on May 11, 2000
A finely crafted, sumptuously produced romantic thriller that has the distinction of featuring director Hitchcock, and stars Grant and Bergman at their collective best. Even so, Claude Rains manages to dominate almost every scene in which he appears; his Oscar-nominated portrayal of the lovesick mama's boy engaged in espionage comes off as supremely menacing, emotionally ambiguous, and yet oddly sympathetic ... all at the same time.
The film-to-DVD transfer is quite good. There are a couple of jumps and pops in the master print that are a bit jarring, but overall it's a crisp and clean presentation with great contrast. Although the package doesn't mention it, the DVD does offer chapter search/scene selection which is always a nice perk. There aren't any of the bonus features that we spoiled DVD collectors are coming to expect (trailers, biographical sketches, etc.), but it's still a more than acceptable edition of a truly classic film.
on October 19, 2001
The video transfer of new Criterion DVD version of NOTORIOUS is a bit sharper, more detailed, and has better contrast than that of the Anchor Bay DVD version released in 1999. Unfortunately, it also reveals a lot more film grains. The graininess is not noticeable in most parts of the film unless a direct comparision with Anchor Bay's transfer is made. But in a few scenes, the graininess just cannot be ignored, and could be detrimental to one's viewing pleasure. In spite of that, in my opinion the increased detail and sharpness of Criterion's transfer is still preferrable to Anchor Bay's comparatively softer and darker picture.
Regarding audio, it is no contest. Criterion's mono 1.0 sound has MUCH greater clarity, depth, details, volume than Anchor Bay's comparatively muted and muffled soundtrack. In addition, the Criterion disc also includes optional English subtitles while Anchor Bay's does not.
The Criterion DVD retains all of the supplementary material from their own CAV laserdisc version from 1991, and it adds some more...
There are two excellent audio commentary tracks. One is by Marian Keane, and it deals straight with the artistic aspects of the film by providing scene-by-scene, shot-by-shot dissertations. Commentaries like this are rare, and it is most beneficial to average viewers who want to learn more about the purposes and intentions behind every shot, every cut, every line. For instance, in a seemingly ordinary shot of a grandfather clock inside the Sebastian home, Keene analyzes the composition by pointing out the phallic symbol of the clock that suggests Alex's presence, the adjacent banister that reminds us of his mother, and the flower at the window that suggests the vulnerability of Alicia. Another commentary track, by Rudy Behlmer, was recorded for the laserdisc version, and it is the more common type of commentary, in which the commentator recounts the production's history, the logistical aspects, sypnoses of the lives and careers of the filmmakers, a few anecdotes. Behlmer mentions something omitted by Keane -- Roy Webb's music (which is given a separate audio track on the DVD). At one point, he explains how the RKO Radio Picture logo was removed from the opening credits; but he refers only to the laserdisc version. This DVD version, however, restores the RKO logo.
Other extras include an all-too-brief excerpt of the short story "The Song of the Dragon" which inspired the film. There are about 40 production stills, mostly of Hitchcock, Cary Grant, and Ingrid Bergman. There is a section that explains how the many rear projection shots were done (some of the shots are quite seamless). There are a few production correspondences written by David O. Selznick, Bergman, and even FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover in response to the film's treatment of special agents. There are 4 theatrical trailers and short teasers. There is a one-minute newsreel footage of Hitchcock and Bergman arriving in England. There are script excerpts of 5 deleted scenes, and 3 alternate endings in which one or more of the four main characters get wounded or killed on screen. In a moving segment called "The Fate of the Unica Key", Marian Keane speaks on an audio track about how Bergman, during AFI's Lifetime Award ceremony for Hitchcock, handed the Unica key to the director as a token of love and respect (unfortunately, no footage of the AFI telecast is included). Last, but not least, there is a one-hour radioplay version of the film, in excellent audio quality, recorded in 1948, starring Joseph Cotten as Devlin and Bergman again as Alicia (the laserdisc version only has a 15-minute excerpt of the radioplay).
Notorious (1946) is a stellar achievement from director Alfred Hitchcock and master screenwriter Ben Hecht with Oscar worthy performances from all 3 principal stars, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and the ever Oscar worthy Claude Rains. It is hands down somewhere (arguable I suppose) in the top 5 films Mr. Hitchcock has ever made and sports a truly nuanced and multifaceted performance by Cary Grant who proves in THIS film he is not just a pretty face but a very fine actor who was capable of much more than he is usually given credit for.
