Review: Hitchcock’s “Notorious”; Romance Amidst Espionage

By Armando Inquig

Notorious film 1946 Armando Inquig
Released in 1946, “Notorious” stands as one of the quintessential masterpieces in Alfred Hitchcock’s filmography.

A melding of suspense, romance, and espionage, the film is frequently cited for its narrative depth and cinematic techniques. Over the decades, “Notorious” has cemented its place as classic cinema and its influence in countless other films.

Set in the aftermath of World War II, the story centers around Alicia Huberman, the German-American daughter of a recently convicted Nazi spy. Approached by the American intelligence agent T.R. Devlin, Alicia agrees to use her connections to infiltrate a group of Nazis residing in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As Alicia and Devlin venture into their mission, a complicated romance blossoms between them, adding tension to their covert operation.

This dynamic is shown early in the film in a well-known intimate kissing scene between Alicia and Devlin, cleverly directed by Hitchcock that it circumvents the conservative norms of its time. This subtly reflects the film’s defiance of film-making conventions at the time, while also deepening the romantic subplot.

Alicia’s former acquaintance with a Nazi sympathizer, Alex Sebastian, becomes a crucial part in their assignment, and she is tasked to rekindle their past relationship, something that strains her developing romance with Devlin.

While navigating their mission, Alicia discovers a sinister plot: the Nazis are concealing uranium ore in wine bottles with intentions to construct atomic weapons. Sebastian later uncovers Alicia’s true allegiance and together with his mother, he orchestrates a plan to slowly poison Alicia.

Devlin, sensing something wrong, unravels the plot and rescues Alicia. The film reaches a climax with Devlin exposing Sebastian in front of his Nazi compatriots, leaving him to face the repercussions of inadvertently harboring an American spy.

The film is a cinematic reflection of its immediate post-World War II setting, delving into the aftermath of Nazi influences and the global tension of its time, and highlights the era’s political anxieties and the growing Cold War climate.

But at its core, “Notorious” isn’t just about espionage or World War II politics; it’s a love story interwoven with themes of trust, betrayal, and redemption. The relationship between Alicia and Devlin is complicated; he loves her but is torn by the compromising position he’s placed her in, while she constantly seeks his trust and validation.

Previously available only on DVD, The Criterion Collection has now released Notorious on blu-ray in 4K digital restoration. The released comes with audio commentaries featuring film historian Rudy Behlmer and Alfred Hitchcock scholar Marian Keane.