motif and symbol known to Hitchcock comes into play. The concept of doubles, which we have examined before, is used here in multiple, complex ways. Alicia and Devlin are the most seriously antagonistic couple in Hitchcock. In fact, Devlin deliberately baits Alicia when he returns to her apartment in order to push her away from him and into Sebastian’s arms. The emotional stakes are high: Devlin must return Alicia to her earlier state of self-loathing in order to get her to embrace her assignment, and that, in turn, makes him angry at her – for accepting the assignment. He has trained her to be an effective spy, and now he is furious at her for being successful. 

Both Alicia and Devlin bring baggage with them, largely due to a horrific parent figure: Alicia’s traitorous father, and Devlin’s loathsome boss, Captain Prescott (Louis Calhern) who, with each assignment, has contributed to Devlin’s dehumanization. In this instance, doubles become triples, as Alex Sebastian is also under the thumb of a loathsome parent. Alex and Devlin are the most traditional Hitchcockian doubles in the film, two elegant, handsome men both in love with the same woman, separated only by their political allegiance. As so often happens in a Hitchcock film, Alex’s redeeming trait is that he truly loves Alicia and is ever courteous and protective, while her true love Devlin throws her to the wolves and snarls at her for staying there.

Triangle Interruptus: Louis Calhern gets between Grant and Bergman

The sign that Alicia and Devlin are maturing toward a true love relationship begins with another act of passion, this one a “fake” kiss in the wine cellar so that Alex will misconstrue their presence near the uranium-filled bottles as a romantic assignation. Unfortunately, Alex isn’t stupid and soon reasons out the truth. For a brief span, nobody is looking out for Alicia, leading to her near death by poison. Fortunately, Devlin allows his heart to open and to see the truth about Alicia’s predicament; the positions of the two men are thus reversed and their true colors revealed. In Hitchcock, a man under his mother’s thumb is never a good thing, and Alex’s throwing in his lot with his mother’s schemes is the worst thing he does. Meanwhile, Devlin essentially breaks from his “father” figure by pulling Alicia out of her assignment. (Fortunately for them both and for America, she has managed to get the information they need to end the Nazis’ plan.)

Both the American and the German sides are represented by a group of plotting men who gravitate around their leader. The group doubling here helps establish Hitchcock’s ambivalence regarding the efficacy of espionage. The men who work for Captain Prescott – on our side – are a bunch of louts who talk smack about Alicia as if they were horny frat boys and seem to have no care or consideration for the danger into which they have put her. Meanwhile, the Nazis holed up at the Sebastian home treat undercover Alicia with courtly respect. Even after she has given herself away to Alex and is slowly being poisoned, the Nazi medical man, Dr. Anderson, continually expresses concern over her health and offers to do whatever he can for her.  

One must also take note of the brilliant use Hitchcock makes here of a favorite icon of his: the staircase. This one curves gracefully in the center of Sebastian’s home, where every move up and down it generates suspense. In the first half of the film, upstairs is the only place where Alicia maintains some control, even managing to wrest the house keys from Alex’s mother – except for the all-important key to the wine cellar. This leads to a pure Hitchcock moment where we witness Alicia’s struggle to steal the key from her husband’s ring. We are left in suspense as to whether she has succeeded until the last moment, when we are treated to the ultimate in directorial brilliance: a bravura tracking shot that starts with the wide high angle view of a great party and travels down the stairs until the camera stops on a close-up of Alicia’s clutched hand holding the key. 

Triangle Horribilis: Alicia gets between mother and son

In our class, Elliot talked about some of the endings that had been proposed, including Mrs. Sebastian chasing down an escaping Alicia and Devlin until she is hit by their car and dies (ugh!) to having Alicia herself succumb to the poison, leaving Devlin bereft for life (dark!) Instead, we are given the grown-up romantic ending we deserve, with Devlin taking Alicia away from Alex, who is forced to pay the piper not for being a Nazi but for being an inept one. We don’t get to see Alicia in full recovery and have to hope for the best, but then Hitchcock always likes a swift resolution and sees no need to dot every “i.” But we have witnessed the crucial moment in the heroes’ relationship, where Devlin swoops in and declares his love for a dying Alicia. The scene in her bed is both suspenseful and swoon-worthy. Even though the situation is dire, they can’t keep their hands off each other. There is a moment where Devlin has to run around the room getting Alicia’s coat and a few necessities in preparation for their escape, and yet the camera rests throughout on Alicia, sitting up in the bed and gazing adoringly at her man. 