With that said, this review will focus on the technical aspects, both audio and video, of this Blu Ray presentation rather than the film content itself. If you are a casual viewer or someone who can not abide film grain, this transfer will most likely be less than satisfactory for your tastes and you could easily get by with the latest DVD version. I am, however, a MAJOR fan of Cary Grant and fully intend to purchase each and every title of his that becomes available on Blu Ray This review is for those of you who are OCD about the video/audio quality of B&W classics and need to know if it is worth spending again for this title. If this sounds like you, then read on!
The disc itself is housed in an appallingly cheap Eco-Case with equally appalling cover art. (I use the term "art" loosely here) The media is of good quality, not the cheap super thin discs that have been going around lately. The disc has color printing on it, the same as the case cover. The transfer uses the AVC codec with an average transfer rate of 38 MBPS on a 50 gig disc and presented in it's original full frame aspect ratio.
I read numerous online reviews regarding this transfer before purchasing, so I pretty much knew what I was getting myself into. I will be right upfront and state that although this is NOT the level of visual quality I had hoped for, it is still a large step ahead of any other transfer currently available. It would take a frame by frame restoration done from an original camera negative (similar to what was done with 'Ben-Hur' or 'The 10 Commandments') to improve much on the visual quality and I am afraid that studio profits trump my own personal wishes here. It is a real shame that Cary Grant's films are not shown the same reverence and care that are given to Bogart's in the Blu Ray market.
Bottom Line: 'Notorious', while a true cinematic masterpiece just doesn't get the same amount of respect shown to it as other titles from the same time period. The image quality at times achieves great heights of both clarity and stability, but at others reveals a troubled and damaged source. I would have to say after viewing that this transfer did NOT come from an original negative or any negative at all, rather from a decent quality print of dubious origins that has been cleaned up and scanned in at 1080p. While the bit rate of this transfer remains consistently high during the film, there is little depth to be had, and at times much noise , chemical damage to the nitrate/emulsion resulting in discolored contrast 'stripes' from time to time , film warping and a few scenes that seem to be sourced from lower resolution material of some kind.
Close-Ups, in particular, are very very good. The fine detail revealed during close-ups easily trumps anything you could ever see on even the best DVD transfer. If you screen this transfer in full 1080p with 24 frames engaged you will be treated to something very very close to a theatrical presentation. Once you overlook the downside of the source material, this Blu Ray can and will provide you with a very nice overall rendering, despite the print damage. Upon close inspection I found no instances of missing frames, although the bit rate is SO HIGH that occasional my equipment dropped one or two from time to time and upon rewinding and replaying it could not be repeated so this was not a fault of the transfer. For most of the film the contrast remains good and on a calibrated display you will mostly see things the way they were meant to be seen, although during the moments when a different source appeared to be used the contrast will be too dark or even too high depending on the scene.
These is all really REALLY picky observations, but I write most of my Blu Ray reviews for people who enjoy seeing their favorites in pristine condition and unfortunately 'Notorious' is not among them. The average viewer will be put off quickly by the amount of film grain visible. Of course if you remove the visible grain, you also remove the TRUE details which exist in the print so I prefer the grain to be left in and apply my own desired amount of DNR if I deem necessary.
Sound quality is fine. It is MONO but rendered in DTS-HD Master Audio into two identical 'stereo' channels. Selecting the stereo option on your receiver will yield a nice mono spread, otherwise your surround decoder may send all the sound directly to your center channel. Either way it sounds fine and there was no instance of any gross level distortion, clicks, pops or excessive hiss, although being an old analog recording SOME hiss is expected and excessive hiss removal can degrade the overall fidelity. The sound is fine, I thought it was actually a bit better than the visual presentation.
Extras included are ported over from the last DVD release and are fairly extensive. Commentaries from two Film Professors, various documentaries on the film and Hitchcock, a radio drama with Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotton, the original films trailer, an audio only interview with Hitch by Peter Bogdanovich and more. I watched/listened to them all and enjoyed them very much, being a fan of the film.
