NOIRVEMBER FILM FEST #3: NOTORIOUS

This week’s film for my Noirvember noir film fest is Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious, a classic story of love, trust, and betrayal. At first glance, it is a story of hunting down Nazis. A simple spy thriller. But, look a little deeper and you find a noir romance full of trust and mistrust, love and doubt, and questionable relationships between individuals and countries. It stars Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman.

THE STORY & ITS THEME – LOVE & BETRAYAL

Cary Grant plays Devlin, an American agent who convinces Alicia Huberman, a party girl with a past Nazi affiliation, to infiltrate a group of Nazis who are hiding out in Rio de Janeiro after the war. Alicia has two advantages. Her father was a Nazi, convicted of spying against America. And the main Nazi they are chasing, Alex Sebastian, was once in love with her.
Devlin takes Alicia to Rio and, while they wait for the assignment, Devlin and Alicia fall in love.
Though Alicia is troubled with her assignment, she agrees to do it because Devlin begins to behave coldly towards her. She is so good at her work Sebastian eventually proposes marriage. When she reports the news to Devlin, he coldly tells her to do whatever she wants to do. Feeling the sting of rejection from Devlin, she agrees to marry Sebastian.
She finds out that something is being kept secret in the wine cellar. She steals a cellar key. During a party, Devlin sneaks down to the cellar. Breaks and wine bottle, which has uranium ore, and cleans it up. But Sebastian comes down. Devlin and Alicia kiss to cover their tracks. But Sebastian knows something is wrong. He investigates, finds the key missing, and finds the broken bottle.
In order to hide his foolish mistake from his co-conspirators, who have no tolerance for mistakes, he slowly begins to poison Alicia. Alicia finds out she is being poisoned but she is too weak to leave and they remove the phone from her room.
Devlin is alarmed when Alicia misses a meeting with him. He arranges to go to the house. He finds her, confesses his love for her, and decides to risk taking her out of the house in front of all the Nazis. In order to avoid suspicion from the other Nazis, Sebastian helps Devlin take Alicia to the car. They refuse to allow Sebastian to come with them and drive away.
Sebastian must face his guests, who have become suspicious of the whole event.

The themes that rise from the movie are the twin themes of love and betrayal. Some form of love and betrayal are involved in nearly every relationship.
Alicia’s father betrays America to help Germany, the country he loves.
Devlin betrays Alicia by siding with the U.S. Government. In fact, he requests and is given a transfer from Rio to Spain. Before Alicia becomes sick, he has every intention of leaving her for good.
The U.S. Government betrays Alicia (who clearly loves her country) by using her to find the Nazis, even allowing her to marry Sebastian.
Alicia betrays Sebastian’s love by marrying him in order to track the Nazis.
Even Sebastian betrays his own cause by falling in love with Alicia without knowing what she is up to. His mother suspects Alicia is trouble, but he dismisses her complaints and marries her anyway.

THE CHARACTER OF DEVLIN – A PICTURE OF LOVE & BETRAYAL

Devlin clearly loves Alicia. But he is willing to betray that love for the love of country. He puts Alicia in harm’s way by sending her to meet up with Sebastian and the Nazis. He allows her to marry Sebastian.
All for his country.
But in the end, he sets aside the good of his country in order to save the woman he loves. He enters the Nazi house and sneaks up to Alicia’s room. She is very ill but he manages to get her out of the room and eventually out of the house.
Devlin does not care about continuing to gain intelligence, he cares about saving the one he loves. Although, we have no guarantee that Alicia will live because her poisoning has left her close to death, Notorious ends on a happier note than most noirs.
But it also raises some difficult questions.
Is it acceptable to put people in morally questionable circumstances for the love of country?
Why would Devlin allow Alicia to wind up in such an awful position if he truly loved her?
Why would Devlin rescue Alicia in a way lets the Nazis know the Americans are on to them, thus allowing them a chance to escape? (In other words, how can the good of the country be most important at the beginning but the good of the individual be most important at the end?)
Love of individuals and love of country is complicated. In the noir world love twists and turns characters into shapes they never intended. It shows us that even love can warp us.
Notorious reminds me of something C.S. Lewis once said, “Every human love, at its height, has a tendency to claim for itself a divine authority. It voice tends to sound as if it were the will of God Himself…It attempts to override all other claims and insinuates that any action done ‘for love’s sake’ is thereby lawful and even meritorious. That erotic love and love of one’s country may thus attempt to ‘become gods’ is generally recognized.”
And this is what the world of noir is trying to tell us.

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