The Noir File: ‘Notorious’ affair is decades ahead of its time

By Michael Wilmington & Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir, sort of noir and pre-noir on cable TV. All movies below are from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK

Notorious” (1946, Alfred Hitchcock). Tuesday, Feb. 12, 10:15 p.m. (7:15 p.m.)

“Notorious” ranks as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best films and Ingrid Bergman as Alicia Huberman is one of the most contemporary of all ’40s noir heroines. In this splendid 1946 suspense thriller, Bergman’s Alicia is a U.S. secret agent assigned to infiltrate a group of Nazis who have resurfaced in South America after WW2. Alicia risks her life to root out the Nazis’ source of uranium, an ingredient in atomic bombs. She also likes to throw parties, expose her midriff (love the sequin zebra-print top) and pursue her man, fellow secret agent T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant). Dev’s easy on the eyes, but he’s suspicious, uptight and seemingly unfeeling.

Their “strange love affair” as she calls it, tinged with cynicism and mistrust, is decades ahead of its time. And their record-breakingly long kisses, which look tame now, were considered extremely racy in 1946. Read the full review here.

Wednesday, Feb. 13

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “The Stranger” (1946, Orson Welles). With Welles and Loretta Young.

6:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m.) “The Window” (1949, Ted Tetzlaff). With Bobby Driscoll and Arthur Kennedy.

12:30 a.m. (9:30 p.m.): “The Narrow Margin” (1952, Richard Fleischer). With Charles McGraw and Marie Windsor.

Thursday, Feb. 14

Joan Fontaine and Sir Laurence Olivier star in “Rebecca.”

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Rebecca” (1940, Alfred Hitchcock). Daphne du Maurier’s supreme gothic romantic thriller about a shy, nameless young woman (Joan Fontaine), picked by a rich, brooding widower, Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier), as his new bride, to replace his late, intimidatingly beautiful, acid-tongued and unforgettable spouse, Rebecca.

To the new bride’s fear and dismay, Rebecca still casts an eerie spell over the De Winter mansion Manderley – as do the house’s spooky, terrifying housekeeper (Judith Anderson) and Rebecca’s rascally seducer cad of a cousin (George Sanders). This elegant and faithful David O. Selznick production is directed, thanks to Selznick’s famous interference, in somewhat fettered, but ingenious style by Hitchcock. One can’t imagine it being done better. “Rebecca” was the Best Picture Oscar winner for 1940: a very good year for Hitchcock, Selznick, Fontaine, Du Maurier – and us.

2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “Spellbound” (1945, Alfred Hitchcock). With Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck.

Saturday, Feb. 16

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “North by Northwest” (1959, Alfred Hitchcock). With Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint.

2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “Bad Day at Black Rock” (1955, John Sturges). With Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan and Lee Marvin.

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The Noir File: ‘Spellbound’ and George Raft Day

By Michael Wilmington & Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on cable TV. All movies below are from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK

Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman star in “Spellbound.”

Spellbound” (1945, Alfred Hitchcock). Sunday, Jan. 13; 4 p.m. (1 p.m.). At a famed psychiatric hospital, the head doctor (Leo G. Carroll) is being replaced by a younger man, Dr. Edwardes (Gregory Peck) – to the surprise and delight of his new colleague Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman), who falls in love with him almost at first sight. Unfortunately, this new boss soon proves to be an impostor, an amnesiac, and maybe even a murderer, wanted by the police. Soon, Constance and “Dr. Edwardes” are on the run. As they try to elude the law, Constance also tries to delve into the dark, traumatized recesses of her lover’s mind, in an attempt to clear him that may wind up condemning them both.

Both “Spellbound” Hitchcock and screenwriter Ben Hecht were deeply interested in Freudian psychiatry, and this “wrong man” thriller was initially intended at least partly as a serious look at psychiatry and psychoanalysis –even though the movie’s source is the somewhat baroque mystery novel, “The House of Dr. Edwardes,“ by Francis Beeding. But the powerful allure of Hitch’s two supremely photogenic co-stars, Bergman and Peck, swerved Spellbound more toward stylish romance than serious analysis. “Spellbound” proved to be one of Hitchcock‘s biggest box-office successes of the ’40s. The famous theremin-laced score is by Miklos Rosza, Rhonda Fleming and Michael Chekhov co-star, David O. Selznick produced, and the film’s hauntingly surreal nightmare sequence was originally designed by surrealist painter Salvador Dali (“Un Chien Andalou“).

Thursday, Jan. 10

4:15 p.m. (1:15 p.m.): “Crime in the Streets” (1956, Don Siegel). With John Cassavetes and Sal Mineo. Reviewed Oct. 13, 2012.

