NOTORIOUS (1946) B/W 102m dir: Alfred Hitchcock

w/Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Louis Calhern, Leopoldine Konstantin, Reinhold Schunzel, Moroni Olsen, Ivan Triesault, Alexis Minotis, Eberhardt Krumschmidt, Fay Baker, Ricardo Costa, Lenore Ulric, Ramon Nomar, Peter von Zerneck, Sir Charles Mandl, Wally Brown

Hitchcock's brooding, romantic spy thriller is dark and complex. Bergman plays a war criminal's daughter pressured by a government agent (Grant) into working as a counterspy in Brazil. As passion begins to smolder between them, she's forced into marriage with the very enemy they're pursuing. But the plot is secondary here: this is one of the most romantic movies ever made, and all Hitchcock's considerable energies and talents serve that end in this masterwork. Quite simply, it's one of his best films, containing some brilliant stylistic exercises: a traveling shot that begins at the top of a flight of stairs and ends in a close up of a key held in Bergman's hand; an enormous close up of a poisoned cup of coffee; etc. Watch also for Hitchcock's "cameo": he's seen drinking champagne at a party, and in doing so helps to thwart the plans of Bergman and Grant. What a devilish imp!

Be forewarned: the following material contains specific story information you may not want to know before viewing the film:

Francois Truffaut interviewed the director about NOTORIOUS in his book, Hitchcock:

"F.T. I'm impatient to get to Notorious because this is truly my favorite Hitchcock picture; at any rate, it's the one I prefer in the black-and-white group. In my opinion, Notorious is the very quintessence of Hitchcock.

"A.H. When I started to work with Ben Hecht on the screenplay for Notorious , we were looking for a MacGuffin [in Hitchcock's world, something that moves the plot along but which the audience really doesn't care about], and as always, we proceeded by trial and error, going off in several different directions that turned out to be too complex. The basic concept of the story was already on hand. Ingrid Bergman was to play the heroine, and Cary Grant was to portray the FBI man who accompanied her to Latin America, where she was to worm her way into the household of a nest of Nazi spies in order to find out what they were up to. Our original intention had been to bring into the story government officials and police agents and to show groups of German refugees training in secret camps in South America with the aim of setting up an enemy army. But we couldn't figure out what they were going to do with the army once it was organized. So we dropped the whole idea in favor of a MacGuffin that was simpler, but concrete and visual: a sample of uranium concealed in a wine bottle.

"At the beginning the producer had given me an old-fashioned story, 'The Song of the Flame,' that appeared in The Saturday Evening Post. It was the story of a young woman who had fallen in love with the son of a wealthy New York society woman. The girl was troubled about a secret in her past. She felt that her great love would be shattered if ever the young man or his mother found out about it. What was the secret? Well, during the war, the government counterspy service had approached a theatrical impresario to find them a young actress who would act as an agent; her mission was to sleep with a certain spy in order to get hold of some valuable information. The agent had suggested this young girl and she had accepted the assignment. So now, filled with apprehensions about the whole thing, she goes back to her agent and tells him all about her problem, and he, in turn, tells the whole story to the young man's mother. The story winds up with the aristocratic mother saying, 'I always hoped that my son would find the right girl, but I never expected him to marry a girl as fine as this!'

"So here is the idea for a picture co-starring Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant, to be directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Well, after talking it over with Ben Hecht, we decide that the idea we'll retain from this story is that the girl is to sleep with a spy in order to get some secret information. Gradually, we develop the story, and now I introduce the MacGuffin: four or five samples of uranium concealed in wine bottles.

"The producer said, 'What in the name of goodness is that?'

"I said, 'This is uranium; it's the thing they're going to make an atom bomb with.'

"And he asked, 'What atom bomb?'

"This, you must remember, was in 1944, a year before Hiroshima. I had only one clue. A writer friend of mine had told me that scientists were working on a secret project some place in New Mexico. It was so secret that once they went into the plant, they never emerged again. I was also aware that the Germans were conducting experiments with heavy water in Norway. So these clues brought me to the uranium MacGuffin. The producer was skeptical, and he felt it was absurd to use the idea of an atom bomb as the basis for our story. I told him that it wasn't the basis for the story, but only the MacGuffin, and I explained that there was no need to attach too much importance to it.

