Notorious

  • Title:  Notorious
  • Director:  Alfred Hitchcock
  • Date:  1946
  • Studio:  RKO
  • Genre:  Drama, Film Noir
  • Cast:  Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD format:  R1, NTSC, (Criterion Collection, single disc)

“Waving the flag with one hand and picking pockets with the other, that’s your patriotism.”  — Alicia

“I’ve always been scared of women, but I get over it.” — Devlin

In Hitchcock’s Notorious, Ingrid Bergman plays Alicia, whose father’s been tried for treason, found guilty and jailed.  We later learned that he “died in his cell”, which is only marginally better than “shot while trying to escape”.  Bergman is indifferent to her father’s death, knowing he was a traitor (or as he put it in a recorded conversation – loyal to Germany and his own pocket) – but seems apolitical.  She is, however, a hopeless alcoholic, even driving drunk.  She meets Devlin at one of her parties, and quickly discovers he’s an American agent.  He brings her to his bosses to use as an agent.  Reluctantly, she agrees and the two fly off to Rio.  It’s interesting to note that Alicia’s friends had also wanted her to take a vacation, but suggested Cuba!!!  Anyway, once in Rio, Alicia and Devlin discover what the job is that Devlin’s un-named agency wants her to do.  She’s to become romantically involved with Claude Rains’ character, a man she knew as a young girl, and someone who seems to be supporting some shady scientists, though to what end is unknown – that is what Alicia is to find out.  Devlin isn’t happy about Alicia’s assignment, because the two have fallen for each other. Alicia, however, agrees.  She quickly forms an attachment to Rains — and even marries him.  Devlin, meanwhle, becomes her handler – but gets more and more angry to see the woman he loves with another man.

Despite it’s fantastic cast – Notorious is a very, very slow moving film.  Yes, the tension does build up, especially when Rains’ mother discovers Alicia is an agent and begins to poison her coffee, but the pacing is so slow as to be irritating instead of suspenseful.  I actually found Rains to be the most fun – it’s nice to see him in a juicy “bad guy” role as opposed the to lighter characters he normally plays.  Bergman is excellent as the newly minted tough-as-nail agent, but her easy submission into taking the poisoned coffee (and not realizing there might be a reason she feels so sick) undercuts her strong woman personna.  Grant, of course, rescues her at the end, but the film still has a strange ending (they leave the house, but we don’t know, for sure, if Grant got to her in time for the poisoning to be reversed).  All in all – I think Notorious is a good example of a film that would work better as a TV series.  I’d have loved to see a pair of secret agents – one male, one female, who gradually fall for each other – and eventually marry.  It could be especially interesting if the woman still must “honeytrap” other spies as part of her job.  A TV series, however, could gradually work the relationship of  “Alicia” and “Devlin” — making it more realistic, as well as dealing with the difficulties of a couple in such a dangerous profession.

But, getting back to the film, Grant is fantastic in Notorious – giving a subtle performance, and projecting a core of steel and violence.  I loved that.

Overall, though Notorious has it’s good points and an excellent cast, it’s like a novel by a great writer who needs an editor and without one writes books which are overly long.  The film really needed to be tightened up, the pacing improved, and the ending needs to be more concrete and less confusing.  Still, I would recommend it.

Recommendation:  See it.
Rating:  3.5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Philadelphia Story

Casablanca

  • Title:  Casablanca
  • Director:  Michael Curtiz
  • Date:  1942
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Genre:  Classic, Drama
  • Cast:  Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre
  • Format:  Black & White, Standard
  • R1, NTSC

“What in heavens name brought you to Casablanca?” – Cap’t Louis Renault
“My health, I came to Casablanca for the waters.” – Rick Blaine
“The waters?  What waters — we’re in the desert.” – Cap’t Renault
“I was misinformed.” – Rick

“What’s your nationality?” – Maj. Strasser
“I’m a drunkard.”  – Rick

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world — she walks into mine.” – Rick

“I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.” – Cap’t Renault
“Your winnings, sir.”  – Waiter
“Oh, thank you very much.”  – Cap’t Renault

Casablanca is one of the best movies ever made.  Like all great movies it is still enjoyable after repeat viewings, and can even become more enjoyable because of the anticipation of favorite lines, scenes, and events.  The movie, after a brief audio introduction, swiftly carries you into it’s world.  Casablanca: Crossroads of the world, filled with refugees from war-torn Europe hoping to beg, borrow, or steal enough to obtain exit visas and passage on the plane to Lisbon and from there passage to America.  Part of what Casablanca does so well is not only the main plot of three “little people”, but the small side plots:  the older German couple who have finally obtained passage and are practicing their imperfect English; the woman who sells her diamond tennis bracelet – for far less than it’s worth because she’s desperate for money (and the broker knows it); the pickpocket; the young girl who asks Rick if she should trust Cap’t Renault and do a “very bad thing” so she and her husband can escape Casablanca.  There is a real sense that everyone in Casablanca has a story – and it may be as compelling as the story of Rick, Ilsa and Victor Laszlo.

But at the heart Casablanca is about Rick, Ilsa, and Victor – three good people caught in a mess.  Rick – the cynic, who “sticks his neck out for nobody,” Victor – hero of the people, who escaped a German Concentration Camp and is leader of the underground free French.  And Ilsa – the girl they both love and have loved at different times.  The film is about Rick’s journey from cynic to unlikely hero, but there’s an edginess to the movie – the audience doesn’t know what Rick’s final decision will be.  Part of this may have been the cast didn’t know, supposedly the script was unfinished and the movie was made on the fly.  But even if that wasn’t so, and even when you have the final scene with all it’s perfect dialogue memorised – you’ve seen this movie that often, the film still manages to have a sense of surprise to it, a sense of anticipation, and it creates a world that envelops you.  It truly is a brilliant, brilliant film.