George Raft

Friday, Jan. 11: George Raft Day

7:15 a.m. (4:15 a.m.): “Each Dawn I Die” (1939, William Keighley). With James Cagney and George Raft. Reviewed Aug. 10, 2012.

9 a.m. (6 a.m.) “They Drive By Night” (1940, Raoul Walsh). With George Raft and Humphrey Bogart. Reviewed July 7 2012.

12:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m.): “Background to Danger” (1943, Raoul Walsh). Based on one of Eric Ambler’s first-rate espionage novels, this on-the-edge anti-Nazi thriller, set in Turkey, backs up Raft (an unlikely Ambler hero) with Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet.

Other Raft noirs on Friday include “Johnny Angel” (2 p.m. E.T.), “Nocturne” (3:30 p.m.) and “Race Street” (5 p.m.). [Read more...]

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The Noir File: Six gems by the all-time master of suspense

By Michael Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s weekly guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir on cable TV. All the movies below are from the current schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK

Six by Alfred Hitchcock (1941-59) Friday, Nov. 23, 6:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. (3:30 a.m.- 3 p.m.)

Hitchcock was the movies’ all-time master of suspense – the supreme chronicler of wrong men on the run and notorious ladies in distress, of psychos and vertigo, of scenic spy chases and excruciating murder scenes, of shadows and strangers and suspicion, and most of all, of expert suspense movies, pulse-pounding pictures that got you on the hook fast, and kept you there until the last minute.

He was also the master of film noir, as this six film mini-marathon of movies proves. Dating from the heyday of both Hitchcock and classic noir (1941 to 1959), they’re films that you may have seen before, but that are always welcome for a fresh viewing. Hitchcock was one of the most punctilious, painstaking and brilliantly inventive of all major movie artists and that’s why you can see these pictures over and over. While you’re in the mood, you’ll probably also want to catch the opening of the new movie “Hitchcock,” Sacha Gervasi’s bio-thriller about the making of “Psycho,” with Anthony Hopkins as the master of suspense himself.

Friday, Nov. 23, 6:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m.): “The Dick Cavett Show” (1972). Cavett interviews Hitch, for the release of “Frenzy.”

8 a.m. (5 a.m.): “Under Capricorn” (1949). In this somewhat stiff Australian-set period romance, Ingrid Bergman plays a reclusive alcoholic torn between bad-tempered husband Joseph Cotten and charming visitor Michael Wilding – with Margaret Leighton a scene-stealer as the obsessive housekeeper. One of the director’s rare commercial flops, “Under Capricorn” is still notable for its complex, long-take moving camera scenes (like the ones in “Rope”).

10 a.m. (7 a.m.): “Strangers on a Train” (1951).

Vera Miles and Henry Fonda star in “The Wrong Man,” which is based on a true incident.

11:45 a.m. (8:45 a.m.) “The Wrong Man” (1956). Hitchcock takes a real-life episode –the arrest and conviction of New York musician Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda) for a robbery he didn’t commit – and squeezes out as much suspense as he does from his fictional thrillers. Co-scripted by playwright Maxwell Anderson; with Vera Miles and Harold J. Stone.

1:45 a.m. (10:45 a.m.): “North by Northwest” (1959). One of Hitchcock’s two great spy-chase thrillers (the other is “The 39 Steps”), “North by Northwest” follows a suave but beleaguered Manhattan advertising executive (Cary Grant), who’s mistaken for a spy who doesn’t exist, charged with a murder he didn’t commit, pursued by bad guys (James Mason, Martin Landau) whose machinations bewilder him. Oh and he’s involved with a blonde beauty (Eva Marie Saint) who may want him dead. And then there’s that pesky crop-dusting plane “dustin’ where there ain’t no crops.” One of the best, most typical and most beautifully made Hitchcocks. Ingeniously scripted by Ernest Lehman.

4:15 p.m. (1:15 p.m.): “Suspicion” (1941).

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Dial M for Murder” (1954).

Sunday, Nov. 18

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “Casablanca” (1942, Michael Curtiz).

Tuesday, Nov. 20

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): “Bonjour Tristesse” (1957, Otto Preminger). Smooth as silk and cool as champagne, Preminger’s adaptation of the young French writer Françoise Sagan’s cynical novel, focuses on a brainy young belle (Jean Seberg), whose intense relationship with her playboy father (David Niven) is disrupted by his perceptive fiancée (Deborah Kerr) – a clash that leads to darker currents and conflicts. Seberg’s chilly performance here inspired her role several years later in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless.”

