Rebecca McCallum concludes her analysis of Notorious, part of her Hitchcock’s Women series.
A Pawn In A Game of Chess
Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) is constantly shown as an instrument used under the instruction of – and for the purpose of – men, be it her father, Devlin (Cary Grant), the intelligence agency, the Commodore (Charles Mendl) or Sebastian (Claude Rains). However, while Devlin and the men of the intelligence agency meet in the safety of their offices to discuss business, Alicia remains a woman of action – consistently proving that she can do what they cannot. The intelligence agency declares Alicia to be ‘the perfect woman for the job’ but notably she is not present to confirm this and her thoughts are not taken into account. She is merely a tool, a means for them to obtain the desired information. Although Alicia goes to great lengths to fulfil her assignment, this never seems to satisfy the agency as she receives directions ranging from gaining information at the Sebastian dinner, to sleeping with and marrying him before finally obtaining the source of the wine.
Alicia is also made to suffer repeatedly for the wrong doings of men, from Devlin telling her that she must atone for the choices her father made, to being subjected to slow poisoning and near death because the agency put her life in danger. In her relationship with Sebastian, in trusting Devlin and in acting as a go-between mixing her time with the agency and Nazi sympathisers, she takes all the risks by putting herself in constant jeopardy, and by the film’s climax there is still a question mark as to whether she will receive any recognition for her work, or if this will be claimed by the men who surround her.
Words Speak Louder Than Actions
In their Rio hotel room, when Alicia notes how Devlin has failed to tell her he loves her, he remarks how ‘actions speak louder than words’. However, in the case of their relationship, the lack of communication between them is their greatest obstacle. The theme of communication is key for Alicia and Devlin as not only does he withhold disclosing his love for her but he doesn’t reveal this until the end when it is almost too late: ‘why didn’t you tell me before?’ Alicia asks as she struggles to utter a complete sentence. When her relationship with Sebastian develops into a sexual one and she discloses that she can ‘add him to my list of playmates’ Devlin immediately turns on her but, as she tells him lamentably, ‘you could’ve stopped me with one word’.
Alicia is dumbfounded when Devlin tells her of the job involving Sebastian but he fails to mention that he spoke up for her as not being ‘the girl for such shenanigans.’ As far as she is concerned, he expressed no objections and therefore reveals his lack of regard for her. The imbalance in their relationship is also striking – Alicia’s private life is spread all over the newspapers and she has also shared a great deal of personal information about herself with Devlin, putting her in a vulnerable position. However, in return he discloses nothing and Alicia is left (as is the audience) knowing almost nothing about his character.
Watching Being Watched
The first time we see Alicia she’s being watched by the press who stalk her and are an unwelcome force of scrutiny in her life. We soon learn (through Devlin) that the intelligence agency has been tapping her family home for three months, recording all the conversations between Alicia and her father. Devlin plays back snippets of their exchanges to prove this and as surveillance has been taking place without her knowledge there is an unsettling sense of invasion and a lack of privacy and security for Alicia. This comes at a time (as does the reveal of Devlin’s occupation) when she has already built a strong mistrust of authority, never fully knowing if those she interacts with are genuine or not.
While being watched by both Devlin and Sebastian (who also watch one another), Alicia herself is shown constantly watching – whether it be through her field glasses at the races, at the dinner party where she identifies the German men or when her coffee is poisoned – and by putting us in the eyes of his heroine, Hitchcock provides a fascinating commentary on cinema and the art of looking. Both Devlin and Alicia also refer to not being able to see clearly – she whilst driving in Miami and him at the end, when he confesses ‘I couldn’t see straight or think straight’, but by the closing shot we have seen the pair go through a process of pulling back the veil of blindness in order to fully realise what is in front of them.
Seeing Clearly With A Victorious Smile
As the film draws to a close, Alicia is immobilised and disempowered, laying fragile and speechless in bed. When Devlin visits, there is a doubling in both this scene and the hangover scene from the beginning of the film as here, Devlin finds Alicia in bed again. In contrast to the hangover scene, she sees him walking towards her not at an angle, but perfectly straight, a sign of her faith in him. Furthermore, she asks him to repeat that he loves her – rather than wanting to be numb and asleep as before, now she has a desire to stay awake, to stay alive. Remarkably, it has taken seeing Alicia reduced to an almost shell-like creature for him to acknowledge his feelings. Perhaps her buoyancy and earthiness intimidated him but now, seeing her helpless, he can consolidate this with his masculinity intact.
Literally carried from her bed downstairs by Devlin, who has full control while she remains silenced and incapacitated, he is every inch the gothic hero rescuing Alicia from the confines of Sebastian’s castle. Although Alicia is seen clinging onto Devlin, he also reciprocates this and can be seen holding on just as tightly to her: in these concluding moments they are unified as one.
As she is bundled gently into the waiting car, the final shot of Alicia shows her smiling victoriously. She opens her eyes – her hair back from her face – showing that now she can see the way forward (and the truth) more clearly than ever before.
Rebecca will return in the New Year with more articles in her Hitchcock’s Women series.