Overall, the Blu Ray release of 'Notorious' satisfies me, while still leaving a LOT to be desired. Unfortunately that seems to be the case with many classic Blu Ray releases. The studios are giving us just enough to make us happy, and not much more. This transfer does not begin to reach the heights of 'Casablanca', 'Maltese Falcon' or 'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre' and that is a real shame. Hopefully the upcoming release of 'To Catch a Thief' will make up for this fairly lackluster Blu Ray. Being a Cary Grant fan, I will continue to purchase every Blu Ray title he is in as it comes out, but like the latest Criterion release of 'Charade', this version of 'Notorious' misses the mark somewhat.
Recommended Highly for fans, but not so much so for the casual viewer.......
on August 15, 2000
One of Alfred Hitchcock's most complex romances features two of his favorite stars (Gary Grant and Ingrid Bergman) in the lead roles. Set against a background of spies and counterspies, Notorious remains first and foremost a love story. When Alicia Huberman (Bergman), the daughter of a convicted Nazi is hired as a double agent, she discovers she's in for more than she bargained for. While assigned to uncover scientific secrets from Germans hiding in Brazil, Bergman makes the ultimate sacrifice for her country by marrying her father's former conspirator, Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains). Bergman is desperately in love with American agent T. R. Devlin (Grant), who she believes has deserted her emotionally, but marries Rains almost out of spite rather than pure patriotism. Through the many plot twists and turns, Bergman and Grant realize their true feelings for one another. A truly wonderful suspense, Hitchcock gets amazing performances from his cast. Bergman (never more beautiful or appealing) and Grant are excellent as the lovers who can't seem to express their mutual affection. Both seem ready to explode from all the pent up emotions. Rains is perfect as the mama's boy Nazi leader, and what a mother German actress Leopoldine Konstantin is in her only American film! The plot was so original that the writers of Mission Impossible II ripped it off (including the contact meeting scene at the racetrack!) with less than mediocre success.
on April 5, 2012
I have been hunting for a good quality copy of NOTORIOUS, ever since the extremely popular Criterion Collection edition went out of print, and became hot on the bootleg and piracy markets. Did not get any encouraging response from Criterion (after sending many emails) about a possible re-release.
Finally when MGM decided to relaunch this film on BluRay recently I jumped at it. Here's what I thought.
The MGM edition is probably as good as they could make it, but it does not come anywhere near the information & features-packed edition that Criterion had produced a decade ago. The quality of restoration was not apparent to me (was it restored at all?) and the picture (as far as I recall) was grainier than the Criterion edition. The result was that my HDTV chose to compress the picture display almost to half screen. yet I could see grains.
My advise to serious film collectors (may their tribe increase):
- If you are dying to see NOTORIOUS again, beg/borrow/steal a Criterion copy from your friends.
- If you decide to the buy the MGM BluRay (now you know, its priced cheap for a reason!), do it by all means. But with a view to holding it only until you get your hands on that wonderful rich Criterion Collection edition.
on April 4, 2002
Easily among my Top 10 films of all time, Notorious is a stunning piece of film-making by the father of the suspense genre at the peak of his early American career.
Hitchcock had an extremely long and successful career in the movie business (directing 67 films!) and you can divide it into 4 distinct stages: his early British films (The Lodger, The 39 Steps), his early American work under David O. Selznick (Rebecca, Spellbound), the middle period with all the great Jimmy Stewart films (Rear Window, Vertigo) and the final, jarring stretch that begins with Psycho. Notorious is the best of the Selznick era and is a hallmark in Hitchcock's career and in film history.
It's the story of American secret agent T. R. Devlin (Cary Grant) and his attempt to foil Nazis who've taken up refuge in Rio De Janero after the war. His weapon is the stunning Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), daughter of one of the former conspirators. The plan is to have her reignite an old flame with one of the goose-steppers, Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains), infiltrate the home where he lives with his overbearing mother, and sneak out information. Unfortunately for Devlin, he falls in love with the woman that he has to push into another man's arms. And into mortal danger as well.
Criterion's recently released DVD edition is a superb restoration packed with extras on the making of the film and two excellent commentary tracks. Mariane Keane points out shot-for-shot what set Hitch ahead of his time and Rudy Behlmer (who edited the tome of Selznick memos) brings a historical perspective unequaled. You can also hear the complete Lux Radio Theatre adaptation with Bergman and Joseph Cotton from 1948. Add to this the production and promotional stills, correspondence, trailers, short story excerpts, newsreel footage, and even script excerpts that include deleted scenes and an alternate ending along with many more extras and you get a definitive look at the film and all that went into it.
Notorious is simply a movie lover's dream come true and I'm glad to say that Criterion has done an outstanding job in it's presentation.