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‘Gilda’ shows that if you’ve got it, you might as well flaunt it

“Gilda” is all about Gilda and that’s the way it should be – for any femme fatale and particularly for Rita Hayworth the most popular pinup girl of WWII, a talented entertainer and Columbia Pictures’ top female star in the mid-1940s. This 1946 movie by director Charles Vidor is essentially a vehicle for the drop-dead gorgeous Hayworth to play a sexy free spirit who lives and loves entirely in the present moment.

Longtime friends Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth had a brief affair during the making of “Gilda.”

Hayworth revels in the sexual power she wields over any man who crosses her path, despite the fact that in post-war America a woman with a mind (and body) of her own spelled nothing but trouble. As the Time Out Film Guide points out: “Never has the fear of the female been quite so intense.” That said, the “independent” Gilda is only briefly without a husband and has to endure a lengthy punishment from her true love.

She first appears, after a devastatingly dramatic hair toss, as the wife of husband Ballin Mundson (George Macready). Suave, but aloof and asexual, Ballin runs a nightclub in Buenos Aires. Gilda passes the time plucking out tunes on her guitar and propositioning other men. Nice work if you can get it.

Enter Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford), an American gambler who runs Ballin’s club. Johnny’s job extends to keeping an eye on Gilda when she’s carousing on the dance floor. Ballin isn’t around much because he’s off trying to form a tungsten cartel with some ex-Nazi pals. But babysitting the boss’ wife (Ballin calls her a “beautiful, greedy child”) is especially tough for Johnny because he and Gilda used to be an item and endured a bitter breakup.

Ballin (George Macready) and Johnny (Glenn Ford) have a tense relationship.

The script is laced with taunts, barbs and innuendo. For example, Gilda tells him: “Hate is a very exciting emotion, hadn’t you noticed? I hate you, too, Johnny. I hate you so much I think I’m going to die from it.” (And some see homosexual undertones in Farrell and Ballin’s relationship.)

Director Vidor, whose other films include 1944’s “Cover Girl” (also starring Hayworth), “A Farewell to Arms” and “The Joker Is Wild” (both 1957), holds his own in the noir genre. “Gilda” is a dark tale (alluding to sexual perversion and repression) and there’s some moody cinematography, courtesy of Rudolph Maté. But Marion Parsonnet’s script, despite many sharp, clever lines, doesn’t hold together and that throws off the pacing. The first third meanders along too slowly while the ending seems abrupt and slapped together.

The plot is thin and vaguely confusing – Ballin is up to no good and at one point is thought to be dead, only to turn up later at a pivotal point in Johnny and Gilda’s romance. They reunite of course and their push-pull tension is the engine that drives the story. Luckily, that tension, combined with solid direction and acting, save the movie.

(The legendary Ben Hecht is an uncredited writer on “Gilda” and if the storyline rings a bell, you might be thinking of “Notorious” also from 1946, written by Hecht, which is another story of ex-Nazis up to no good in South America. Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant play the wary, mistrustful lovers in Alfred Hitchcock’s superior rendering of similar material.)

The chemistry between Ford and Hayworth is about as real as it gets. Longtime friends, they had a brief affair during the making of the movie. In his book, “A Life,” Glenn Ford’s son Peter writes that Vidor coached Glenn and Rita with “outrageously explicit suggestions.” Peter Ford quotes his father as saying: “[Vidor’s] instructions to the two of us were pretty incredible. I can’t even repeat the things he used to tell us to think about before we did a scene.”

Hayworth performs “Put the Blame on Mame,” choreographed by Jack Cole.

According to Peter Ford, this off-screen fling stemmed from Hayworth’s unhappy marriage to Orson Welles. The romance also drew the ire of Columbia Pictures chief Harry Cohn, who reportedly lusted after Hayworth and whom Hayworth rejected. “Gilda” was the second film Hayworth and Ford appeared in together; they worked together three more times afterward as well.

“Gilda” wasn’t a critical hit, but it proved popular with audiences, especially the famous “Put the Blame on Mame” scene.

Choreographed by Jack Cole, a bold and brilliant innovator, the number is as close to a strip tease as was possible in 1946. Hayworth was dubbed by Anita Ellis in that number, though there is some debate as to whether it’s Hayworth’s voice when she runs through the song with Uncle Pio (Steven Geray) earlier in the movie.

Though “Gilda” cemented Hayworth’s celebrity status, her fame came at a price. “Every man I’ve known has fallen in love with Gilda and wakened with me,” she said. But, despite her career ups and downs, five failed marriages and a long struggle with Alzheimer’s, she kept her sense of humor. In the 1970s, Hayworth was asked, “What do you think when you look at yourself in the mirror after waking up in the morning?” Her reply: “Darling, I don’t wake up till the afternoon.”