"Finally I said, 'Look, if you don't like uranium, let's make it industrial diamonds, which the Germans use to cut their tools with.' And I pointed out that if it had not been a wartime story, we could have hinged our plot on the theft of diamonds, that the gimmick was unimportant.

"Well, I failed to convince the producers, and a few weeks later the whole project was sold to RKO. In other words, Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, the script, Ben Hecht, and myself, we were sold as a package.

"There's something else I should tell you about this uranium MacGuffin. It happened four years after Notorious was released. I was sailing on the Queen Elizabeth, and I ran into a man called Joseph Hazen, who was an associate of producer Hal Wallis. He said to me, 'I've always wanted to find out where you got the idea for the atom bomb a year before Hiroshima. When they offered us the Notorious script, we turned it down because we thought it was such a goddamn foolish thing to base a movie on.'

"There was another incident that took place prior to the shooting of Notorious . Ben Hecht and I went over to the California Institute of Technology at Pasadena to meet Dr. Millikan, at that time one of the leading scientists in America. We were shown into his office, and there in a corner was a bust of Einstein. Very impressive. The first question we asked him was: 'Dr. Millikan, how large would an atom bomb be?'

"He looked at us and said, 'You want to have yourselves arrested and have me arrested as well?' Then he spent an hour telling us how impossible our idea was, and he concluded that if only they could harness hydrogen, then that would be something. He thought he had succeeded in convincing us that we were barking up the wrong tree, but I learned later that afterwards the FBI had me under surveillance for three months.

"To get back to Mr. Hazen on the boat, when he told me how idiotic he had thought our gimmick was, I answered, 'Well, all it goes to show is that you were wrong to attach any importance to the MacGuffin. Notorious was simply the story of a man in love with a girl who, in the course of her official duties, had to go to bed with another man and even had to marry him. That's the story. That mistake of yours cost you a lot of money, because the movie cost two million dollars to make and grossed eight million dollars for the producers.'

"F.T. So it was a big hit. ... I'm awfully pleased to see that Notorious is re-released time and again all over the world. Despite a lapse of twenty years it's still a remarkably modern picture, with very few scenes and an exceptionally pure story line. In the sense that it gets a maximum effect from a minimum of elements, it's really a model of scenario construction. ... All of the suspense scenes hinge around two objects, always the same, namely the key and the fake wine bottle. The sentimental angle is the simplest in the world: two men in love with the same woman. It seems to me that of all of 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. I don't know whether you were already drawing detailed sketches of each shot, but to the eye, the ensemble is as precise as an animated cartoon. Of all its qualities, the outstanding achievement is perhaps that in Notorious you have at once a maximum of stylization and a maximum of simplicity.

"A.H. I'm pleased you should mention that, because we did try for simplicity. As a rule, there's a great deal of violence in movies dealing with espionage, and here we tried to avoid that. We used a method of killing that was quite simple; it was as commonplace as the real-life killings you read about in newspaper stories. Claude Rains and his mother try to kill Ingrid Bergman by poisoning her very slowly with arsenic. Isn't that the conventional method for disposing of someone without being caught?

"Usually, when film spies are trying to get rid of someone, they don't take so many precautions; they shoot a man down or take him for a ride in some isolated spot and then simulate an accident by hurling the car down from a high cliff. Here, there was an attempt to make the spies behave with reasonable evil.

"F.T. That's true; the villains are human and even vulnerable. They're frightening and yet we sense that they, too, are afraid.

"A.H. That was the approach we used throughout the entire film. Do you remember the scene in which Ingrid Bergman, after having carried out her instructions to become friendly with Claude Rains, meets Cary Grant to report to him? In speaking of Claude Rains, she says, 'He wants to marry me.' Now that's a simple statement and the dialogue is quite ordinary, but that scene is photographed in a way that belies that simplicity. There are only two people in the frame, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, and the whole scene hinges on that sentence: 'He wants to marry me.' The impression is that it calls for some sort of sentimental suspense around whether she's going to allow Claude Rains to marry her or not. But we didn't do that because the answer to that question is beside the point. It has nothing to do with the scene; the public can simply assume that the marriage will take place. I deliberately left what appears to be the important emotional factor aside. You see, the question isn't whether Ingrid will or will not marry Claude Rains. The thing that really matters is that, against all expectations, the man she's spying on has just asked her to marry him

"F.T. If I understand you correctly, the important thing in this scene isn't Ingrid Bergman's reply to the proposal, but the fact that such a proposal has been made.

