Classic Symbiotic Collaborations Blogathon: Notorious (1946)

Director Alfred Hitchcock has collaborated with several actors multiple times, such as James Stewart (four films) and Grace Kelly (three films). Often times those collaborations came together into one movie, like when he directed both Stewart and Kelly in Rear Window. Two other actors he loved working with were Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, and together they made one of the most thrilling romances in film, Notorious.

Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), the American daughter of a convicted Nazi spy, is recruited by government agent T. R. Devlin (Cary Grant) to infiltrate a Nazi organization in Brazil. While awaiting the details of Alicia’s assignment in Rio de Janeiro, the two begin a passionate affair. Matters become more complicated when Alicia is instructed to reacquaint herself with Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), one of her father’s friends, and someone who was once in love with her.

For both Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, Notorious was the second film they made with Alfred Hitchcock. Grant had previously worked with the Master of Suspense on the 1941 film Suspicion, while Bergman had just worked with the director the year before for Spellbound. Bergman made one more film with Hitchcock (1949’s Under Capricorn), while Grant made two more (1955’s To Catch a Thief and 1959’s North by Northwest). The two actors also teamed up on the screen one more time under Stanley Donen’s direction in the 1958 film Indiscreet.

Among the many great actors that Alfred Hitchcock had worked with, he’s stated that Cary Grant was “the only actor I ever loved in my whole life.” Grant was the ideal leading man and was one of the most charismatic actors to grace the screen. In Hitchcock’s films, Grant played the type of men that the director would like to have been, such as the suave playboy (like in Suspicion) or the wrongly accused hero who gets the girl in the end (like in To Catch a Thief). Before there was James Stewart’s character Scottie in Vertigo, Devlin in Notorious was the closest to Hitchcock’s self-understanding, as the character repressed his passionate feelings for a woman he loved, similarly mirroring the director’s own infatuation with Ingrid Bergman.

Unlike the more distant relationships he had with his actors, Alfred Hitchcock worked very closely with his leading ladies. Though in later years he became more possessive of the actresses he often collaborated with, he was the most fascinated by Ingrid Bergman. His deep affection for her even caused some tensions in his working and personal relationship with his wife Alma Reville, though Bergman never reciprocated his feelings. Despite his growing infatuation, the two enjoyed working together, and Bergman became Hitchcock’s closest collaborator on Notorious, which was unprecedented for the director. In all his films, Hitchcock had every intricate detail planned out before production began and usually didn’t take actors’ ideas for their characters into consideration. But with Bergman, if she felt something was off in her performance as Alicia, Hitchcock would concede to the actress’s instincts and let her perform the scene the way she wanted.

The film’s most famous scene is the three-minute kissing scene between Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, where the two continuously embrace each other as they walk and talk between kisses. The scene was devised by Alfred Hitchcock as a way to get around the Hollywood restriction about prolonged kissing. The actors told their director that they felt very awkward in performing that scene, but Hitchcock reassured them that it would look great on film. He felt that the tight shots of their kissing gave viewers the privilege of embracing Grant and Bergman together and that it served as a kind of temporary ménage à trois between the audience and the two actors.

After working harmoniously on Notorious, the three became lifelong friends. When Ingrid Bergman was publicly denounced in the U.S. for her tumultuous affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini, Cary Grant was one of the few who stayed by her side, and later accepted her second Oscar for her role in the 1956 film Anastasia when she couldn’t make an appearance (which you can watch here). And in 1979, Bergman hosted AFI’s Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony for Alfred Hitchcock, where the director sat at a table between his wife and Grant (you can watch Bergman’s tribute to him here). Though the three of them weren’t reunited onto one film again, Notorious produced a very symbiotic collaboration between the director and the two stars and created one memorable, classic film.

I wrote this entry as a part of the Classic Symbiotic Collaborations Blogathon, where many bloggers are writing about great partnerships between stars and directors. Click the banner below to read more posts!

14 thoughts on “Classic Symbiotic Collaborations Blogathon: Notorious (1946)

  1. Pingback: BLOGATHON ANNOUNCEMENT | CineMaven's ESSAYS from the COUCH

  2. Thanx for your essay on my Star – Director Blogathon. You’re hitting a chord talking about “Notorious.” It’s one of my favorites of Hitchcock’s. Look forward to reading. Thanks again.

    • It’s definitely one of my favorites from Hitchcock too, probably even in my top 5 of his films. Thank you again for being such a hard-working hostess!

  3. Absolutely! All the ingredients were here for a wonderful film. I didn’t realize Grant and Bergman felt uncomfortable filming the famous kissing scene, but the fact that they trusted Hitchcock says a lot about all of them. Great post!

    • I didn’t realize they felt awkward about the scene either until I did some research on the film. It must have just been because it was so uncommon at the time to have such an extended love scene (and at a close range too!), otherwise I think the two didn’t mind kissing each other. 🙂

  4. This is such a great film – I was lucky enough to see it on the big screen a little while back and was on the edge of my seat. A great choice for the blogathon!

  5. Ingrid and Cary were perfect as the leads in Notorious. They were believable in their roles, and had a great chemistry. The friendship they developed off-screen is also something I admire. And Hitchcock’s love for Cary Grant should be explored more – but I agree with you that Hitch would love to have been the suave guy Grant was.
    Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! 🙂

    • I’d love to know more about the working relationship between Hitchcock and Grant; it’s interesting that Grant’s the actor that he admired most, and that he played the type of characters Hitchcock wanted to be.

  6. Read your piece Keisha and enjoyed it. I hadn’t realized Hitch was ready to give the keys to the kingdom to Ingrid Bergman for her input.This is one of my favorite movies. I had to get over Cary Grant acting like such a lunkhead and putting Bergman in harm’s way. I mean, if your mother-in-law is Madame Konstantin…you need a life raft.

    This is what a gem looks like when all hands on deck collaborate. Thanks again!

    • Thanks for the kind words Theresa, and thank you again for being an enthusiastic hostess!
      And you’re right about Cary Grant in this, it was so frustrating seeing the way he acted around Ingrid Bergman through most of the film for the sake of the job. At least it all turned out alright for them in the end. 🙂


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