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The Noir File: As time goes by, ‘Casablanca’ remains sublime

By Michael Wilmington

A noir-lover’s guide to classic film noir on cable TV. All the movies listed below are from the current schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK

Casablanca” (1942, Michael Curtiz) Wednesday, Aug. 29, 10 p.m. (7 p.m.) On the Warner Brothers back lot, in an exotic city that hums with intrigue, we watch one of the movies’ immortal affairs and grandest pictures: “Casablanca” is, in some respects, the perfect Hollywood Golden Age studio movie.

Stuck in the middle: Ilse (Ingrid Bergman) is torn between duty (Paul Henreid) and love (Humphrey Bogart) in “Casablanca,” one of the best Hollywood Golden Age studio movies.

We see the frustrated and tormented but finally sublime passion of gloomy hard-case cabaret owner Rick (Humphrey Bogart, in his most popular role) for scared, on-the-run Ilse (Ingrid Bergman, in hers). Ilse is the emotionally torn woman of mystery whom Rick loved and lost, the angel who won his heart and left him in Paris. She now belongs body and soul, it seems, to the idealistic underground anti-Fascist leader Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). Around them swirl the ideological storms of Nazi-ravaged Europe, at least as Warners saw them.

Humphrey Bogart and Dooley Wilson

And backing them up is one of the all-time great Hollywood supporting casts: Claude Rains as the suave and lecherous Vichy police head Renault; Conrad Veidt as the elegant, murderous Nazi commander Strasser; Sydney Greenstreet as the vaguely sinister rival cabaret owner; Peter Lorre as Ugati, the rat with the papers; S. Z. “Cuddles” Sakall as the lovable fat busybody; Marcel Dalio as the nimble croupier; Curt Bois as the ferret-like pickpocket (“Vultures everywhere!”); and of course that indefatigable piano man Sam (Dooley Wilson) – the fellow who plays (or doesn’t) “As Time Goes By.”

“Casablanca,” which expertly melds several key ’40s Hollywood genres (drama, comedy, noir, spy thriller, love story) was adapted from a truly lousy play “Everybody Goes to Rick’s,” reworked by the Epstein brothers (Julius and Philip) and Howard Koch, and directed by that sometimes underrated master, Michael Curtiz. A big hit in its day and also a multiple Oscar winner, this picture has never stopped pleasing and rousing audiences. It probably never will. (Also available in Warners’ three-disc 70th anniversary edition DVD and Blu-ray.)

Saturday, Aug. 25: Tyrone Power Day

2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “Witness for the Prosecution” (1957, Billy Wilder) From the famous Agatha Christie short story, Billy Wilder expertly fashions one of the screen’s trickiest trial-drama/murder mysteries – with Charles Laughton as the wily, wheelchair-bound barrister, his real-life wife Elsa Lanchester as his long-suffering nurse, and Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich as the incendiary couple caught up in a legendary triple-reverse surprise ending.

Ava Gardner co-stars with Robert Taylor in “The Bribe.”

Tuesday, Aug. 28: Ava Gardner Day

10:45 p.m. (7:45 p.m.): “The Bribe” (1949, Robert Z. Leonard) Robert Taylor, Ava Gardner, Charles Laughton and Vincent Price in the smoky noir tale of a federal guy and a femme fatale. A lot of it wound up in the 1982 Steve Martin-Carl Reiner film noir parody “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.”

Wednesday, Aug. 29: Ingrid Bergman Day

6 p.m. (3 p.m.): “Gaslight” (1944, George Cukor) Set in foggy Victorian gas-lit London, this is the best of all the melodramas and noirs where a bad husband tries to drive his wife insane (or vice versa). Here, Charles Boyer gives the treatment to Oscar-winner Ingrid Bergman. Joseph Cotten, Dame May Whitty and teenage Angela Lansbury are among the bystanders. Based on the Patrick Hamilton stage play (and film) “Angel Street.”

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Blogathon to bring ‘The White Shadow’ to your computer

I am re-running my most recent Hitchcock review to support For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon III, hosted by Ferdy on Films, the Self-Styled Siren and This Island Rod.

Working with National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF), this blogathon aims to bring “The White Shadow,” a 1923 melodrama, to a wider audience. Directed by Graham Cutts, it was also the first film Alfred Hitchcock had a major role in creating (assistant director, screenwriter, film editor, production designer, art director, set decorator). The film was restored in New Zealand and repremiered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences last September at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Los Angeles.

