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Hitchcock’s “Notorious” gets a complete Criterion 4K restoration

Updated: Apr 13, 2020


Cary Grant plays U.S. intelligence agent T. R. Devlin, who arrived to rescue German-born Alicia Huberman from her mission to infiltrate a post World War II Nazi cell in Brazil.

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Blu-ray, 1946, Unrated

Best extra: “Once Upon a Time … ‘Notorious’” documentary

THIS MASTERPIECE is clearly one of Hitchcock’s top three movies of all time – joining “Vertigo” (1958) and “Psycho” (1960). It stars Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, and Claude Rains, in an unusual love/suspense tale set at the end of World War II, when Nazis appeared in South America seeking black market uranium for a possible weapon of mass destruction.

Bergman plays party girl Alicia Huberman, whose father has been sentenced to 20 years for supporting Nazi causes during the war. She’s recruited by American agents to infiltrate a community of Germans living in Brazil and seduce a Nazi named Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains). Grant plays agent T.R. Devlin, her U.S. handler, who’s drawn to her. Their onscreen kiss, lasting 2 minutes and 43 seconds, is considered one of the hottest ever filmed. It wasn’t a constant kiss; censorship ruled that out with a three-second rule with each touch of the lips. But they’re nose to nose, undulating from the balcony to the front door, like a ballet without a single cut.

During his commentary, originally recorded for a 1990 Criterion laserdisc, film historian Rudy Behlmer says, “Hitchcock felt they should remain in an embrace and [we the audience should join them].” In a second commentary, Hitchcock scholar Marian Keane says, “It’s a single close two-shot… they are in love, but their love isn’t perfect.” And, during the documentary “Once Upon a Time … ‘Notorious,’” produced for French TV, film critic David Thomson agrees that Devlin and Alicia are trapped in a hostile relationship. She’s fallen deeper and deeper into Sebastian’s world, eventually marrying him.

Devlin keeps a watchful eye on the steering wheel since Alicia is intoxicated.

Alicia is stopped for speeding and Devlin flashes his credentials, and the officer allows Alicia to go without a ticket.

The next morning Devlin provides a hangover remedy cocktail, while Hitchcock provides Alicia's POV angle.

Hitch ended up changing Bergman’s character from a prostitute, as in the screenplay he co-wrote with Ben Hecht – who also handled “Spellbound” (1945) starring Bergman and Gregory Peck – into a gold-digger to satisfy the censors. Producer David O. Selznick, who brought Hitchcock to the U.S., bought the rights to a 1920s newspaper serial in which an actress was persuaded to sleep with an enemy spy. “Notorious” was indirectly inspired by the serial, which itself was based on the story of Frenchwoman Marthe Richard, who used her charms during World War I. Once the “Notorious” script was finished, Selznick decided to follow Hollywood’s unwritten rule and shipped the screenplay to J. Edgar Hoover for approval, since the storyline involved the F.B.I., says Behlmer. Hoover wrote back on June 8, 1945, and requested all references to the F.B.I. be scratched and changed to “intelligence agents,” to avoid any international complications with the South American country in question.

Selznick ended up selling the complete project, including script, stars and director, to RKO Studios for around $500,000. A second unit would capture scenes around Rio de Janeiro, while the stars stayed in the U.S., and were filmed at the RKO studio and around Los Angeles.

One continues shot for two-minutes and 43 seconds – a passionate love scene between Devlin and Alicia.


Alicia excepts her mission and reconnects with German-born Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains).

Alicia meets with Devlin, who is posing as a public relations representative, at a Rio racetrack. She tells him Sebastian is her new "playmate." The scene is duplicated in Mission: Impossible II" (2000) with a similar storyline between Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and Nyah Hall (Thandie Newton).


The disc also includes four new featurettes. In the first, “Powerful Patterns,” film scholar David Bordwell, analyzes the climactic final scene, when Devlin attempts to rescue Alicia after the Germans discover she’s really working for the Americans and planned to poison her for a slow death. “It’s a scene packed with suspense, anxiety and hot passion, disproving critics who only thought of Hitchcock as a cold technician,” says Bordwell.

The second, “Glamour and Tension” has cinematographer John Bailey examining “Notorious’s” visual style, which he says is part early film noir with dark shadows, while the rest of the lighting is delicate and subtle in classic Hollywood studio style. Bailey discusses the famous Alicia “POV” shot when, after a night of heavy drinking, she sees Devlin at a crooked angle, then straight, as he walks toward her, and then eventually upside down. In “Poisoned Romance,” with author Donald Spoto (“The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock”), he says “Notorious” asks these questions: When does patriotism border on exploitation? When does espionage border on poisonous fidelities? When does flirtation border on sexual blackmail? These are the themes and motifs of Hitchcock’s film says, Spoto.

And, lastly “Writing with the Camera” features new and archival interviews with scholars Steven D. Katz and Bill Krohn, several storyboard artists, production designer Robert F. Boyle and others. It examines Hitchcock’s use of storyboards, which was introduced to him by Selznick, who used them extensively during “Gone With the Wind,” so the producer's vision would be followed by the director. Hitchcock flipped the control of the visuals to the director and the storyboards became his blueprint. A number of side-by-side video highlights from the crude drawings to the actual footage illustrate a perfect match.

During the French documentary, you’ll learn that Hitchcock went back to England after WWII and supervised the editing of Allied newsreel footage from German concentration camps. It was assembled into “Memory of the Camps,” intended to be shown to the German people. “He specifically wanted to put the pieces together so it would shock them, but in a way they would believe, and be burned into their minds,” says film historian/author Sidney Gottielb, Ph.D. at Sacred Heart University. Hitchcock’s name would have guaranteed an audience, but at the last moment, it was pulled. The British government felt it would demoralize the German people in the western part of the country, while it would never be shown in the eastern section controlled by the Soviets. A version was eventually shown on U.S., British and French TV in the 1980s after Hitchcock’s death.

Devlin searches for clues in the wine cellar.

The plot thickens with a discovering in the wine cellar and Sebastian finds Devlin and Alicia in an embrace outside the exterior basement door near the wine cellar.

Sebastian's mother ridiculous him for marrying Alicia, when they discover she's working for the U.S. government.


WOW, what a difference. The new 4K master, which is the basis of the Criterion Blu-ray is far superior, with sharpness and balanced gray-scale, to the previous Blu-ray from MGM (2012). The original camera negative was the primary source for the scan (1.37:1 aspect ratio), but two second-generation film negatives from the Museum of Modern Art and the British Film Institute filled the gaps for sections that were too damaged. Warner Bros. scanned each frame from all three sources, which took months. Then, the restoration work was handled by Walt Disney Company and Criterion, which involved digital cleaning, repair work, and gray-scale balancing. The natural film grain is evident throughout the 102 minutes, for that cinematic feel. Clarity is outstanding – especially the close-ups and scenes from the camera negative. Sharpness and contrast levels drop a notch or two from the second-generation moments.


The original mono soundtrack was first restored in 2001 from a 1954 35mm release print created from second-generation negative, which Criterion handled the clean-up.

This Criterion favorite has been a part of my collection since the laserdisc days, and it doesn’t get any better than this.

― Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer

Intelligence officer Paul Prescott (Louis Calhern) meets with Alicia for the latest information on the Nazis. Alicia shows signs of poison in her body, complaining about the brightness of the sunlight and Prescott turns down the window shades.

Sebastian's mother continues to place the poison in Alicia's coffee.

Everything becomes a blur for Alicia. Everything becomes a blur for Alicia.

Devlin arrives to rescue Alicia from Sebastian's mansion.


Criterion Collection featurette clip



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