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Notorious: The Criterion Collection

While Notorious isn't one of Alfred Hitchcock's better-known films, this 1947 postwar masterpiece consistently ranks among his best with Hitch aficionados. Ingrid Bergman stars as Alicia Huberman, a German-American woman whose father has been convicted as a Nazi agent at the end of the war. The U.S. government, aware that a German operation is underway in Brazil, tasks CIA agent Devlin (Cary Grant) with contacting Alicia and convincing her use her father's reputation to infiltrate the Nazi cabal. After some quibbling, Alicia agrees to travel with Devlin to Rio de Janero and await instructions, but during their journey they fall in love. It is when the duo learns that she is to seduce Huberman family friend Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains) — a key player in the German conspiracy — that the stoic Devlin and defensive Alicia put their newfound romance on ice, even though they are unable resolve their feelings towards each other.

Notorious should appear on every top-ten Hitchcock list, and for a variety of reasons. Cary Grant delivers the best acting performance of his career, deftly able to convey the turmoil within his character even though he rarely shows any emotion whatsoever (Devlin is so shrouded in mystery that we never see him laugh or smile, nor do we ever learn his first name). Casablanca veterans Bergman and Rains are reunited, and both come up with performances that are equal to that lauded classic. And Leopoldine Konstantin, as Alex's mother, makes for one of the best maternal figures in Hitchcockian lore, all sweetness and light in public, but little more than a cigarette-puffing gangster when she is alone with her son. And perhaps of all Hitchcock films, Notorious uses the most visuals to tell its story — in fact, The Master employs so many visual cues to keep his viewers informed that a mere listening to this film would be worthless, as one couldn't ever comprehend the love between Alicia and Devlin (in a famous three-minute embrace), the passing of an important key between the two agents at a crowded party (which involves an equally famous crane shot), and the plot between Alex and Madame Sebastian to do away with Alicia when her cover is blown (a scheme that never is stated, only implied). Ben Hecht's script never misses a beat, and the clever leitmotif of alcohol and drinking is presented with a gentle touch.

Criterion's DVD release of Notorious features a full-frame transfer (1.33:1) that is largely similar to the previous bare-bones DVD from Anchor Bay, but they are different. A side-by-side comparison reveals the Anchor Bay transfer to be a bit softer, while the Criterion transfer has a somewhat better definition, but also more evidence of slight collateral wear. Both versions are satisfactory, but Criterion's DVD does offer a nice added touch with the credit sequence in an inset 1.33 frame. And of course, The Criterion DVD is loaded. Features include two commentary tracks, one with Hitchcock scholar Marian Keane, the other with film historian Rudy Behlmer. Also here is the complete 60-min. 1948 Lux Radio broadcast (with Bergman reprising the role of Alicia and Joseph Cotten as Devlin); excerpts from the original short story "Song of the Dragon," which was the earliest source for Notorious; production correspondence between David O. Selznick, Bergman, FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, and others; deleted scenes and an alternate ending as told via script excerpts; a look at the rear-projection process; production and publicity stills; an isolated score-and-effects track; four trailers and teasers; newsreel footage of Hitchcock and Bergman arriving at London's Heathrow Airport; and the story of the film's "Unica" key (told by Keane), which Grant gave to Bergman years after the film was completed, and which Bergman returned to Hitchcock at his 1979 AFI tribute. Keep-case.
—Robert Wederquist

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