To make “The White Shadow” available for free on its web site, the NFPF needs to raise $15,000. This money will allow the foundation to host and stream the film for four months and to record Michael Mortilla’s marvelous new score. It is the mission of this year’s For the Love of Film Blogathon to raise the money so that anyone with access to a computer can watch this amazing early film.

I hope you’ll read the great posts from fellow scribes and that you’ll make a donation.

‘Notorious’ is the film noir equivalent of an icy flute of Veuve Clicquot

1946/RKO, Vanguard Films/101 min.

“Notorious” ranks as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best films and Ingrid Bergman as Alicia Huberman is one of the most contemporary of all ’40s noir heroines. In this splendid 1946 suspense thriller, Bergman’s Alicia is a U.S. secret agent assigned to infiltrate a group of Nazis who have resurfaced in South America after WW2. Alicia risks her life to root out the Nazis’ source of uranium, an ingredient in atomic bombs. She also likes to throw parties, expose her midriff (love the sequin zebra-print top) and pursue her man, fellow secret agent T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant). Dev’s easy on the eyes, but he’s suspicious, uptight and seemingly unfeeling.

The Production Code stipulated that a kiss could not last more than three seconds.

Their “strange love affair” as she calls it, tinged with cynicism and mistrust, is decades ahead of its time. And their record-breakingly long kisses, which look tame now, were considered extremely racy in 1946.

The Production Code (ie, censors) stipulated that a kiss could not last more than three seconds. Hitchcock obeyed, but followed Bergman and Grant’s first swift kiss with another and another and another. Most importantly, she kisses him, noting that he hasn’t said, “I love you.”

The demands of their work (spying and info gathering) create pressure. Alicia must charm Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), a wealthy, suave and impeccably dressed Nazi. Even though Alex is a high-ranking fascist, we never see him hatching his evil plans, so it’s a bit easier for the audience to put his heinousness on the back burner. Alex dotes on Alicia and is far more emotionally available than the shut-down Dev.

Claude Rains

Leopoldine Konstantin

Before long, Alex proposes to Alicia and gives her quite the rock to seal the deal. Alicia accepts after getting the OK from her unsympathetic and cold boss, Captain Paul Prescott (Louis Calhern).

Living with Alex will let Alicia poke around his stately home, where Prescott reckons trouble is literally brewing, and bring her into frequent contact with baddies like ringleader Eric Mathis (Ivan Triesault), scientific mastermind “Dr. Anderson” (Reinhold Schünzel) and weak link, Emil Hupka (Eberhard Krumschmidt).

Living with Alex also means dealing with the other Mrs. Sebastian, Alex’s mother. Czech-born actress Leopoldine Konstantin, in her only American film, plays the hard and imperious Mrs. Anna Sebastian. When Alex asks Anna to be friendly to Alicia, the battle-ax tartly replies: “Wouldn’t it be a bit much for both of us to be grinning at her like idiots?”

Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) and Dev (Cary Grant) are secret agents assigned to infiltrate a group of Nazis in South America after WW2.

Declaring a shortage of closet space (that’s our girl!), Alicia explores the nooks and crannies of the Sebastian mansion, but finds the wine cellar is off-limits. So, she decides to throw a champagne reception and steal the cellar key from her husband.

She invites Devlin, natch, and the two discover that wine is not the only thing stored in the cellar. (Hitchcock makes his cameo at the shindig, swigging some bubbly.)

Alex realizes the key has been stolen and that his secret is no longer safe, at which point he seeks maternal support. Anna’s fresh out of that, telling him: “We are protected by the enormity of your stupidity, for a time.”

The uranium angle is merely a MacGuffin, Hitchcock argot for a narrative device to advance the plot. The real story is whether Devlin and Alicia can work through their issues, such as his hypocrisy and lack of emotion, her drinking and their mutual game playing, which gets downright cruel. “Our all-too-human capacity for inhumanity is the dark mystery at the heart of ‘Notorious,’ ” writes film scholar William Rothman in his liner notes for the Criterion DVD edition. “And yet, in ‘Notorious,’ the possibility remains alive that the miracle of love can save us from our own perversity.”

This is one of the most beautiful films Hitch ever made, from his gorgeous leads to ravishing cinematography from Ted Tetzlaff – the closeups of Dev and Alicia at the racetrack and the famous crane shot at the mansion before Alicia’s champagne reception are standouts. I also like the imposing silhouettes of Alex and his mother after Alicia susses that they’ve been spiking her coffee. The lighting is magnificent throughout. Using rear-projection, Hitchcock combined footage of the principals filmed on a set with background shots taken in Rio.

