****/**** Image B Sound B- Extras C+
starring Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Louis Calhern
screenplay by Ben Hecht
directed by Alfred Hitchcock
by Walter Chaw Other than Psycho, the most examined, most carefully raked-through picture in Hitchcock's filmography might be the cold, meticulous, perfect Notorious. It serves as a model for technique, offered as the pinnacle of Hitchcock's early American period and used as proof by some that Hitch was a misogynist. The Dark Side of Genius author Donald Spoto wrote a fitfully interesting (if ultimately useless) article about how the first half of the film is a mirror image of the second--rising to a midpoint before diminishing at the end to the same composition as the first shot. (I'd argue that you could say the same for Shadow of a Doubt--particularly during the movie's character-/setting- establishing sequences.) Stories of how the FBI began a file on Hitch because of his prescient use of uranium as his MacGuffin in Notorious are among the most beloved Hitch arcana, and critics who favour Lacan as the prism through which to analyze the Master of Suspense have found in the picture compelling demonstrations of spectatorship and gender construction. For Freudians, it has its Oedipal elements, its Madonna/Whore complexities--it's a very fine historical relic, one of maybe only two of the director's films (the other being Shadow of a Doubt) that's ever entered into a noir conversation. And at the end--among those in the know, at least--it's the better version, in every way that matters, of Casablanca. Robin Wood writes a brilliant piece on it in his second Hitchcock book, taking on previous brilliant takes by Laura Mulvey, Raymond Bellour, and Michael Renov. I probably like Raymond Durgnat's quick-hit the best, however, for his pegging of the picture's iciness and of Hitch at this moment as midway between idealistic and cynical (though I'd go farther and say he's pretty much all the way cynical by now). Notorious is possibly, neck-and-neck with Vertigo, the best film Hitchcock ever made, though it's seldom identified--unless you're Francois Truffaut--as anyone's favourite (leave that for the bitterest (North by Northwest), the most nihilistic (Psycho), the least sick (Rear Window)), and when the dust settles, the prospect of writing about it is almost as intimidating as pretending that there's anything new to say about it. But here goes.