Hitchcock Reviews

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

On holiday in Marakesh with his wife, Jo (Doris Day), Dr. McKenna (James Stewart) is the only one to hear the dying words of a French spy, dragging him into an assassination plot. Soon, his young son is kidnapped and they travel to London, desperate to get him back.

This was a pleasant surprise as it was far more enjoyable than I remember. I’ve always considered it one of Hitchcock’s lesser films of this period, but it just goes to prove, Hitchcock couldn’t make a bad film if he tried.

He certainly wasn’t trying here, either, despite my misgivings. Ok, it’s a remake of one of his own films which smells of studio meddling to me, but while that film was very good for its time, this improves the story and pace. It loses the originals sometimes wicked humour, but the characters are so much more believable.

I had originally considered Doris Day’s role as lazy; a world-class singer playing an ex-world class singer? That’s a stretch! However, the original 1934 version of the role was also a figure in the public eye and it’s a nice touch that a famous face suddenly has to hide real heartbreak of losing their child. Plus Doris Day is superb at putting across that emotion and I haven’t been fair by dismissing her in the past. Still, the song Whatever Will Be still sounds a bit out of place, but I don’t suppose you can feature one of the finest female singers of all time and just make her cry! But there’s the catch-22. Apparently Hitch didn’t want the song (another sign of studio control), but typically he pulls it off, especially on the second performance with Day singing it within earshot of her locked up son. Written for the film, it went on to be one of her most famous songs. He never did half-measures, did he?

Hitchcock’s best moment though is the incredible Albert Hall sequence, still an influence today (Eagle Eye). Once again, a key part of the film is acted in front of an on-screen audience as well as off. The whole thing is nail-biting and it’s great to have Bernard Herrman conducting the orchestra! My favourite though is how he let the music come to the fore so you can’t hear any dialogue, despite everyone having a lot to say. It makes it visually powerful and a throw-back to the silent days.

My main problem with the film is the plot. It’s a good premise and a nightmarish situation, but there’s no substance. Normally, as we have seen so often before, Hitchcock’s real interest lay in a sub-plot while the chase/murder/conspiracy is a diversion tactic. Here, there is no sub-plot! No romance, no development, it just is what it is.

Still, such empty plotting has been the typical Hollywood method for years (in fact, it’s normally sub-plots that ruin such films! coughEagle Eyecough.) Again. And this is as much fun as any of them, mainly down to Stewart’s expert everyman performance. I do miss the bonkers dentistry or the chair-throwing scenes from the first one. I suppose that does demonstrate how Hitch has developed from macabre farce to colder violence though.

Hitchcock Reviews

To Catch A Thief (1955)

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

I remembered To Catch a Thief as underwhelming, but watching it again I found it to be far more enjoyable. It’s light and unassuming, with little to mark it out technically, but very well played and quite fun. The romance is more obvious than usual and is fundamentally in place earlier than Hitchcock’s usual man-wrongfully-accused-on-the-run-falls-in-love setup.

The man in question this time is the brilliant Cary Grant, one of Hitch’s most dependable leading men. Here he has a chance to show off his cat-like grace properly as a cat-burglar. He was the best actor to never play Bond and once again, I have to wonder how much influence Hitchcock had on the choices made in the early years of that franchise. Certainly the plot could easily be suited to an average Bond entry, complete with infiltrating high society using a false name and a scene set in a casino (very funny too, in Hitchcock’s typically cheeky style!). Grace Kelly complements Grant and does enough as a slightly spoilt rich kid, but adds a little sassiness that only she could pull off. The scene where she is convinced of Grant’s guilt is brilliantly staged.

That follows the famous fireworks moment and it is one of the films highlights. While the fireworks themselves are a bit limp, it’s the staging in the room, both lighting and acting, that really impress. The climax also impresses with Grant hiding in the shadows of a rooftop, but overall there’s nothing flashy, just beautiful landscapes to wonder at. The last time I saw it, I rather dismissed it as a holiday brochure, but it has far more substance than that. Not enough to be amongst the Master’s best, but a very enjoyable way to pass a couple of hours.

Hitchcock Reviews

The Trouble With Harry (1955)

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Harry is dead, and his body is causing trouble for the various people who come across him!