"A.H. That's it.

"F.T. It's also interesting in that the proposal comes as a sort of bombshell. Somehow, one doesn't expect the subject of marriage to crop up in a story about spies.

"Something else that impressed me --- and you deal with it again in Under Capricorn --- is the imperceptible transition from one form of intoxication to another, going from liquor to poison. In the scene where Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman are seated together on a bench, she's beginning to feel the effects of the arsenic, but he assumes she's gone back to her drinking and he's rather contemptuous. There's real dramatic impact in this misunderstanding.

"A.H. I felt it important to graduate this poisoning in the most normal manner possible; I didn't want it to look wild or melodramatic. In a sense, it's almost a transference of emotion.

"The story of Notorious is the old conflict between love and duty. Cary Grant's job --- and it's a rather ironic situation --- is to push Ingrid Bergman into Claude Rains's bed. One can hardly blame him for seeming bitter throughout the story, whereas Claude Rains is a rather appealing figure, both because his confidence is being betrayed and because his love for Ingrid Bergman is probably deeper than Cary Grant's. All of these elements of psychological drama have been woven into the spy story.

"F.T. Ted Tetzlaff's photography is excellent.

"A.H. In the early stages of the film, we were doing the scene of Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant driving in the car; she's a little drunk and she's driving too fast. We were working in the studio, with transparencies. On the transparency screen we showed a motorcycle cop in the background; he's getting gradually closer to the car, and just as he goes out of the frame, on the right side, I cut to a cross angle and continue the scene, with the motorcycle cop inside the studio this time, showing him as he pulls up to them and stops the car.

"When Tetzlaff announced he was all set to shoot, I said, 'Don't you think it would be a good idea to have a little light on the side, sweeping across the backs of their necks, to represent the motorcycle headlights that are shown on the transparency screen?'

"He had never done anything like that, and he was not too pleased that I should draw his attention to it. And he said, 'Getting a bit technical, aren't you, Pop?'

"A little incident came up while we were making the picture that was rather sad. We needed to use a house in Beverly Hills to represent the exterior of the big spy house in Rio. The head of the location department sent a minor member of his staff to show me the house they'd selected, a very quiet, little man who said to me, 'Mr. Hitchcock, will this house do?' That little man was the same man to whom I originally submitted my titles at Famous Players-Lasky when I was starting out in 1920.

"F.T. That's awful.

"A.H. Yes, it took me a little while to recognize him; when I did I felt terrible.

"F.T. Did you show him you knew who he was?

"A.H. No, I didn't. That's one of the occupational tragedies of this industry. When I was shooting The Thirty-nine Steps, there were some odd, extra shots to be done, and in order to speed up the production, the producer offered to get someone to do it. When I asked him who he had in mind, he answered, 'Graham Cutts.'

"I said, 'No, I won't have it. I used to work for him; I did the writing on Woman to Woman for him. How can I have him come on as my assistant?'

"And he answered, 'Well, if you won't use him, you'll be doing him out of a job and he really needs the money.'

"So, I finally agreed, but it's a terrible thing, don't you think so?'

"F.T. It is, indeed. But, getting back to Notorious, I wanted to say that a key factor in the picture's success is probably the perfect casting: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, and Leopoldine Konstantin. With Robert Walker and Joseph Cotten, Claude Rains was undoubtedly your best villain. He was extremely human. It's rather touching: the small man in love with the taller woman. ...

"A.H. Yes, Claude Rains and Ingrid Bergman made a nice couple, but in the close shots the difference between them was so marked that if I wanted them both in a frame, I had to stand Claude Rains on a box. On one occasion we wanted to show them both coming from a distance, with the camera panning from him to Bergman. Well, we couldn't have any boxes out there on the floor, so what I did was to have a plank of wood gradually rising as he walked toward the camera."

