The Devil and T.R. Devlin

Or: WEAPONS-GRADE POMMARD.

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Was slightly perplexed by the Art Nouveau font, but now suspect it’s the film’s first suggestion that the audience should not approach this as a straight thriller.

At last, I have watched NOTORIOUS. The first theory I have formed is the theory about why I never watched it all the way through before: I was watching it as a thriller. Viewed in this way, the early scenes may seem unnecessarily lengthy and detailed, in need of ellipsis to get us to the suspense scenes faster. But this is an idiotic demand to place upon Hitchcock and Hecht, I now realise. NOTORIOUS is a relationship drama first and a thriller second. It’s an early expression of the theme of MARNIE: “Everybody’s a pervert,” only here, “Everybody’s a neurotic.”

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The inverted POV shot, first used by Hitch in DOWNHILL.

The opening scenes, which contemporary audiences would have had no trouble enjoying as romance, (im)pure and simple, without any foolish demands for thrill-sequences, set up Ingrid Bergman as Alicia Huberman, the hard-living wild child of a convicted Nazi, and Cary Grant as TR Devlin, the US agent in the employ of Ambassador Trantino, who recruits her to spy for the US. But apart from the mission, they set up the relationship and its in-built problems. Devlin’s moralistic disapproval of Alicia doesn’t go away when he falls in love with her, and it will colour his responses to all her actions, leading the pair into perilous straits, emotionally and in terms of real physical jeopardy. Later.

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NOT a good sign if Cary Grant brings you milk this early in a relationship. Fortunately, when the glass is moved, it no longer glows, and appears to be some kind of hangover cure concoction. No poisoning until later. Hitchcock sometimes seems to be playing with the idea that audiences might recognise some situations from SUSPICION.

The celebrated kissing scene should really be acclaimed in terms of its superb placing in the story, since it’s followed sharply by the come-down of Grant hearing about the mission and presenting it to Bergman as if he expects her to accept it — patriotically, he doesn’t feel he can talk her out of it, so he leaves the choice with her. She understandably resents him for this, while he in turn resents her for accepting the filthy task of wooing Claude Rains.

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All leading up to the beautiful deadened moment when Grant looks around for the Champagne bottle he’s left behind at his bosses office. Watching the film as a partial grown-up, I find this wine bottle more involving than the later ones filled with Uranium.

I was distracted during Claude Rains’ dinner scene by the fact that he seems to be either slightly drunk, or having trouble with his dentures. At any rate, there’s a mushy slur to his voice here which thankfully vanishes later. Now the movie becomes an adultery drama, like THE PASSIONATE FRIENDS only with spying — Ann Todd, that film’s star, would pop up in Hitchcock and Selznick’s next “collaboration.” Her scenes with Claude in David Lean’s movie feel almost like a non-thriller remake of the Hitchcock.

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And then there’s mom. Entering down a long flight of stairs, like Dracula, and marching into a big scary close-up, exactly like Christopher Lee’s DRACULA, Claude’s materfamilias, played by “Madame Konstantin,” is the second really nasty Hitchcock mother — for the first you have to go all the way back to EASY VIRTUE. This is not a constant figure in Hitchcock’s cinema, although critics like to harp on about it. But Madame K is so fierce, she does rather counterbalance the positive impression made by Patricia Collinge in SHADOW OF A DOUBT.

The real business now is adultery, not espionage. It’s slightly daft that the couple have so much trouble sneaking away together at the party, since all that’s needed is for Alicia to slip the wine cellar key to Devlin and point him at the door, then she could distract her husband and everything would be dandy. But this pair of love-birds really want to be together, the whole spying thing is practically an alibi for their elicit relationship. Indeed, if it weren’t for the atomic Nazi plot-line, the heroes’ behaviour would be completely unacceptable to the censor.

I seem to be racing through this one with undue haste — possibly because I don’t know it as well as others, but more likely because after my marathon session with THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER, I’m a spent force. But I know you’ll all chip in with your thoughts to shore up this underweight post.

