Friday, January 13, 2017

Can You Forgive Her?

She is madly in love with him, like a schoolgirl, making things perfect for him in his absence ~ her place, his dinner, herself. He is, Devlin (Cary Grant), an American intelligence agent in the days before there was CIA. And he is her recruiter, down in Rio, against a postwar Nazi bund looking to acquire atomic secrets.

He is her torturer, now arriving with their first assignment.

Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) is the beautiful daughter of a convicted Nazi traitor, a recent suicide cheating his life sentence. When we see her Miami life, she's surrounded by -- beyond the feral reporters and cops -- dumpy sexless middle-aged drunks and poop-a-doops. Enter Devlin. (We never learn his first name.) When we first see him, it's the back of his head we see. And we stay there throughout. For Hitchcock's Notorious (1946) is in the grip of Mr. Devlin's tortoruous, raging, ice-cold hatred (born of fear) of Alicia Huberman's sex. (A hate matched astonishingly by Ted Tetzlaff's sinister, silverplate photography.) The most engaged great actor we've had is estranged from all in Notorious, except his own burning. Grant's face does not light up once in the 102 minutes. His loathing of her has little to do with Alicia's father's past and all to do with the past of her scent, her body, skin and taste. His lust for her is overwhelming and petrifying. He has recordings of her and her father, recordings he uses to prove her "patriotism" and love for America. Actually, daggers to the heart, for she is already his; and Devlin has other recordings of her as well, of a different nature. Recordings of her bedroom, sofa and terrace, her bathroom. No wonder his look at her is hard from the beginning, before they have even met. All he thinks, he already knows . . . and when he reveals the recordings, he is delighted and diabolical. And when he tells her of her father's death, it's as if he's asking her to pass the salt. . .

Devlin is being driven mad by her, by his need to have it all, all of her, especially her past. Hitchcock makes it clear that he has had it from the start, much as Scottie has all of Madeleine / Judy a dozen years later in Vertigo. And, like Scottie, he is blind to it, so at each opportunity he does what he can to break her "tramp's heart." Yet the only other decent-looking man we see is Devlin's boss Paul Prescott (Louis Calhern) -- clearly no rival, even if others regularly remark on his good looks. Devlin sends Alicia on her way toward the physical embrace, and marriage, with the short, fey, unattractive Claude Rains as Alexander Sebastian. What if Sebastian had been a stud, a true threat to Devlin's game? A different picture all together. Perhaps a greater one too.

At the center is the crucified. Alicia is ripped apart by the sexual possessiveness and torment of three people -- Devlin, her dream man; Sebastian, her husband; and a figure straight out of Day of Wrath, Sebastian's mother (Leopoldine Konstantin).

When the turn of the screw comes, it is in the forms of a key, party champagne running low, and a wine bottle filled with uranium ore. Alicia is "saved" at the end -- but from what and especially toward what? In the midst of postwar triumphalism, Hitchcock presents a dead world, an ice-cold Cold War world where the weak and confused and relaxed are crushed. At the end, the "fat-headed guy, full of pain" does rescue her ~ temporarily overcoming his torture and sending his rival to sure death without a moment's look-back. Alicia Huberman's unavailability and physical possession by Sebastian distracts his torment. Yet the entire time Devlin is with her he treats her with contempt. Are we to believe the sadistic control he has over Alicia will not continue into and through a marriage? It is there before, all the way -- before she gives herself to another man as Devlin stands by, before she marries that man. Will it not be there going forward? As Alicia lived a childhood dominated and destroyed by an evil father, she will now perhaps live a marriage dominated and destroyed by a sinister husband. Even if he is Cary Grant.