In "NOTORIOUS," Alfred Hitchcock directs a luminous (in some scenes, she actually glows) Ingrid Bergman and an atypically somber Cary Grant in a suspenseful romantic allegory of love and betrayal in Nazi infested post War Rio. Claude Rains is memorable and as the villain understandably in love with Ingrid Bergman.
In 1999, Anchor Bay released a DVD of this title with no significant extras. Criterion's transfer has a sharper, detailed image with rich blacks (although in some scenes there's a noticeable graininess) and a much cleaner audio clarity.
There's a fascinating commentary by film scholar and Hitchcock expert Marian Keane that's a scene-by-scene analysis of Hitch's artistic choices and sophisticated visual metaphores. It's hard to know how much of the symbolism within the frame was intentional, but Keane's commentary makes a strong case for Hitchcock being a filmmaker of great precision with a personal interest in the psychological make-up of characters yearning for love, but trapped between hope and fear. There's another commentary track by Rudy Behlmer that deals with the production itself. And Roy Webb's music is given a separate audio track.
Other extras include a brief excerpt of "The Song of the Dragon," the short story on which the film was based. There are dozens of production stills and several of producer David O. Selznick's legendary memos. Also, newsreels of the premier and stars, trailers, and script excerpts of deleted scenes and alternate endings. And there's a terrific, complete 1948 broadcast of the Lux Radio Theater's version of "Notorious" with Bergman and Joseph Cotton.
"Notorious" is sensual, tense and thrilling and one of the great films of the 40s that still resonates. Ben Hecht's tight script and Hitchcock's economical direction are a perfect match. In some ways, this is fairy tale about a beautiful princess imprisoned in a castle controlled by an evil stepmother. Will the handsome prince rescue her before all is lost?
But on a grander level, "Notorious" is a brilliant and timeless film noir that mirrors the damaged post war world with characters caught up in unimagined moral ambiguity and ambivalence as they seek a greater good. And where love hurts.
on December 20, 2008
I love this movie and had been looking for the discontinued Criterion DVD to replace my Anchor Bay copy, but was unable to find it. The Anchor Bay DVD was very good, but contained no extras. So when I saw this new MGM remastered disc, loaded with extra features, I immediately bought it.
I'm glad to report that this DVD is an outstanding example of how classic films should be treated. First of all, the video and audio quality are excellent. The video is virtually flawless, with all signs of scratches and dust removed, and no skips or blips. The black and white balance is better than the Anchor Bay version, too, and for a film with several important exterior night scenes, this is important. The Dolby mono sound is much clearer and sounds more open than the Anchor Bay version.
The greatly improved video and audio quality would make this a worthwhile purchase, but MGM adds a comprehensive set of extra features that are among the best I've seen included in any Hitchcock film. There are two commentaries, each with a film professor: the option to turn off the spoken dialogue and hear only the music and sound effects (I'm not sure why you'd want that, but it's there); an excellent 25 minute feature called "The Ultimate Romance: The Making of 'Notorious'"; a 13 minute feature called "Alfred Hitchcock: The Ultimate Spymaster"; a 3 minute highlight clip of the AFI award ceremony honoring Hitchcock, including video of Hitchcock and Ingrid Bergman; an audio-only recording of the 1948 radio play starring Joseph Cotten and Ingrid Bergman; two audio-only interviews, one with Peter Bogdanovich and one with Francois Truffaut; a restoration comparison; the theatrical trailer; and three still galleries.
My one very minor complaint is about the included folder. It actually has interesting information, instead of the usual two-sided poster backed with promos for upcoming releases, if you even get that. However, for some reason, MGM felt it was necessary to use adhesive to glue the corners together, and while it's easy enough to remove it, it leaves two big grease spots on the folder, for no apparent reason.
The film itself is a classic and needs no recommendation, but for anyone who is interested in finding the best available DVD transfer, look no further. This is it, and you can get it for about a third of the cost of the now unavailable Criterion DVD. A definite must-have for any Hitchcock fan!
on August 27, 2006
This is quite simply one of the best suspense films I have ever seen.
Hithcock is obiviously the master at this, but I think this film is near perfect, bringing everything that Hitchcock is great at together in a tight, tense atmosphere.