Amazing crane shot of key! Of course I’d seen this extract in many documentaries. In context, it’s interesting because it doesn’t add new information, or nothing that a regular establishing shot couldn’t add, but is a kind of stylistic flourish serving as an overture to the big party suspense scene. As Hitch said, it tells us that within this grand setting, a miniscule object will play a crucial role.

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Amazing repeat shot of Claude Rains mounting the stairs, just like the one of Cary Grant in SUSPICION. Fiona suggested that at any moment he might turn back, having forgotten to fetch the luminous milk. Of course, in this movie it’s coffee that’s nearly fatal to the heroine, suggesting that Hitchcock was plotting to ruin the great American breakfast forever. If you eliminated all the dodgy foods and drinks in Hitchcock’s cinema, from cigarette-studded eggs to everything prepared in FRENZY, to cat (RICH AND STRANGE), you’d have the basis for a pretty good weight-loss regime. Maybe that’s the hidden secret behind REDUCO, The Obesity Slayer…

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The last third of NOTORIOUS ramps up the suspense as Grant and Bergman consistently mislead each other and make their problems worse, as each tries to force an admission of love from the other. It’s Grant who cracks first, rescuing Bergman and bringing about a brilliantly neat happy ending which solves the problem of those pesky Nazis and wraps up the love story all in one. No wonder this took ages to come up with (many many drafts with hopeless, lame, tragic endings) because it’s really quite intricate. Clifford Odets did uncredited work on the love scenes in this, where Hecht’s unromantic spirit refused to take flight. Generally, NOTORIOUS has far better dialogue than SPELLBOUND, its predecessor — I think Hecht was uncomfortable writing for psychoanalysts. Of course, another significant difference this time is that the project passed out of Selznick’s hands before filming: DOS supervised the scriptwriting process, but had no control over the movie’s final form. The quality of which is another argument against those who see Selznick as an essential guiding force for Hitchcock at this time. THE PARADINE CASE, next week’s Hitch, shows what happened when DOS picked up the reins again, and by all accounts it ain’t pretty.

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47 Responses to “The Devil and T.R. Devlin”

  1. I made the same mistake — on first viewing I took it as an unsatisfactory thriller. Later I realised it’s a wonderfully bitter romance, and Notorious is now one of my favourite Hitchcock films.

  2. Ugh!

    I hought I had forgotten FRENZY’s Ghastly Margaritas!

  3. Claude Rains is so wonderful in this. He’s infinitely more sympathetic than Cary Grant, and obviously loves Bergman more — and not in a 70’s-movie-Nazi way (The Damned, The Night Porter) either.

    So while the Nazis are defeated — so is True Love.

  4. Fiona points out that Rains IS poisoning Bergman to death throughout the third act, which might argue against his being the truer love. Admittedly he backs down and goes meekly to his death (all the Nazis seem to accept martyrdom quite peacefully in this film) but only when he’s been outmaneuvered.

    Grant by contrast is quite harsh, and has to learn to trust Bergman during the story. Despite being reduced to a frail state at the end, she’s won, forcing him to admit his love. There’s also that interesting line of his, “I’ve always been afraid of women.” I can’t imagine many leading men today agreeing to say that, at least not without a lot of clarification.

  5. Christopher Says:

    I need to see this one again myself..It was voted most peoples favorite Hitch in a recent survey i took..??=:o/?

  6. It does pack a considerable amount of star power. Bergman gets a really cute drunk scene (and her terrorizing Cary with her reckless driving anticipates Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief), though Grant has to mute his charm a bit for the story’s sake. He’s still debonair as hell though. And the “bitter romance” is really well worked through.

  7. Well Cary Grant always WAS afraid of women. Hence Randolph Scott.

  8. All the more reason you might think he’d be anxious about that line, but he seems to have been remarkably free of that kind of hang-up. As long as you didn’t backlight him and make his ears glow, he was a happy man.

    (Cinematographer Chris Challis: “I’m sorry to say I found him the biggest old woman I have ever worked with.”)