The movie clocks in at 102 minutes but it glides by so gracefully that it feels half an hour. Ben Hecht’s sparkling script went through revisions and rewrites with input from Clifford Odets and Hitchcock. (David O. Selznick, on board as producer until he sold his rights to RKO in order to raise cash for another flick, likely tossed ideas around as well. Selznick had eyed Vivien Leigh for the Alicia role.) A few elements of “Notorious” came from a short story by John Taintor Foote called “The Song of the Dragon.”

“Ingrid was very fond of my parents,” recalls Pat Hitchcock O’Connell in her book “Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man.”

The entire cast dazzles and delights; the subtlety of the performances rewards multiple viewings. Hitch even accepted an idea from Bergman on shooting the dinner party scene.

In her book “Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man,” the daughter of Alma and Alfred, Pat Hitchcock O’Connell, recalls that: “Ingrid was very fond of my parents. I remember, she’d finish one film with Daddy and she’d come over, sit on the couch, and say, ‘When do we start the next one?’ ” (Hitchcock O’Connell’s tribute to her mother makes a fun, chatty read and includes some of Alma’s favorite recipes and menus for home entertaining.)

In 1945, Bergman and Hitchcock made “Spellbound” co-starring Gregory Peck and in 1949 Hitch directed her in “Under Capricorn” opposite Joseph Cotten. Also in ’49, Bergman went to Italy to film “Stromboli” with Italian director Roberto Rossellini. Director and star fell in love, and Bergman left her husband Petter Lindstrom for Rossellini. Because of the scandal, Bergman’s reputation in the U.S. suffered, then rebounded; over the course of her career, she earned three Oscars (two for best actress and one for best supporting actress).

One of the most enjoyable and sophisticated films of the black and white era, “Notorious” strikes me as the film noir equivalent of an icy flute of Veuve Clicquot. Cheers!

MGM recently released “Notorious” along with “Rebecca” (1940) and “Spellbound” (1945) on Blu-ray.

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‘Notorious’: noir equivalent of an icy flute of Veuve Clicquot

Notorious/1946/RKO, Vanguard Films/101 min.

“Notorious” ranks as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best films and Ingrid Bergman as Alicia Huberman is one of the most contemporary of all ’40s noir heroines. In this splendid 1946 suspense thriller, Bergman’s Alicia is a U.S. secret agent assigned to infiltrate a group of Nazis who have resurfaced in South America after WW2. Alicia risks her life to root out the Nazis’ source of uranium, an ingredient in atomic bombs. She also likes to throw parties, expose her midriff (love the sequin zebra-print top) and pursue her man, fellow secret agent T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant). Dev’s easy on the eyes, but he’s suspicious, uptight and seemingly unfeeling.

The Production Code stipulated that a kiss could not last more than three seconds.

Their “strange love affair” as she calls it, tinged with cynicism and mistrust, is decades ahead of its time. And their record-breakingly long kisses, which look tame now, were considered extremely racy in 1946.

The Production Code (ie, censors) stipulated that a kiss could not last more than three seconds. Hitchcock obeyed, but followed Bergman and Grant’s first swift kiss with another and another and another. Most importantly, she kisses him, noting that he hasn’t said, “I love you.”

The demands of their work (spying and info gathering) create pressure. Alicia must charm Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), a wealthy, suave and impeccably dressed Nazi. Even though Alex is a high-ranking fascist, we never see him hatching his evil plans, so it’s a bit easier for the audience to put his heinousness on the back burner. Alex dotes on Alicia and is far more emotionally available than the shut-down Dev.

Claude Rains

Leopoldine Konstantin

Before long, Alex proposes to Alicia and gives her quite the rock to seal the deal. Alicia accepts after getting the OK from her unsympathetic and cold boss, Captain Paul Prescott (Louis Calhern).

Living with Alex will let Alicia poke around his stately home, where Prescott reckons trouble is literally brewing, and bring her into frequent contact with baddies like ringleader Eric Mathis (Ivan Triesault), scientific mastermind “Dr. Anderson” (Reinhold Schünzel) and weak link, Emil Hupka (Eberhard Krumschmidt).

Living with Alex also means dealing with the other Mrs. Sebastian, Alex’s mother. Czech-born actress Leopoldine Konstantin, in her only American film, plays the hard and imperious Mrs. Anna Sebastian. When Alex asks Anna to be friendly to Alicia, the battle-ax tartly replies: “Wouldn’t it be a bit much for both of us to be grinning at her like idiots?”

Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) and Dev (Cary Grant) are secret agents assigned to infiltrate a group of Nazis in South America after WW2.

Declaring a shortage of closet space (that’s our girl!), Alicia explores the nooks and crannies of the Sebastian mansion, but finds the wine cellar is off-limits. So, she decides to throw a champagne reception and steal the cellar key from her husband.