From Variety's contemporary review of the film: "Production and directorial skill of Alfred Hitchcock combine with a suspenseful story and excellent performances to make Notorious force entertainment.

"The Ben Hecht scenario carries punchy dialog but it's much more the action and manner in which Hitchcock projects it on the screen that counts heaviest. Of course the fine performances by Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains also figure. The terrific suspense maintained to the very last is also an important asset."

From The Movie Guide: "This brilliant Hitchcock offering combines romance, suspense, and international intrigue with unforgettable performances from Grant and Bergman. The thriller trappings are merely trim: what's really at hand is a twisted love affair between Grant and Bergman that hints at sadomasochism. He's untrusting, passive, and unsympathetic; she's shady, aggressive, and alcoholic. It's a dangerous chocolate box of poisoned candy, Hitchcock's ode to the dementia of passion. Dig in. ...

"With the blistering onscreen romance between Grant and Bergman --- two of the most popular stars in Hollywood --- and the creation of one of Hitchcock's greatest 'MacGuffins' --- the secret uranium shipments --- NOTORIOUS emerges as one of Hitchcock's most masterful and sophisticated efforts. The passionate kissing scene in which the lovers devour one another instead of their chicken dinner still retains all of its power. Ingrid Bergman was certainly never sexier: here's the woman who scandalized America with her torrid, extramarital affair. Next to the protagonists, Rains's expert villainy is mama's boyism gone awry. And no wonder. With Mme. Leopoldine Konstantin chomping cigars [sic], Hitch really flails away at motherhood. The camera swoons with us in a dizzying manner. Best shot: the key. You can't miss it."

In Donald Spoto's Notorious, his biography of Ingrid Bergman, he relates the story of what happened to that most important prop in the film NOTORIOUS, the key to the wine cellar. The key, which is one of Hitchcock's all-important objects that circulate among characters (which he uses in his films to indicate power relationships), also had an important real-life meaning to the three principals most involved in the success of the film: Hitchcock, Grant, and Bergman:

"... before the cast of Notorious disbanded, there was the usual send-off celebration, at which Ingrid was deeply touched by words from Cary Grant. He had so much enjoyed acting with her, he told her privately, and he much appreciated her friendship. He felt that the experience of working with her and Hitchcock was the key that would open new doors in his career, and so he had filched an appropriate memento, a prop from the production --- the wine cellar key, which is passed from her hand to his and then back to her in the film. The key, he told Ingrid, would remain a precious souvenir for him ...."

Spoto continues the real-life story of the key when, in 1958, Grant and Bergman had just finished filming INDISCREET:

"[Ingrid] wore one of [the gowns which had been especially designed for her for the film] to a farewell dinner in her honor given by Cary Grant, who had put at Ingrid's place a small, neatly wrapped packet with a gift card from him. She opened it and recognized at once the wine cellar key from Notorious, the prop he had purloined in the hope that it would open a new door in his career. Well, he said, the talisman had done its work in the last dozen years. Now it was to be hers, and he offered it with the loving hope that she, too, would find an auspicious new door."

Spoto resumes the story in 1979, after Bergman had had surgeries for breast cancer and was undergoing radiation therapy in London:

"But that did not prevent her from accepting an invitation to be mistress of ceremonies at the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award to Alfred Hitchcock, held in Beverly Hills on March 7. Fifteen hundred people attended the banquet and watched the film clips honoring the director, whose arthritis made even a few steps terribly painful. Wearing a magnificently layered, royal blue chiffon gown that disguised her surgeries, Ingrid rose to the occasion with enormous grace.

"But at the end of the evening --- instead of thanking the guests, praising Hitch one last time and ending the event as the script had indicated --- Ingrid had one last touch that no one present could ever forget, a gesture that brought to fulfillment the meaning of a certain sentimental object.

