Movie Project #39: Notorious [1946]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Notorious [1946]

Notorious [1946]
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Genre: Film Noir/Romance/Thriller
Starring: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains
Runtime: 101 minutes

Seeing an Alfred Hitchcock film for the first time is always an exciting experience. Last year, I witnessed a handful with fresh eyes, including the fantastic Vertigo and Psycho (both for this project). For this year’s project, I included another of his most highly-regarded films: Notorious.

Released in Hitchcock’s first decade in America, Notorious is a post-war thriller with film noir elements that also happens to provide one of cinema’s most intriguing love stories. Cary Grant stars as T.R. Devlin, a secret agent who is an important figure in a plan to infiltrate a Nazi organization that has relocated to Rio de Janeiro. In order to do so, the government enlists the help of Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), the daughter of a convicted Nazi spy. While privately against the Nazi beliefs, she still has ties to those in Brazil, and she is sent to seduce their leader, Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains). Her commitment to the job is unparalleled, but there is a wrench in their plans: Devlin and Alicia fall madly in love with each other.

Notorious [1946]

This love triangle leads to some tense moments, as Alicia is asked to do things that were not part of the original plan. She is also tasked with riding that delicate balance between acting in love with Sebastian while still attempting to discover intel about the Nazi operations. Devlin does his best to remain detached, trying not to mix love and his work, and never flat out saying “I love you.” But when your love interest is Ingrid f’n Bergman, it’s hard to stay in check.

There are several noteworthy scenes in Notorious, including many that rank amongst Hitchcock’s most suspenseful. One unforgettable sequence happens at a huge party at the Nazi headquarters. Alicia has stolen a key to the wine cellar, where she is to lead Devlin in hopes of uncovering a secret to the organization’s operations. Everything is going well until the hosts begin running low on alcohol upstairs. Sebastian and an associate start heading downstairs at the same time Devlin and Alicia are investigating the cellar. The suspense builds as the chances of a successful escape grow very slim.

The film’s conclusion is also thrilling, including one of the slowest descents down a staircase that I have ever seen.

Notorious [1946]

Despite being nearly 70 years old, Notorious holds up remarkably well today. The story, while taking place shortly after World War II, is a timeless tale of espionage and romance. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman are a fantastic pairing, two gorgeous Hollywood A-listers with strong chemistry. Claude Rains adds a great deal to the film as well, delivering a performance that somehow makes the audience sympathize with the plights of a Nazi.

It’s a bit shocking that Notorious only received two Oscar nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Claude Rains) and Best Original Screenplay (Ben Hecht). Then again, Hitchcock’s lack of support from the Academy is well-known (he never won for Best Director). Regardless of these oversights, Notorious ranks among his best work, and it is easily one of my favorites from this year’s project. This deserves to be mentioned when others talk about the director’s more popular and critically-acclaimed work (i.e. Psycho, Vertigo, Rear Window, etc.).

9/10

Movie Project #33 and #34: The Godfather: Part II [1974] and Casablanca [1942]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

The Godfather: Part II [1974, Francis Ford Coppola]
The Godfather: Part II [1974, Francis Ford Coppola]
Starring Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall.

As part of our traditional Thanksgiving movie marathon, my girlfriend and I opted to watch the first two Godfather films back to back, as well as a couple of other classics. I had seen the first Godfather before, but that was many years ago. The Godfather: Part II is a fantastic followup to the original, this time focusing on Michael Corleone as the new Don. Michael is an intriguing figure who clings to ideals that are starkly different from his deceased father, and many of his actions make him out to be a cold-hearted bastard. In fact, it was almost hard to watch the film at times simply because Michael was a complete asshole to everyone involved in his life. A phenomenal piece of acting from Al Pacino, but man, what a dick.

There is also a parallel storyline in Part II that shows the early life of Vito Corleone, this time played by Robert De Niro in one of his finest performances. I found this story to be the more fascinating of the two, as it showed Vito’s evolution from a young immigrant arriving on Ellis Island to his rise as the Godfather. The two unique storylines in the film are masterfully connected, culminating in an epic saga that never has a dull moment. Not enough can be said about the all-star cast (Pacino, De Niro, Duvall, Cazale, Keaton, etc.), and the ending is just as powerful as the original’s unforgettable conclusion. It’s not often that a sequel can be considered as good as its predecessor, and many even consider this to be the best of the trilogy. I still prefer the first film, mainly because I actually liked Brando’s Vito Corleone, but there is no mistaking that Part II is another masterpiece. 9/10

Casablanca [1942,  Michael Curtiz]
Casablanca [1942, Michael Curtiz]
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid.

I don’t know what is more shameful to admit: that I hadn’t seen Casablanca before this, or that I had never seen a Bogart film period. It’s easy to see why both Casablanca and Bogart are held in such high regard. The film is such a classic love story, and Bogart is just the man to play the cynical lead, Rick Blaine. Tough on the outside but broken hearted on the inside, Blaine is certainly a memorable character, and the chemistry between Bogart and Ingrid Bergman (as Ilsa Lund) is off the charts. The love triangle between the two of them, and Ilsa’s current husband, Victor Laszlo (Henreid), is brilliant in that all three characters are immensely likable.

One can only imagine how difficult of a decision it would be for all parties involved in this triangle. Will Ilsa run away with her long lost flame? Will Rick help Ilsa and her current lover escape from the Nazis, even though there is clearly still a spark between the two of them? It’s one of those great moments in film where the story could result in a number of endings, but I was very pleased with the final conclusion. It took some major cojones to not go with the typical Hollywood ending, and for that I am very grateful. I liked the movie well enough after watching it, but I just gained a whole new appreciation of the film after sitting down to gather my thoughts and write about it. Simply wonderful. 9/10