  9. Christopher Says:

    Cary on Acid!….Carry on Acid

  10. Tony Williams Says:

    Very insightful reading, David C. Yes, it is a “relationship drama” rather than a thriller. Both Andrew Britton and Robin Wood recognize this and have written some very insightful comments about the film.

  11. The thriller elements do come in, and there are some very suspenseful moments, but it is one where the character dynamics totally drive it. No wonder Hitch used it as a great example of the MacGuffin’s insignificance. Though Selznick got so excited about the potential topicality of the uranium gimmick, he wanted to shoot as soon as possible, even if it meant losing Cary Grant…

    Yes, Cary experimented with LSD. So did Fellini, having recordings made of everything he said. I wonder where those tapes are now?

  12. Arthur S. Says:

    One thing that makes NOTORIOUS so very unusual…

    It is the only spy film in history with a gun nowhere in sight. The way power is struggled over is by manipulative emotional exchanges. It’s a very bitter love story at heart, love expressed by hate and cruelty. Its key predecessor is Sternberg’s DISHONORED which has a similar love story between Dietrich and MacLaglen. But even Sternberg used guns.

    Its quite adult and sophisticated in theme for its time, no wonder it had to be made on the run.

    The crane shot to the key is a sequel to the one in YOUNG AND INNOCENT and the one in MARNIE makes a trilogy. These repititions and carry over from earlier films is of course the bearings of an auteur’s fingerprints. If you are going to steal from yourself do it with style.

    One thing that has to be said is that while I love NOTORIOUS, it has never been a personal favourite of mine in the way SUSPICION is or MARNIE. Formally it may be a better film and have fewer flaws but those other films I like more.

  13. david wingrove Says:

    I once interviewed the great Harry (DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS) Kumel, who told me NOTORIOUS was one of his favourite films. I quote:

    “It is the all-time great film about prostitution. Not prostitution of the body – which does not matter at all – but prostitution of the emotions. Ah, how painful that is!”

  14. Beautiful. Another thing that makes the film so dark is how Claude Rains is irrelevant to Ingrid as a person. He’s just an inconvenient problem to be solved. And at the end, when he’s begging for his life, she’s smiling at Grant, completely oblivious.

  15. David Boxwell Says:

    NOTORIOUS is perhaps the greatest depiction of the dynamics of sadomasochism in Hollywood (the classic period) history. The fact that Grant carries off the perversity of the character so well is a testament to how underrated he was as an actor. One of many subtle details and unspoken implications: Devlin’s sense of his own humiliation is compounded by Alicia’s marriage, not to another virile rival, but to a mother-ridden bi/homosexual (Rains plays him as way too interested in Devlin’s looks, and in effete style in general). And Devlin is the instigator of his own humiliation by arranging the marriage in the first place.

    There is a redux of the theme and character in NORTH BY NORTHWEST when Roger mistakenly assumes Eve has betrayed him and viciously humiliates her in front of Vandamm and his homosexual henchman (the auction scene). Again, Grant is superb, all the more so since it’s shocking to see him violate his own star persona to such a degree in these two films.

  16. David Boxwell Says:

    The OTHER great study in sadomasochism from 1946: Vidor’s GILDA. Johnny-Gilda-Ballen just can’t help themselves from torturing each other, and there are parallels with the Devlin-Alicia-Sebastian triad. Younger men with shady pasts try to control highly sexualized women who marry sexually ambiguous older, richer men.

  17. David Boxwell Says:

    Both NOTORIOUS and GILDA, I just realized, have South American urban settings. Presumably such perverse games between men and women could NEVER happen on American soil . . .

  18. Not NORTH American, anyway. I think Sternberg is the champ of sadomasochistic byplay in classic Hollywood, although he’s more pre-code I guess. But the twisted emotional interrelations in Gilda and Notorious are quite something.

    One thing about Grant, he could play hard and brutal very well when the part required it. And because he such a great light comedian, it’s all the more startling.