"'Now there is just one little thing I want to add before we finish this evening. Hitch, do you remember that agonizing shot in Notorious, when you had built some kind of elevator, a crane with you and your cameraman, and you were shooting this vast party and you came zooming down all the way to my hand, where, in close-up, there was the key to the wine cellar? Well, do you know what? Cary stole that key! Yes, and he kept it for about ten years --- and then one day he put it in my hand, and he said, "I've kept this long enough --- now it's for you, for good luck." I have kept it for twenty years, dear Hitch, and now --- here in my hand --- is this very same key. It has given me good luck and quite a few good movies, too, and now I'm going to give it to you, with the prayer that it will open some very good doors for you. God bless you, dear Hitch --- I'm coming down now to give you the key.'

"Ingrid made her way through the crowd toward the center table, toward Hitch and Cary Grant, who was seated at Hitch's left, beaming with surprise and pleasure. With great difficulty, Hitch rose from his seat and turned to Ingrid, who handed him the key from Notorious. And then Alfred Hitchcock, a man never given to anything like a public display of affection, reached up and put his arms around Ingrid's neck, drew her close, held her tightly and kissed her on both cheeks. 'Hitch struggled so gallantly to stand up for me,' she said later in the evening, 'and I tried to keep the tears from coming --- but I couldn't, and he couldn't, either.'

"While the room echoed with applause, they stood there hugging, these two old, ill friends who had so valiantly finessed a tangled and difficult love, had turned it into a trusting devotion and had given each other and the world (especially in the great Notorious) so very much that was good and deep and true. Ingrid took Hitch's face in both hands, leaned down slightly to gaze lovingly into his eyes, and then drew Cary into the circle of their embrace for this extraordinary moment. Rarely has television captured a moment of such profound emotion, springing without artifice from the deepest private feelings of public people."

NOTORIOUS was nominated for Oscars for Best Supporting Actor (Rains) and Original Screenplay (Hecht). 

Notes for a lecture on the film:


1. Notorious: Bergman bio

2. Mulvey: 1975: “Visual Pleasure & Narrative Cinema”:

                        the way movies unfold is caused by the men who make them

                        sexual difference in classical Hollywood cinema:

                                    gender-specific roles: bound to voyeurism:

                                                male star: aggressive, controls events: looks

                                                female star: passive, objectified: looked at

                        von Sternberg:

Dietrich’s body turned into fetishistic object:

                                    direct delectation of male spectator (both in film & outside of it)

                        Hitchcock: takes it further:

                                    spectator involved w/hero’s predicament:

                                                looking at women thru eyes of hero &

                                                thru subjective presentation of hero

            3. Flitterman-Lewis: “To see & not to be: female subjectivity & the law in

                                                Hitchcock’s Notorious

                        analysis of woman’s look in film:

                                    Alicia Huberman / Ingrid Bergman:

                                                her POV prevails

                                    yet: more visual authority she has:

                                                more distorted her POV becomes

                                    at end: she’s unable to look at all

                        AH: gives Alicia power of the look:

                                    only in order to negate it:

                                                asserting patriarchal power:

                                    law of patriarchy rules


Hitchcock's guilty women:


BLACKMAIL: Alice White: commits murder: gets off?



            Peck: barrister: defends mysterious woman: accused of murdering her husband

            lawyer falls in love with accused: while wife waits on sidelines:

            woman: guilty of murder: punished at end / Peck: reunited withwife



            Bergman in Australia: husband a former convict: convicted of murder his wife committed

            visiting cousin exposes it: falls in love with woman / Bergman reunited with husband at end


STAGE FRIGHT: 1950: flashback: mistake: a lie:

             Todd tells Wyman: Dietrich told him: she murdered husband: Todd helped her clean up:

                        his version: told in flashback: later: find out: flashback a lie: Todd real killer

              flashback: puts blame on woman



            tennis player: wife in love with another man: arranges for old school pal to kill her:

            instead she kills man: self-defense: is charged with murder: but only guilty of adultery


TO CATCH A THIEF: 1955: Grant suspected jewel thief: but really: woman who does burglaries



            character of Eve Kendall: Eva Marie Saint: very much like Bergman in NOTORIOUS

            becomes spy: sleeping with man she doesn’t love: for government


NOTORIOUS: seems to be spy melodrama:

            but espionage activities: really: Hitchcock’s MacGuffin: uranium in wine bottle:

