James Naremore's article American Film Noir provides a thorough history of the genre, tracing its roots back to articles by French film critics in the 1940s and placing film noir in the context of the international culture resulting from World War II. Naremore also discusses the difficulty of defining film noir, concluding that it is instead easier to give examples of the genre rather than construct a static definition. He then goes on to categorize the genre by analyzing films that exemplify noir along with early critics' interpretations of these films, and comparing noir to other contemporaneous genres. Elements of film noir that are mentioned throughout Naremore's piece include evil, violence, and misogyny; crime-based plots; tough-guy male protagonists; femme fatales; first-person narratives; and flashbacks.
With these characteristics laid out, it is easy to see how Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious both fits into and strays from the noir genre with which it is often associated. The plot is crime-based to a certain extent, but it is arguably more centered around relationships and the pain that results from the conflict between love and duty. The crime in the film is largely non-violent, and the only violence associated with criminality is implied instead of shown - we know that both Emile and Alex are killed by the other men of the cohort, but there is no depiction of their deaths. There is no blood, no bullets. Instead, the only instance of violence we see is of a more domestic sort, when Devlin knocks out a drunken Alicia in her car after their joyride. Through Alicia's relationships, we certainly see a bit of misogyny and certainly some masochism, but not so grotesquely that wider audiences are alienated. Additionally, Alicia is not the typical femme fatale - she is instead the protagonist, and while quite sexual, she is very human and demanding of sympathy instead of cold and calculating. Likewise, Devlin is refined and restrained, not the rough-around-the-edges male typical of film noir. Here we see how Hitchcock's decision-making in regards to characters and plot place Notorious near the noir genre that was emerging during the 40s, but not so far in as to make the film characteristically noir.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1998.A3 H565 1983
In regards to Notorious specifically, Spoto makes several arguments. First, he suggests that the portrayal of Mrs. Sebastian, the first matriarch to appear in a Hitchcock film after his mother's death, as evil and controlling was directly related to this death and to Hitchcock's resulting emotional release. Spoto also argues that the overt sexuality in the film, embodied by Ingrid Bergman, was a result of Hitchcock's repressed and largely unexplored sexuality. Finally, Spoto parallels the film's theme of conflict between love and duty with similar conflict in Hitchcock's own life between his personal desires (embodied by Alex) and his public image (embodied by Devlin).
The author's further psychoanalysis in essence declares that Hitchcock's Notorious is a work that is a result of context - of place, time, and circumstance in Hitchcock's own life. The film cannot be understood fully without understanding Hitchcock's personality and his personal life at the time of the film's creation. Spoto's chapter also shows that the film must be examined in a historical context outside of just Hitchcock - it must be seen in relation to Hollywood in the 1940s and to World War II-era America.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1998.A3 H573 1984
Call#: Van Pelt Library ML2075 .S89 2006
In Chapter 9 of his work Hitchcock's Music, Jack Sullivan discusses the score of Notorious and its role in the movie and the audience's experience. Sullivan argues that though the movie's score, composed by Roy Webb, is often overlooked by Hitchcock scholars, it is one of the best scores of any Hitchcock movie. Although Hitchcock had hoped for a more well-known composer than Webb, in the end Webb's subdued, non-flashy style and his use of dissonance and jagged rhythms fit well, even perfectly, as Sullivan argues, with Hitchcock's vision for the movie. The music, which often meshes so well with a scene that it seems to fade imperceptibly into the background, enhances the drama and danger that is written into the plot and that Hitchcock works so painstakingly to portray in the film through careful use of the camera and coaching of his actors.
The chapter provides a clear example of one of the many unexpected and unconventional elements of Notorious that, when combined with the other building blocks of the movie, creates the classic suspense for which Hitchcock is so well-known. The music is in no way a typical Hollywood film score - the tunes are not particularly catchy or melodramatic. However, Webb's varied and sometimes unsettling style works in the moment and matches the movie's plot, with its characters buried in layers of unresolved conflict and life-threatening danger, and its audience immersed in the uncomfortable coexistence of personal and political conflict embodied by both Devlin and Alicia's love vs. duty conflicts.
Sage, Adam. "Misogyny and French lies killed Mata Hari." The United Kingdom Times. 10 Nov. 2003. pg. 15.
Sage's newspaper article is both a film and book review and a brief history. He discusses a 2003 French film about Mata Hari made by Philippe Collas, the grandson of the judge that ordered the death of the infamous female who was a supposed German spy, and a book by M. Collas (another relative) that was released around the same time. Both works give a unique perspective on Mata Hari - instead of depicting a cold, ruthless maneater, they paint the dancer as vulnerable, deeply troubled, and wrongly executed, condemned for her sexual freedom and the threat it posed to male power rather than her guilt as a spy. M. Collas also suggests that, based on his great-grandfather's personal journal entries, one of the main motives behind killing Mata Hari was his great-grandfather's misdirected anger about female sexuality that resulted from discovering his wife's affair.