    Yes, possibly Rains’ “jealousy” is just a sign of his interest in Grant, I hadn’t considered that. A show of jealousy is the perfect alibi for obsessing over CG. And his earlier interest in Bergman could be accounted for by the need to establish heterosexual credentials: a colleague’s daughter would be a convenient beard. Or are we reading too much into this? It would tie in with the weird lisp he affects during the first dinner scene.

  19. Arthur S. Says:

    It does say a lot however on how Americans behave outside the US, becoming more perverse and absurd and caricaturish. There’s also Huston’s BEAT THE DEVIL.

    In any case, as for native soil S&M, Aldrich has given us KISS ME DEADLY, Nicholas Ray in…ON DANGEROUS GROUND, IN A LONELY PLACE, BIGGER THAN LIFE, Joseph Lewis in GUN CRAZY and Billy Wilder in ACE IN THE HOLE(there’s actually a truck with the sign S&M Circus in that film). Oh can’t forget SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS. Kirk Douglas again in Minnelli’s THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL. Mankiewicz gets in on the action with SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER. Elia Kazan never one to back down has A FACE IN THE CROWD to his credit vis-a-vis the relationship between Griffith and Patricia Neal. Oh and Patricia again in Vidor’s THE FOUNTAINHEAD.

  20. And Hitchcock continues the tortured relationships in Vertigo, Marnie etc.

    For a good angst-ridden relationship movie, I can’t recommend Swing High, Swing Low enough, it’s really something special.

  21. Arthur S. Says:

    Oh and Robert Ryan as Howard Hughes in CAUGHT is a prime sado-masochist. Fritz Lang dealt mostly with sadists in his films, but S&M is central to SCARLET STREET and WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS.

  22. Arthur S. Says:

    Oh and 20th Century by Hawks is a screwball comedy about a sado-masochistic couple, starring Carole Lombard. That element of torture as a turn-on is elevated to nutty proportions in BRINGING UP BABY and MONKEY BUSINESS.

    I’ve never seen SWING HIGH, SWING LOW, I’ve heard it as a predecessor to Scorsese’s NEW YORK, NEW YORK. Another Scorsese favourite is LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME with James Cagney incarnating a brutal sado-masochist full of hate. Calm, rational George Cukor dealt with in GASLIGHT and A DOUBLE LIFE, and with James Mason in A STAR IS BORN.

  23. Swing High Swing Low is a masterpiece — and a great inflluence on Marty’s most magificent maudit New York New Yok.

    Hitchcock might well have Gildad Notorious though Grant-Rains interplay, but he never goes quite that far. Leave us no forget that Cary turned down Rope. It was WAY too close for comfort. Dall and Granger commit the murder in order to “out” a professor they think is gay. With James Stewart they’re wrong. With Grant. . . .

    Barbara Steele calls Grant “the best pressed suit you ever owned.”

    As for LSD, that explains the marriage to Diane Cannon. Talk about “It was the 60’s!”

    But hey he got a lovely daughter out of it so . . .

  24. David Boxwell Says:

    Hecht’s willingness to explore sexual and emotional perversity: check out the movie he directed himself in 1946, THE SPECTER OF THE ROSE, about a homicidal, schizophrenic male ballet dancer, enacted by the only ostensibly heterosexual Russian “Ivan Kirov”. Alex Sebastian’s desire for a “beard” should not be underestimated.

  25. It was apparently Betsy Drake who introduced Cary to LSD, which he claimed gave him “inner peace.” So he then divorced Drake and married Dyan Cannon, who left him citing his habit of spanking her for disobedience as the deal-breaker. This is a very personal definition of inner peace, I think.

    The Hecht sounds striking. All that and Judith Anderson as “Madam La Sylph”!

  26. Comden & Green were HUGE fans of Hect-MacArthur’s The Scoundrel with Noel Coward. They saw it when it came out and committed practically all of it to memory. Jack Buchannan in The Band Wagon is a benign “Tony Mallare.”