She invites Devlin, natch, and the two discover that wine is not the only thing stored in the cellar. (Hitchcock makes his cameo at the shindig, swigging some bubbly.)

Alex realizes the key has been stolen and that his secret is no longer safe, at which point he seeks maternal support. Anna’s fresh out of that, telling him: “We are protected by the enormity of your stupidity, for a time.”

The uranium angle is merely a MacGuffin, Hitchcock argot for a narrative device to advance the plot. The real story is whether Devlin and Alicia can work through their issues, such as his hypocrisy and lack of emotion, her drinking and their mutual game playing, which gets downright cruel. “Our all-too-human capacity for inhumanity is the dark mystery at the heart of ‘Notorious,’ ” writes film scholar William Rothman in his liner notes for the Criterion DVD edition. “And yet, in ‘Notorious,’ the possibility remains alive that the miracle of love can save us from our own perversity.”

This is one of the most beautiful films Hitch ever made, from his gorgeous leads to ravishing cinematography from Ted Tetzlaff – the closeups of Dev and Alicia at the racetrack and the famous crane shot at the mansion before Alicia’s champagne reception are standouts. I also like the imposing silhouettes of Alex and his mother after Alicia susses that they’ve been spiking her coffee. The lighting is magnificent throughout. Using rear-projection, Hitchcock combined footage of the principals filmed on a set with background shots taken in Rio.

The movie clocks in at 102 minutes but it glides by so gracefully that it feels half an hour. Ben Hecht’s sparkling script went through revisions and rewrites with input from Clifford Odets and Hitchcock. (David O. Selznick, on board as producer until he sold his rights to RKO in order to raise cash for another flick, likely tossed ideas around as well. Selznick had eyed Vivien Leigh for the Alicia role.) A few elements of “Notorious” came from a short story by John Taintor Foote called “The Song of the Dragon.”

“Ingrid was very fond of my parents,” recalls Pat Hitchcock O’Connell in her book “Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man.”

The entire cast dazzles and delights; the subtlety of the performances rewards multiple viewings. Hitch even accepted an idea from Bergman on shooting the dinner party scene.

In her book “Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man,” the daughter of Alma and Alfred, Pat Hitchcock O’Connell, recalls that: “Ingrid was very fond of my parents. I remember, she’d finish one film with Daddy and she’d come over, sit on the couch, and say, ‘When do we start the next one?’ ” (Hitchcock O’Connell’s tribute to her mother makes a fun, chatty read and includes some of Alma’s favorite recipes and menus for home entertaining.)

In 1945, Bergman and Hitchcock made “Spellbound” co-starring Gregory Peck and in 1949 Hitch directed her in “Under Capricorn” opposite Joseph Cotten. Also in ’49, Bergman went to Italy to film “Stromboli” with Italian director Roberto Rossellini. Director and star fell in love, and Bergman left her husband Petter Lindstrom for Rossellini. Because of the scandal, Bergman’s reputation in the U.S. suffered, then rebounded; over the course of her career, she earned three Oscars (two for best actress and one for best supporting actress).

One of the most enjoyable and sophisticated films of the black and white era, “Notorious” strikes me as the film noir equivalent of an icy flute of Veuve Clicquot. Cheers!

MGM recently released “Notorious” along with “Rebecca” (1940) and “Spellbound” (1945) on Blu-ray.

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‘Notorious’ quick hit

Notorious/1946/RKO, Vanguard Films/101 min.

One of Alfred Hitchcock’s best films and one of Ingrid Bergman’s best roles. Bergman plays Alicia Huberman, a secret agent working to break up a Nazi enclave in South America. She and fellow spy T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant) fall into a “strange affair” made even stranger when, as part of her spying, she marries Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), a Nazi masquerading as a playboy.

Excellent support from Leopoldine Konstantin as Alex’s bossy mom and Louis Calhern as Alicia and Dev’s cynical boss. An exquisitely beautiful Hitchcock gem.

“Notorious” is the prize in this month’s reader giveaway. To enter the random draw, just make a comment on any post.

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Free stuff from FNB: Win ‘Notorious’ by Alfred Hitchcock

Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in "Notorious"

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I am giving away a DVD copy of the 1946 Alfred Hitchcock classic “Notorious,” starring Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains. Both an espionage thriller and a tortured love story, the movie is considered one of Hitchcock’s finest works and was François Truffaut’s fave. I will run a review in the next few weeks.

(Patricia is the winner of the January reader giveaway, a paperback copy of “We Need to Talk About Kevin” by Lionel Shriver. Congrats to Patricia and thanks to all who entered!)