Alicia and Devlin are true Hitchcock heroes, cleansed by a trial of fire of their self-destructive tendencies. Devlin finds a purpose in living again, while Alicia burns through the fever of guilt and despair that has defined her since her father’s arrest. In Hitchcock, it takes the trauma of rooting out a nest of spies – or hanging by one’s thumbs on a national monument, or barely surviving an attack by birds – to transform into a person ready to embrace love at one’s core. This film is the moment where it all comes together for Hitchcock, and while it is unfortunate that the next few years will see him take a few steps backward, the final imprint has been set. The brilliance that will define Hitchcock in the 1950’s has been unveiled. 1951 is where we’ll start next week (with a fascinating detour back to ’48). You want doubles? You’ll get doubles in spades. What else could you expect from a double bill starring this guy . . . ???

27 thoughts on “A DIVINE SYNERGY: Hitchcock’s Notorious

  1. It’s a true masterpiece, no question about it. Everyone is on top form, including indefatigable composer Roy Webb and the too often forgotten DP, Ted Tetzllaff, who went on to be a decent director. And I love Louis Calhern when he is being a bit disreputable. Great analysis Brad. Can’t wait to see it again.

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  2. A superb analysis of a fascinating film. I hadn’t known that Raines was a Selznick choice but he is absolutely wonderful as are those other leads.
    Really looking forward to reading your thoughts next week!

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  3. A wonderful analysis. Notorious is a film that I don’t revisit enough, but each time I do I am glad that I did. It’s a powerful and moving tale of espionage and ahead of its time. So much is made of Hitchcock’s influence on the early James Bond films (and the DNA of North by Northwest is all over the Connery films), but this film paves the way for the morally grey world of spying that John le Carre made so infamous. (My thoughts here are undoubtedly influenced by having just finished watching The Night Manager miniseries and I cannot recommend it highly enough.)

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      1. I have not read much Maugham, Greene, or Ambler so there lies my ignorance. I think it is still interesting to note when discussing Notorious how Hitchcock is able to combine the lavish upper-class sheen with the morally complicated world of spying. So often I think we associate the dark world of espionage with a tone more akin to Chandler (one can argue that Fleming’s Bond novels are written in the hardboiled vein), but Hitchcock and Hecht take full advantage of the high-society world in which the film is set to contrast those tones beautifully.

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      2. In terms of the more ethically compromised view of the literary spy genre, I’d say Maugham, Greene and Ambler got there a bit before Hitch, Hecht and le Carre .

        True, but Hitch got in on the act very early with Secret Agent (1936), an incredibly bleak and cynical spy film (and an underrated Hitchcock masterpiece in my view).

        Hitch hated cops and it’s possible he had a negative view of spies for similar reasons.

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        1. I do like it a lot, though it’s a bit loose as an adaptation of the Maugham short stories. Ever seen the ASHENDEN series by David Pirie for the BBC starring Alex Jennings? Truly superb take on the original stories and their real-life basis.

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        2. I’m going to hazard a guess here because a lot of Hitchcock’s self-described “relationship” with the police is based on apocryphal stories that may or may not be quite true. I would guess that, growing up as a working-class East Ender, Hitchcock has some distrust and fear of police brutality. He always saw himself both as a social outsider (his weight also contributed to that) and a guilt-ridden Catholic. His “revenge” on the cops was to portray them in his films as mostly stupid or ineffectual. (We’ll see a beautiful example of that in next week’s movie.)

          On the other hand, Hitchcock saw something darker and more thematic in espionage. Bad cops are just folks who let the power go to their head or carry their personal baggage into the job. But bad spies? What is a “good” spy? A spy is both a patriot and a traitor, and the difference between the two is often ambiguous. A spy knows too many secrets to trust the delicate fabric of society they are assigned to protect.

          There was a wonderful play that became a TV movie about this from a domestic point of view. I think it might be based on a real life story. I can’t remember the title, and when I look up the scenario, all I can find is a comedy called Keeping Up with the Joneses. It’s about two couples who live next door to each other and are best friends, until one day agents come to one house and ask the couple to help them catch the other couple who are spies. In the end, they succeed, but it’s at a terrible cost – because the friendship these people had for each other was genuine. And, of course, the TV series The Americans dealt with this issue in a variety of ways.

          The short answer is that I think Hitchcock dealt with cops and spies differently for different reasons.