  27. I might just have to check out that movie. Coward is a very strange idea for a Hollywood star.

    Saw a documentary about George Martin’s celebrity cover version Beatles album, where GM is directing Jim Carrey to sing the line “Sitting in an English garden,” from I Am the Walrus in a Noel Coward voice. But alas, Carrey doesn’t appear to know who the hell Coward is/was.

  28. Ben Hecht’s forays into direction and co-direction are uniformly fascinating–and all have a component of Notorious-style rough love

    Angels Over Broadway (which Hecht made with camera genius Lee Garmes) is a flawed film, I suppose–but it’s a one of my favourite products of the studio era

  29. Garmes also shot The Coward, I see. OK, I’m going to investigate these.

  30. Garmes was DP for Goulding’s NIGHTMARE ALLEY, his name will always stand out for me for that reason alone.

  31. Also Shanghai Express, and next week’s Hitchcock, The Paradine Case. His lustrous work is sure to be a stand-out in that oft-derided film.

  32. Arthur S. Says:

    He also shot Nick Ray’s THE LUSTY MEN, a neglected supermasterpiece

  33. Arthur S. Says:

    And we’ll always have Scarface…

  34. What a remarkable career. Lee Garmes and Bert Glennon always made the most of that silvery luminosity in nitrate stick, without stinting on the tenebrous shadows…

  35. I’ve had THE LUSTY MEN on VHS for a very long time, I taped it off TCM some time ago. On the basis of your calling it “a neglected supermasterpiece”, I’m going to pull it out and give it a look very soon. Good God, SCARFACE and NIGHTMARE ALLEY, “remarkable” is the operative word here.

  36. The Lusty Men is magnificent. I have zero interest in rodeo, but Ray finds a little community he can get into, and he has a lot of fun with the characters. One of his sweetest love stories: Mitchum of course is excellent, and Hayward fantastic too. I had tears in my eyes when it ended…

  37. David E., outstanding YouTube clip, the subdued dynamism between the two principals is exquisite. Been wanting for the longest time to acquire THE SCARLET EMPRESS, but on the basis of this I’ll be on the hunt for SHANGHAI EXPRESS as well.

  38. “Zero interest in rodeo”? Buckaroo, let’s get with the program, yippie-eye-oh-kye-ay!

  39. David Boxwell Says:

    David E: these stiff-necked Brits like Clive Brook get their S & M apprenticeships as boys in public school (Working-class Grant an exception, of course). They all become dreadful brutes, really. Who also enjoy a damned good thrashing when the mood strikes them. He says Marlene’s hand is trembling, but I don’t see it (or maybe that “primitive” Chinese train just made it shake, since she’s too cool to show any overt emotion).

  40. I see her hand trembling after the fact, after he’s brought it to our attention. Watch it again, and correct me if I’m mistaken.

  41. Well we don’t get a close-up of the hand, but no matter. I’m sure it’s trembling.

  42. She makes a little gesture with her smoking fingers, and then she kind of wiggles them nervously. I guess the trembling is only meant to be apparent to him.

    Dietrich: “What’s he like, this Clive Bwook I’m to play opposite?”
    Sternberg: “He’s a CHIN.”

  43. David Boxwell Says:

    I’m still not seeing trembling, just a wee twitch o’ the fingers. I still think he’s, um, “projecting.” She’s not as emotionally demonstrative as he wants her to be. In any case, cool as she is, she can’t hold a candle to the sly insolence of Anna May Wong.

    I once read that Brook’s facial immobility in SE was due to a full monty face lift done just before the film.

  44. Brook certainly is a prize dick in this film. Fascinating to see him sympathetic and interesting in Underworld — you’d never think it was the same guy. Here he takes the stiff-upper-lip thing to apply to his entire head and torso. It’s like he’s been sculpted from Botox.

  45. David Boxwell Says:

    And yet his brilliant “On Approval” (43) would suggest that he was smart enough to send up his star persona (and I always liked his actress daughter, Faith).

  46. I get the impression he was versatile, and he just chose to play the stiff characters as genuinely stiff. I’ve heard a snippet of audio interview where he sounds lively, and remarks that “Old Jo” had a decent sense of humour one you got past his defenses.

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