In this Hitchcock-directed film, Ingrid Bergman plays Alicia Huberman, daughter of a Nazi spy convicted of treason. A young woman who has always played fast and loose, she is nevertheless recruited to go to Brazil to infiltrate her father's Nazi network there, with Devlin (Cary Grant) as her agency contact. They fall in love as they await orders in Rio, but the stiff and formal Grant cannot bring himself to tell this "notorious" woman ("not a lady") that he loves her. When she realizes that she will get much better information if she marries Nazi Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains), Grant allows her to do this, meeting her periodically for agonizing updates. As Alicia uncovers increasingly important information related to the Nazi search for uranium, her own life is threatened.
Hitchcock's camera work is extraordinary, with high-contrast scenes achieving maximum dramatic impact in black and white. He often places objects and people in the extreme foreground with the camera focused on the background, and he uses changes of lighting to emphasize changing moods or realizations by characters. The suspense builds to a crescendo, and when Grant and Bergman manage to get inside a locked wine cellar while Rains is approaching, the tension nears the breaking point.
Part of the suspense is psychological. Alicia's life is nightmarish, as she shares a bedroom with someone she both fears and detests, while she herself is feared and detested by her husband's manipulative mother (Leopoldine Konstantin), who calmly sits and embroiders throughout much of the film. Playing a fey, flighty, and "fallen" woman, Bergman is spontaneous, vibrantly alive, and expressive of every emotion, a marked contrast to the staid Grant, who plays the elegant and formal role for which he is justifiably famous. Rains, playing a Nazi, manages to evoke a certain sympathy because he is so vulnerable to Bergman and so dependent on his mother. One of Hitchcock's best films, this study of a "notorious" woman belongs to Bergman, who dominates the film and brings it to life. Mary Whipple
On loan from his suffocative contract with David O. Selznick, the director turned out with RKO a practically flawless picture. It bears all the hallmarks of what we now consider a Hitchcock classic: It has Cary Grant. It has Ingrid Bergman. It has a pulpy (though not too pulpy) plot. It has interantional agents. It has a Macguffin. It even has a one word title!
Bergman plays the woman-with-a-history, and Grant is the detective trying to infiltrate a Nazi group. Bergman is his tool, and he persuades/pushes her into a marriage with Nazi sympathiser Claude Raines.
This central trio of characters is outstanding -- the relationship between Bergman and Grant thoroughly believable and watertight, and Raines treads the line between threatening and weak immaculately.
Really a must-see, even after all these years. Includes excellent flourishes, including the much vaunted longest-ever screen kiss and the breathtaking bravura camera dolly down the stairs to Bergman's concealed hand. The party sequence is one of the best in all of Hitchcock's output.
From start to finish it is a joy -- buy it, and buy it now.
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