It took me a while to recognize the fact that this film is great. Part of that’s a side effect from the fact that this film is one of Hitchcock’s somewhat lesser-known works – it’s hard to get a good copy of it on DVD with good sound quality, so I had a hard time hearing the dialogue. When you have to replay scenes over and over again like I did (just to hear them), you lose a lot of what makes a Hitchcock film work. You need to let yourself become completely and effortlessly lost in the mood of the scene – to let each scene wash over you. Once I finally moved my DVD to a player that let me turn the subtitles on, I was finally able to stop trying to tell what was going on and just experience it. Once I did that, it made all the difference, and I could see clearly that this film is quite brilliant.
Since some of the earlier scenes in the film are a little boring (the story takes a while to build) the first thing I noticed about Notorious that really impressed me was the cinematography. As one would expect from a film noir by Alfred Hitchcock, it’s excellent, but not just because it’s visually pleasing – although it certainly is that. What’s great about it is the way Hitchock shows us different kinds of shots that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, thus creating moods and feelings I don’t think I’ve ever experienced before. Hitchcock uses the camera to tell his story, carefully revealing only what he wants us to see when he wants us to see it and creating a level of subjectivity from the characters’ perspective that puts us in the shoes of the characters all the more.
That being said, the story is compelling enough without the camera’s help. While I’ve only seen about three or four of Hitchcock’s films previously, it feels like more attention was paid to the script this time than in most of his films. You don’t watch this movie for the scary silhouette with the knife coming at you or for the birds attacking the children. It’s not horror. The viewer is simply so wrapped up in the characters’ mission that he/she cannot help but be scared, purely from the suspense of knowing they may get caught. Right up until the movie’s end, the intensity of the drama is turned up to ten, making it impossible to look away from the screen. As if that wasn’t enough, the dialogue is exquisitely clever, and it doesn’t hurt that story is being performed by many of the greatest actors of Classical Hollywood, who present some of their finest work here.
And did I mention that I adore Ingrid Bergman? Because I adore Ingrid Bergman.