It's interesting to watch Notorious, as I did, the day after Casablanca. The first things you notice are rather superficial: how much Claude Rains aged in the three years in between, for instance - though looking at his birth date, the surprising thing really is how he managed to look so young before. But there are more telling differences.

Most of all, Ingrid Bergman is, I'll admit it, a more interesting character here. In Casablanca, she's an ideal being: a beautiful, smart, noble woman who has to make a very difficult choice between two worthwhile men. Her doubts are played out wonderfully, and you can imagine you inspire the passion of both men, but outside of the context of Casablanca, she wouldn't be very narratively interesting. Her Alicia in Notorious, on the other hand, is amazing: self-destructive, smart, full of abandon and desperate to find someone she can love and who can love her back. Witness the scene in which she tries to make a chicken dinner: it's a total failure, but she can laugh about it, and who wouldn't rather have that than a perfectly prepared dinner with a bore? It's amazingly bold for that time, too: it's obvious that not only does she drink too much, but she sleeps around, too.

All of which makes it so unpalatable that by the end of it, to be redeemed by reducing her to a powerless damsel in distress who has to be rescued by a man who's consistently humiliated her throughout. Oh, I'll admit, I got stomach pangs watching that last scene, because Grant and Bergman do have amazing chemistry, but I cannot see a single reason for her loving him so much aside from her own self-loathing. He's pristine, he's a patriotic good guy who would never admit to a mistake, and well, no match for Bogie's Rick, in my opinion.

Is it bad that I found myself sympathizing with Rains? Really, there is so little attention paid to the nefarious nazi plot (a phrase I used before, but I like alliteration, so hey) that it's hard to not see Rains simply as a poor sap fooled by a beautiful woman who betrays him. True to Hitchcock fashion, he's a mamma's boy, but he defies his - very scary - mother to marry Alicia, and what does he get for it?

Oh well. I did love the movie, despite my ranting. It's Hitchcock doing what he does best. And if you're interested in more Hitchcock, Joe Valdez has devoted the whole month of October to his films, so go check it out.

1 comment:

cjKennedy said...

Hah! I totally scrolled down to your number one and didn't see this post before I commented.

It's totally not wrong to sympathize with Claude in this movie...that's part of what makes it awesome. He's the bad guy...and yet...

I don't know, maybe it's just me. I love Claude Rains.

Not quite as much as I love Mr. Grant...but still.