                        just pretext for more serious issues

            serious issue here: common humanity: possibility of love & trust between 2 people:

man: Devlin: Grant: lacks capacity to show affection: smug / unfeeling / controlling

woman: Alicia: Bergman: guilty woman: notorious: alcoholism / promiscuity

            also: guilt: from father’s war crimes vs. US

true theme of film: redemption of these 2 lives: to achieve this:

            both have to lose cynicism: learn to trust 1 another

NOTORIOUS: love story: aspects in common with fairy tale:

            both CIA & Nazis: have diabolical powers     

            Madame Sebastian: version of evil stepmother

            Sebastian's house: villain’s castle: beautiful princess imprisoned: being poisoned to death                      

during screening: look for:


Alicia: guilty woman: motif runs thru film: her drinking: both cause & symptom of her notoriety:

drinking: affects her during course of film: alcohol / wine: drinking to escape public eye:

also: poisoned coffee

how she’s forced into acting / theatricality: cast by agency into role of spy: like casting a film: VERTIGO

            Flitterman-Lewis: Alicia: how much we look thru her eyes:

                     yet: more visual authority she has: more distorted her POV becomes

            what kind of picture is Hitchcock giving us of guilty woman?


moving camera: bird’s eye crane shot: start of party: after Alicia gets key: wide shot of party:

camera leaps over banister: gets closer to Alicia: ends up: tight shot: on key in her hand

shot calls attention to itself: announces presence of author: Hitchcock

1 of most beautiful shots in all his work


allegory of romance / allegory of film: everyone is watching what spies do




Alicia: guilty woman:

Alicia: a woman: not on verge of sexual discovery: more on verge of romantic discovery

man enters her life: Devlin: acts like he’s a monster but in the end he brings romance

            2nd man enters her life: Rains: acts like he brings romance, but in end he’s a monster

            degree of guilt: promiscuity: she’s punished: scene in Prescott’ office: Devlin’s defense of Bergman

attitude of Prescott & other agency men: misogynist: good / bad women: lines strictly drawn:

            talking re: Alicia: behind her back: “that sort” of woman / to her face: pumping her up

            Devlin: objects to way chief talks re: her: Hitchcock: obviously sides w/Devlin:

                      shows dislike for chief’s POV

Alicia: redeems herself: thru love for Devlin / thru acts of patriotism: but: what is she really giving up?

            scene at racetrack: binoculars: what’s left inside her? is she empty inside at this point?

attitude of Devlin towards Alicia: she needs his faith in her & he withholds it:

            performs gestures to her coldly: e.g., tying scarf around waist / knocking her out

                       chicken dinner: she asks for commitment: he calls office

            but: he changes: at most dire point for her: as she’s dying from being poisoned:

                       he finally believes she’s changed


the other man: the villain:

Alex: in end: brutal / manipulative / sexist: but 1 of Hitchcock’s attractive villains


the other woman: the villain:

Madame Sebastian: distrustful of Alicia: cold: penetrating gaze

             way she behaves when Alex tells her re: Alicia: cigarette / death sentence for Alicia

             mother-son relationship: re: power / control

                        parallels with Mrs. Danvers: like Fontaine char in REBECCA:

                                 Alicia going into household run by another woman


S/RS: shot/reverse shot: most common formal device in film:

confrontational: represents battles between them


conflict of love vs. duty: private vs. public duty:

Alicia: helpless & confused: spends entire film in drug-induced, romantic or shell-shocked stupor


crane shot: conveys meaning that this is what sequence is all about:

key: something so small within enormity of space

            if Hitchcock had had shot of ballroom, then cut to closeup of key in Bergman’s hand:

                        this would have implied a connection or contrast of some kind:

            fact that space & time preserved: ties in w/thematic of film:

                        makes metaphorical statement: implies one exists within world other is part of

            also: gives us space we need: scenes before & after: scenes of tension

crane shot over stairs: calls attention to itself: unlike shot of camera moving in on keys:

            what we get from that is what Alicia sees: her point of view

                        crane shot: narrator’s point of view


end of NOTORIOUS: lovers escape world of film:

            escape eyes of spies / escape our gaze, too: compare to ending: THE BIRDS