Also – Casablanca is filled with great lines, those quoted above, and gems like Cap’t Renault’s “I’m only a poor, corrupt official,” or his “Major Strasser has been shot – round up the usual suspects,” not to mention Rick’s speech to Ilsa at the end of  the film, and the last line of  the film as well.  Totally classic!

Besides the sparkling script – the film is filled with great images as well:  Ilsa’s hand knocking over the champagne glass as Rick kisses her as the Germans match into Paris; the rain washing away the ink of Ilsa’s note to Rick; the close-up as Cap’t Renault drops the bottle of  “Viche Water” into the trash.  And light and shadow is used so well in the film.  Ingrid Bergman looks so beautiful, especially when she walks into Rick’s the lighting on her face makes her practically glow.  But shadows and half light are also used well.  Mist and smoke are used to enhance the visual image:  the smoke obscuring Rick as he gets on the train in Paris, and the mist and fog shrouded airport at the end of the film are two examples.  Another of my favorite scenes is when Victor leads all of  Rick’s Cafe’ Americain in singing the Marseillais to drown out the Germans who are singing De Fatherland, especially Yvonne crying.

And Rick – Richard Blaine, who “sticks his neck out for nobody,” who at the start of the film does nothing to help poor Ugarte (Lorre), despite his pleas, and despite him saying Rick’s the only one he trusts – an action which later results in Ugarte’s death.  This is the man who is the noble one at the end of the picture – he’s the one who gives up love for something greater, and because he knows the woman he loves – loves someone else.  I just love this movie and could watch it again and again and again.  Which is often the best compliment a work of art can have – to make you want to experience it over and over again.

All in all – just about a perfect movie.

Recommendation:  See it!  Own it!
Rating:  5 (out of 5) Stars
Next Film:  Charade

The Adventures of Robin Hood

  • Title:  The Adventures of Robin Hood
  • Directors:  Michael Curtiz & William Keighley
  • Date:  1938
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers
  • Stars:  Errol Flynn, Olivia deHavilland, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains, Alan Hale
  • Genre:  Adventure, Classic
  • Format:  Technicolor, Standard (4 x 3)
  • DVD Format:  NTSC, Region 1
  • DVD Notes:  2-disc Special Edition

 Another of my favorite films.  The Technicolor process results in very bright jewel tones, that add to the storybook quality of this movie – as does shooting much of the movie on location.  For once the “this is obviously Southern California” look is a positive thing because the bright sun (even in day-for-night shots) adds to the storybook feel.

Errol Flynn  is excellent as Robin, smiling and laughing his way through the film, though he delivers his speech rousing the men of  Sherwood and Loxley well.  But this is definitely a lighter edged Robin Hood – which is fine, it’s part of what makes it work in, again, a very storybook fashion.  Also, Flynn is brilliant in the sword-fighting scenes — and his derring-do works well for the character of Robin Hood.

Olivia de Havilland is quite feisty as Lady Marian, in this version of the story a Royal ward of King Richard (the Lionheart) who’s been living under the thumb of Prince John (Raines) – though she really has no clue what he’s doing to the country.  Once Robin makes things clear to her – she jumps sides and also falls in love with Robin.  But it’s nice to see in a movie from 1938 such a feisty, intelligent, independent Lady Marian.  I also liked that her maid falls for one of Robin’s men.

The plot covers many of the familiar legends of Robin Hood in almost episodic style — meeting Little John and Friar Tuck, challenging Prince John — by stalking into a party carrying a Royal deer and plopping it in the middle of the table, the archery contest (that results in Robin being captured by Bad Prince John), and finally King Richard showing up and he and Robin over-throwing John and the Sheriff of Nottingham and the king not merely knighting Robin but declaring him an Baron and an Earl and marrying him to Marian.

It’s a fun movie with lots of sword-fighting and adventure.  And Flynn is brilliant at sword fighting as I said — the finale with the fight between Robin and Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Rathbone) is brilliant, including both a fight on a curved stair and a shadow play fight.  Marian is also quite feisty and well-played by deHavilland.

I have the 2-disc special edition, which includes a plethora of special features including:

  • Welcome to Sherwood:  The Story of  The Adventures of  Robin Hood
  • Deleted scenes, and bloopers
  • Robin Hood through the Ages
  • A Journey to Sherwood Forest (home movies)
  • Classic Cartoons:  “Rabbit Hood” and “Robin Hood Daffy” (NOT to be missed – they are brilliant!)
  • Vintage shorts (one on archery and another interviewing Flynn)
  • Splitting the Arrow — Art, Costume Design, Drawings, photos, publicity materials
  • Audio-Only Extras:  Robin Hood Radio Show, Korngold Piano Session
  • Glorious Technicolor – Angela Lansbury narrates a documentary explaining the tri-color (and base b/w) film process that results in Technicolor (Another do NOT miss extra)
  • Feature-length Commentary with Rudy Behlmer, Warner’s Film Historian
  • Warner Night at the Movies hosted by Leonard Martin (Trailer, newsreel, short, & cartoon)
  • Errol Flynn Trailer Gallery

Recommendation:  See it!  Add the Special Edition DVD your collection!  Show this movie to your kids or neices & nephews.
Rating:  5 of 5 stars
Next Film:  Airplane!