To enter the February giveaway, just leave a comment on any FNB post from Feb. 1-29. We welcome comments, but please remember that, for the purposes of the giveaway, there is one entry per person, not per comment.

The winner will be randomly selected at the end of the month and announced in early March. Include your email address in your comment so that I can notify you if you win. Your email will not be shared. Good luck!

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Edith, Head of her class: A shrewd woman with a sharp eye and unprecedented success in Hollywood

Famed costume designer Edith Head knew that clothes should underscore an actor’s character, not upstage it. And she applied the same discipline to dealing with Hollywood’s elite, putting every ounce of effort into making them look their absolute best while deflecting attention from herself.

Edith Head

Actress Susan Claassen

A shrewd approach along with her natural talent for design, a gift for navigating studio politics and a tremendous amount of hard work made her one of the movie industry’s most successful women.

In her 60-year career, at Paramount and Universal, she worked on more than 1,131 films, received 35 Academy Award nominations and won eight Oscars, more than any other woman. (Walt Disney, with 26 Oscars, holds the record for a man.)

This savvy lady with her tailored suits, neat little bun and statement specs comes out of the shadows and into the spotlight in “A Conversation With Edith Head,” which opened Friday night at LA’s Odyssey Theatre. And she’s spirited, strong, funny and flawed as played by actress Susan Claassen.

One of her peccadilloes was a disdain for modesty. “I’m not different from other designers, I’m the best,” Claassen tells the audience matter of factly. Another memorable Head aphorism: “You can have anything you want in life, if you dress for it.”

Tinseltown anecdotes and stories of working with the stars are sprinkled throughout the play, which is set in 1981. Head died in October of that year at age 83, still under contract to Universal, having just completed the Steve Martin film “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.”

The show recreates Head's cocktail dress for Bette Davis (far left) and a gown for Elizabeth Taylor (far right).

The format includes questions from the audience as well as free advice on your sartorial choices. Since Claassen called me stunning and asked if I was a model, naturally I think the woman is the greatest genius known to Western civilization. ;)

But, joking aside, Claassen is brilliant in this role, capturing the character’s gestures, mannerisms and demeanor without mimicry or impersonation. Claassen reveals the enormous power Head wielded through her sketch pad and pencil as well as the sacrifices (15-hour days, six days a week in her heyday), self-doubt and sadness that were facets of her extraordinary life.

A closer look at the recreated dress for Bette Davis in "All About Eve" from 1950.

Claassen, who recently received an Ovation nomination for Lead Actress in a Play for this part, co-wrote the work with Paddy Calistro, author of the book “Edith Head’s Hollywood.” The idea came to Claassen while watching a TV biography about Head.

Says Claassen: “Not only do I bear a striking resemblance to Edith, but we share the same love for clothes and fashion. … There are many myths about her, but she was a discreet, tenacious personality. She knew whose hips needed clever disguising and made sure those legendary stars always looked the part.”

Head was a frequent collaborator with Alfred Hitchcock and added élan to the wardrobe of film noir stars, dressing, for example, Barbara Stanwyck in “Double Indemnity,” Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Blvd.,” Ingrid Bergman in “Notorious,” Grace Kelly in “Rear Window” and “To Catch a Thief,” Kim Novak in “Vertigo,” and Tippi Hedren in “The Birds.”

She also dressed Bette Davis as the glamorous actress Margo Channing in “All About Eve” and designed Elizabeth Taylor’s white ball gown in “A Place in the Sun.” In fact, she worked with nearly all the Hollywood greats, including Mae West, Clara Bow, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Sean Connery, Robert Redford and Paul Newman.

When in 1967 Paramount chose not to renew her contract, she was hired by Universal, thanks to her friendship with Hitchcock, who perhaps really was her favorite director, despite her practical policy of naming her favorite director as the one for whom she was currently working.

Opening night fell on Head's birthday. Cake and champagne were in order, natch.

Though Head’s motto was to accentuate the positive and camouflage the negative, the chapter of her childhood spent in the Nevada desert was good training for holding her own in Hollywood. She was, she said, used to dealing with scorpions.

Opening night coincided with what would have been Head’s 114th birthday so, after the show, party guests sipped champagne and ate red-velvet birthday cake, donated by Susie Cakes.

“A Conversation With Edith Head” is a guest production at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, 90025. It runs Thursdays through Sundays through Nov. 13. (The play premiered in Tucson, Ariz., in 2002 and has since played in many US cities and abroad.) Tickets are $40. For more information: 310-477-2055; www.edithhead.biz.

Photos from the production are copyright of Film Noir Blonde.

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