Personally, I believe Cary Grant was never as captivating then when he revealed that dark, insecure yet sauve side of himself in Hitchcock films (Suspicion is another great example of this). Grant's performance of Devlin is wonderful. Devlin refuses to let himself fall in love with a woman who he must convince himself is a partier, a drinker, and definately not a lady. In forcing himself to believe this, he manages to push Alicia further and further into danger.
Ingrid Bergman is nothing short of stunning as Alicia, definately a perfect performance. Alicia sense of guilt over her father's war crimes and her guilt over being the daughter of such a man, lead her first to drink and then, through Devlin, to become an American agent. Throughout the film she tries to redeem herself in her own eyes, that of the country she loves, and in the eyes of Devlin. She sacrifices herself, stepping right into a deadly affair with Sebastian, all the time hoping Devlin will admit his true feelings.
Claude Rains is excellent as Sebastian; who is so consumed by his feelings for Alicia, that he ignores the dangers of the men he is working with and the dire and jealous warnings of his mother.
The dialog in this film is beyond compare. It is sparse, dark and biting, like the film itself to thicken the cloud of suspense wrapping around the characters and the audience. Hitchock takes Grant's unique inflection and beat that helps him to literally be a "smooth, fast, charmer" and gives his words a darker tone. It sends shivers down the spine to hear Devlin speak.
This film is stunning. Hitchcock's best and one of my all-time favorites!
It's difficult to identify the exact pinnacle of Alfred Hitchcock's masterworks, especially as he had a most fruitful period during the 1950's until the 1960 classic "Psycho", but 1946's "Notorious" is arguably his most perfectly crafted and cast film. First, there is a sharp, intensely plotted script by the estimable Ben Hecht that focuses on Alicia Huberman, the daughter of a convicted Nazi spy, and T.R. Devlin, an American agent hired to convince Alicia to spy on a clandestine group of neo-Nazis based in Rio de Janeiro. This means she would have to seduce and eventually marry Alex Sebastian, a key group member who has never gotten over Alicia in his heart.
This triangle is embodied by three stars at the height of their powers. A primarily poker-faced Cary Grant portrays Devlin close to the vest and charismatically hides his emotions under a veil of cold arrogance. In a series of scenes that pierce with a subverted eroticism, Devlin falls in love with Alicia but cannot find the courage to admit that to himself or to her. Claude Rains, on the other hand, imbues Sebastian with such an open romanticism and sad streaks of jealousy that we can actually sympathize with a Nazi war criminal a year after WWII ended, quite a daring feat within the film's historical context.
At the vortex, though, is Ingrid Bergman, who probably gives her most accomplished performance as Alicia. At the time, she was deified as the chaste Mother Superior in Leo McCarey's harmless "The Bells of St. Mary's" with Bing Crosby. Bergman turned a smart corner here as a "loose" woman in love with the bottle until she is transformed by her love for Devlin, at which point, she becomes a stylish decoy to draw the naïve Sebastian to her alluring charms. Ethereally beautiful and constantly pained, she conveys much of her character's feelings through her eyes and subtle facial expressions because she and Grant portray two people who can't admit they desperately want to be together even if her life depends on it. Their failure to communicate leads to Alicia sinking deeper into the morass of some nasty espionage business that ultimately puts her life in jeopardy.
The chemistry between the two legends is palpable, especially in the then-controversial, three-minute kissing sequence that put censors into a tizzy. However, above all, this is a Hitchcock film, the film is filled with his genius for ingenious subjective camerawork and suspenseful set pieces, the latter perfectly illustrated by the party sequence at Sebastian's mansion starting with an unbelievable dolly shot right into Alicia's hand clasping the cellar key, which she passes to Devlin to find what is being hidden in the wine bottles. There are intriguing performances on the sidelines with Louis Calhern as the head of the American agency in Rio and the intimidating Madame Konstantin as Alex's ice-cold mother, both displaying a Machiavellian spirit to get what they want.
The Criterion Collection has done another masterful job with their DVD package, including an alternative audio commentary track featuring renowned Hitchcock scholar Marian Keane providing insightful scene-specific analysis and film historian Rudy Behlmer. As was common with movie hits of the day, the movie was recreated in condensed form for radio, and the 1948 Lux Radio theater adaptation starring the voices of Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten is included as well. There are also lots of still photos, a collection of trailers and teasers, and even production correspondence and script excerpts of deleted scenes and alternate endings for the more anal-retentive among us. This is a true classic and required viewing for any fan of Hitchcock, Bergman, Grant or Rains.