Knowing Mata Hari's story is important for understanding Notorious' heroine's plight on the most basic level, especially since Alexis verbally references Mata Hari and compares her own difficult situation of love, sex, and espionage, to that of the supposed spy. Like Mata Hari, Alexis is essentially forced by a wartime government into espionage, and her 'notorious' sexuality is turned into a tool for extracting information from unsuspecting male victims on the enemy side. The article outlines Mata Hari's difficult past, rife with family troubles and an abusive husband. Alexis's past is not much different considering her relationship with her traitor of a father, after whom's conviction she fell into heavy drinking and promiscuity. Both women, as a result of their pasts, are forced into exploitative situations by male-run governments who use the women's sexuality for their own power, despite their disapproval of the women's sexual freedom.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1994 .K294 2006
The fourth Chapter of Inga Karetnikova's text is devoted entirely to Hitchcock's Notorious. The author begins by providing a brief biography of Hitchcock, outlining both his early endeavors in the film industry and the movies made at the end of his career. Karetnikova also brings Ben Hecht, Notorious' screenwriter, into the picture, describing his relationship with Hitchcock and giving careful detail about the duo's creative process for the movie. Step by step, she moves through different story lines and plot twists considered by Hitchcock and Hecht until they finally arrived on what became Notorious. Lastly, Karetnikova briefly summarizes and then analyzes each scene in the movie, pointing out symbolism, themes, and created suspense.
Karetnikova's scene-by-scene analyses prove particularly useful for looking at the film critically since they show Hitchcock's active and deliberate decision-making that leads to the creation of his signature suspense. He used the camera to create suspense by allowing shots to grow long and linger, and by showing the audience information not available to the characters. Karetnikova's analyses also show how Hitchcock uses perceived time to his advantage, in this case creating suspense by cutting to shots of the diminishing number of wine bottles at Alicia and Alex's party, signaling to the audience that it won't be long before someone has to go down into the wine cellar where Devlin is snooping. Finally, her treatment of symbols in the film, such as keys and wine bottles, clearly shows another way in which Hitchcock masters the art of suspense in this film.
Alwitt, Linda F. "Suspense and Advertising Responses." Journal of Consumer Psychology. Vol. 12, no. 1. 2002. pp. 35-49.
In her article on suspense and consumer psychology, Linda Alwitt explores what suspense is, how it is created, and its effects on audiences. She argues that the presence of suspense in an advertisement, in this case a television commercial, evokes at once both positive and negative emotional responses in the viewer, with the ultimate result being a more positive attitude towards suspenseful ads than non-suspenseful ads. She also argues that while viewers have a respond better to suspenseful ads, there are trade-offs in regards to effectiveness.
Suspense is a fundamental element of Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious, as it is for most of his films, and is one of the keys to understanding the movie's success. For both filmmakers and advertisers, suspense is used to maintain the audience's interest, so for both groups the creation of suspense is similar, though filmmakers must hold the audience's attention for much longer than advertisers. As outlined by Alwitt, the critical elements that set the stage for suspense in both mediums are characters, a plot, conflict, perceived time (the passing of which must be somehow related to the conflict), multiple possible outcomes to the situation, and often the omniscient knowledge of the audience. All of these elements are present in Notorious. Since he is working within the movie format, which is much more extended than that of the commercial, Hitchcock is able to more fully utilize the camera, editing, music, and his characters to heighten the suspense.
One of the films' clearest examples of mounting tension is just before the climax in the wine cellar, as the camera cuts back and forth between large party scenes and close-ups of the dwindling numbers of champagne bottles. The result is the audience's increased emotional involvement in the film and it's main characters, Alicia and Devlin. When the conflict is resolved, viewers walk away with a more gratifying emotional experience, having experienced both excitement and fear with the films characters and having lived to tell the tale.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1998.A3 H5486 2005
In Modleski's chapter on Notorious, she thoroughly examines Hitchcock's film through a feminist lens. She describes how the film both fits into and breaks away from the film noir genre, moving into the female Gothic genre in which the heroine has a more active and inquisitive role. Unlike typical noir films, Notorious' main character is a female, Alicia; the story centers around her conflict, and the audience sympathizes with her plight. She is not simply an object of male desire. Modleski then explores the characterizations of male as sadist and female as masochist, as often used by feminist film theory. She argues that while to a certain extent, Devlin and Alicia fit these roles, they are far too simple to explain the characters' complex relationship - Devlin shows signs of masochism in that he choses to watch Alicia be subjected to suffering, knowing full well that he is in love with her. Additionally, Alicia's masochism is not simply a sign of her weakness and submissiveness - she uses her pain as an outlet for anger and a source of emotional power over Devlin. Modleski also draws an interesting connection between Alicia's conflict - to do right by her country requires violating social codes of appropriate sexual behavior - and the postwar period in which the film was made. She compares Alicia's love vs. duty conflict to that of the wartime citizen, male or female, asked to set aside personal issues for the greater good of the country.
The chapter is very useful for placing the film in a historical context, both in terms of the postwar period and the period preceding second wave feminism. It also gives clear illustrations of how Notorious strays from the neatly defined categories it is often lumped into, such as spy film, film noir, and suspense film. Finally, the article shows how Hitchcock's treatment of Alicia's character is both similar to and different from his portrayal of heroines in his other films.