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          1. Hitchcock hated all authority figures so he didn’t really like even good cops all that much. And given his upbringing he had issues with moral policemen. I’d see Devlin in Notorious as very much a moral policeman. He’s the least sympathetic of all Hitchcock’s heroes. Has anyone mentioned the slight similarities between Devlin and Mark Rutland in Marnie? And both films deal, although in very different ways, with female sexuality and with men who perhaps have some issues with female sexuality.

            On the whole though I agree – spies were a rich source of stories about lies, deceptions, duplicity and moral ambiguity and that was something Hitchcock could get his teeth into. And it has obvious appeal to a Catholic. Fritz Lang, another Catholic, liked spy stories as well.

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            1. I still think there’s a distinction between cops and spies in Hitchcock. Most of his police trade on their presence to intimidate (think of the highway patrolman in Psycho) and tend to fire first, think later (next week’s movie); a lot of them are rather stupid, or at least easily duped into chasing the central “innocent man” of a Hitchcock film. Spies, however, trade on dishonesty, and Hitchcock holds them accountable for the innocent lives hurt or lost as part of their scheme to “win one for the good guys.” He holds the most contempt for those in charge, like Louis Calhoun here or Leo G. Carroll in North by Northwest: Carroll has hired a female spy to become the villain’s lover, and he is willing to put Roger Thornhill’s life at risk to protect her work for the country.

              I think a major difference between Devlin and Mark Rutland is that Devlin is taking orders, and he has the decency to suffer for that. We do find his manipulation of Alicia revolting, but after he falls in love with her, this changes. (Not for the better, at first, but that’s what makes Notorious such a rich, complex film.) Ultimately, Devlin does the right thing, both professionally and personally.

              And that’s important to note! In Hitchcock, the Maguffin exists to effect change for the better in the moral and emotional make-up of his characters. (This will change significantly in some of the best films of the 50’s.) Alicia and Devlin are put through hell and emerge better for it. Will Devlin remain a spy? Maybe not. Or maybe he’ll go back to work with more of a backbone, standing up to his bosses when they’re moral compass becomes too ambivalent.

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              1. “I still think there’s a distinction between cops and spies in Hitchcock…..”

                I agree. Maybe the crucial distinction is whether the character functions as an authority figure.

                Spies are such an incredibly good subject because they’re so ambiguous. There are intelligence agents (spies) and counter-intelligence agents (counter-spies) and counter-intelligence agencies are cops of a sort. They’re essentially political cops. They’re authority figures who see themselves as defending the social order whereas spies threaten the social order. But then it gets complicated by the distinction between who are on “our” side and we therefore allow them to do immoral things, and spies on the “other” side whom we condemn for doing the same things.

                I think Hitch gets into this a bit in both Secret Agent and Notorious. Devlin thinks his actions are justified because he’s on the “right” side. And he thinks his actions are justified because he is in a way an authority figure, fighting to defend the existing social order. An audience at the time would have been expected to give Devlin a pass for his bad behaviour.

                “I think a major difference between Devlin and Mark Rutland is that Devlin is taking orders”

                I wonder which character Hitch had more sympathy for? Personally I’m inclined to like Devlin less because he’s one of those people who use the “I was just following orders” defence. But I’m not sure if that would have been Hitch’s view.

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                1. I can’t write with any authority about Mark Rutland because, sadly, I still haven’t figured out the charms of Marnie (aside from Diane Baker), and I haven’t watched it for a long time. I do believe that one clear difference is that Mark is a boss and Devlin “follows orders.” I totally get what you’re saying about that as an excuse, but I don’t think I feel that way when I watch Devlin’s reactions to what he is doing. I think that if Alicia had not had her history as a traitor’s daughter and a promiscuous party girl, Devlin might have rushed to her side after his meeting, explained exactly what was being asked of her, and offered his support if she said no. The fact that she had slept around and would have to again colored his perceptions of her, especially when she agreed to do the assignment. Of course, his coldness to her pushed her in that direction, but then maybe his coldness had to do with him steeling himself to “follow orders” rather than love her.

                  I’m really not trying to relieve Devlin of his part of “blame” in the situation. What’s so intriguing about this movie is how equally Devlin AND Alicia bear responsibility for the way they act and react. But ultimately, the real blame lies both with the Nazis and the U.S. spy force who created this situation.

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                  1. I can’t write with any authority about Mark Rutland because, sadly, I still haven’t figured out the charms of Marnie (aside from Diane Baker), and I haven’t watched it for a long time.

                    I just checked my movie log and it’s nearly twenty years since I last watched Marnie. I really must make an effort to watch it again.

                    My provisional theory on Marnie is that Hitchcock should have made it a few years later. It’s a psycho-sexual thriller and in 1964 he had to pull too many punches. The motivations of both lead characters are sexual but in 1964 Hollywood was not yet able to deal with sex. And more particularly, in 1964 no Hollywood movie could deal openly and honestly with female sexuality.

                    I think Sean Connery was excellent but it needed a much better female lead.

                    But my ideas about this movie may change completely when I re-watch it!

                    The fact that she had slept around and would have to again colored his perceptions of her, especially when she agreed to do the assignment.

                    Again it’s an example of a 1940s Hitchcock movie distorted by the stifling censorship attitude of the era. Whatever Hitchcock’s actual intentions may have been he has to have Devlin expressing the prevailing view that female sexuality is just wrong so Alicia has to be punished. As with all of Hitchcock’s 1940s movies we really don’t know what Hitchcock actually intended. All we have is a compromise movie that offers tantalising hints of the movie Hitchcock wanted to make. We don’t really understand Alicia fully because she’s not a real woman, she’s a woman seen through the distorting lens of Hollywood moralism.

                    I don’t think any of Hitchcock’s 1940s movies can be considered “real” Hitchcock movies.

                    Hitchcock did manage the compromise more successfully in Notorious than in his other 40s movies.

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          2. Hi Brad, that’s a play by Hugh Whitemoe, filmed twice. The one with Teri Garr and Ellen Burstyn is PACK OF LIES (1987) The original was from 1971 and titled ACT OF BETRAYAL. In between he turned it into a stage play. Always glad to help 😁

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            1. “Hugh Whitemore” that was meant go be, who dramatised 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD and wrote loads of other good stuff including BREAKING THE CODE about the life and death of Alan Turing

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  4. Great analysis as always, Brad. The only small point I’d disagree with is not ranking Shadow of a Doubt as a comparable masterpiece, which I sincerely believe it is. That said, yes, it’s Notorious that ushered in what was to be his glory period, despite a four year delay getting there!

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    1. What Notorious shares with Vertigo is a sense of gravitas. There’s next to no humor in either film, and that is unusual for Hitchcock. Rear Window is tense and meaningful, but also occasionally hilarious – part of the reason it’s my clear favorite of this three or any Hitchcock film.

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      1. You’ve really done it now. You’ve not only reawoken my Hitchcock obsession, you’ve sent it into overdrive. I’m now frantically ordering Hitchcock movies. There are just so many Hitchcock movies that I haven’t seen for years and now you’ve got me desperate to see them again.

        I’m already trying to justify buying Marnie, Suspicion and Young and Innocent and now it looks like I’ll be adding Rear Window to my shopping list. It’s more than twenty years since I watched that one last. And then I find myself thinking I should grab Spellbound as well.

        I’m actually looking forward to it. My tastes and my views on movies have changed a lot so I’m expecting to be seriously re-evaluating my opinions on all those movies.

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  5. Obviously the course is covering a specific period but I think the value judgement made by Truffaut in the split between the earlier films shot in the UK and the later ones made for Hollywood studios is no longer persuasive given the availability of the entire corpus. Many of the films of the 20s and 30s are his best. And anyway, beyond a preference by some for bigger budgets and the subservience to the Hollywood star system, so many of the later films are set in Europe and outside the US so they hardly feel “American” – it’s a lot of films after all: REBECCA, SUSPICION, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, LIFEBOAT, NOTORIOUS, PARADINE CASE, UNDER CAPRICORN, STAGE FRIGHT, I CONFESS, TO CATCH A THIEF, the 1956 MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, TORN CURTAIN, TOPAZ and FRENZY.

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    1. Many of the films of the 20s and 30s are his best.

      I agree. Hitchcock had more freedom in the 30s. He was a star director in Britain and was given plenty of leeway. Then he got to Hollywood and found himself treated like an employee, and found that the combination of studio timidity and the Production Code made it impossible to make the movies he wanted to make the way he wanted to make them.

      I’d rate his best 30s films (The 39 Steps, Young and Innocent, Secret Agent, The Lady Vanishes) more highly than most of his Hollywood films.

      Part of the reason his 1920s/1930s movies have had lesser reputations is that for years most people only got to see awful transfers of awful prints. Some of the DVD releases of Hitchcock’s British movies were staggeringly poor in image and sound quality. I remember watching a horrifically awful DVD of Secret Agent.

      That’s started to change and now there are luxury Blu-Ray releases of movies like Young and Innocent.

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