This is nice change of pace for Hitchcock and although it doesn’t have anything to really mark it out in visual terms (apart from the gorgeous Vermont location), it is joyfully mischievous.

Apparently it took a while to find an audience in America and certainly this is much more an English story. Perhaps Hitch was feeling a little homesick for some Ealing! The macabre, yet delightful plot isn’t so far removed from The Ladykillers, with the rather matter-of-fact attitude the various characters have to Harry’s condition. The way they bury him and dig him up again multiple times is hilarious, but must have been quite shocking to those not used to such ideas being used for comedy (apparently Hitchcock wanted to see how the US would react). But comedy it is and a fine one at that, subtly performed by a small cast, including Shirley MacClaine in her first screen role (and adorable she is too). The other stand-out was Edmund Gwenn, the stories first suspect (not that anyone cares!). It stars John Forsyth, but in this second viewing for me, I couldn’t help but find him annoying at first. He won me over though, despite another daft sub-plot of instant marriage proposals! Mind you, I say sub-plot, but as usual, the body is not the real concern. Treating poor old Harry as more of an inconvenience underlines this.

For such an unassuming film, it also has another notable first in the score by Bernard Herrmann. Though this is probably the least known of his collaborations with Hitch, it was apparently the director’s favourite and it is wonderfully playful. Perhaps because the camera was lazier than normal and there was no suspense to speak of (as it should be in comedy), maybe it was easier for the composer to match the characters more closely, like in a cartoon. There’s a lovely moment where the Captain tries to hide his rifle from the deputy sheriff!

I’ve read in other reviews that some critics felt there was something deeper going on. A treatise on death and religion, perhaps? Maybe, if you like, but it still doesn’t stop this being one of Hitch’s more harmless and infinitely watchable films.

Hitchcock Reviews

Rear Window (1954)

Rating: ★★★★★ 

James Stewart plays L.B. Jeffries, injured photographer, wheelchair-bound and bored. He fills his time watching his neighbours and becomes convinced that one (Raymond Burr) may have murdered his wife.

My favourite films are the ones with the simplest of plots because there’s plenty of room for great writers to fill the time with detail that may not be necessary, but colours the story nonetheless. This is one of Hitchcock’s skills as a director anyway, so John Michael Haye’s wonderful adaptation of a short story is the perfect screenplay because it gives both of them plenty of room to play. The result is a cheeky, poignant, playful and eventually thrilling film that is a definitive example of the Hitchcock style.

It opens theatrically, with blinds rolling up and so the story unfolds slowly, as we observe Stewart observing his neighbours, making voyeurs of the audience. We are now complicit in the rude hobby of nosey-parkers! Don’t expect an immediate thrill-ride as the real focus of the film is way off, but watching the lives behind those windows is fascinating and the apartments are all exquisitely detailed. The noise from the street (that we can just see, and is almost another window in itself), the records played by the sexy blonde dancer or the lonely piano player provide a Diegetic score, intriguingly linking the neighbours without them ever really meeting.

There’s plenty to keep the attention during the languid pace before we need to consider the strange behaviour of Lars Thorwald. Has he committed murder or is it all in Jeffries’ mind? We have to rely on Jeff’s point of view and sometimes he frustrates us by falling asleep, but the circumstantial evidence piles up.

He steadily convinces the two women his life that all is not well. Thelma Ritter (All About Eve) as his nurse turns in another dryly witty performance and every one of her lines is a cracker; she describes Grace Kelly as “the right girl for any man with half a brain who can get one eye open”! Why he should need convincing, I have no idea. Her entrance is possibly the most entrancing of any actress, beautifully photographed as she wakes Jeff from a nap, the camera confident in its intimacy. The part was written for Kelly so of course, she is beyond perfect. She is still the delicate and strong character from Dial M for Murder, but now smoother and livelier. If you don’t feel anything as she first fills the screen, check your pulse…

As usual, their relationship is the real story and it feels like the most genuine Hitchcock did.I heard a comment regards Notorious that Hitchcock wouldn’t make a film again with such heart, but that’s rubbish if the performance between Stewart and Kelly is taken into account. It’s an adult situation, focused by the efforts to catch out Thorwald. Just watch Stewart’s expression when Kelly returns from a daring reconnaissance mission! Wordlessly, he completes a sub-plot and allows the film to move into fifth gear. There is almost a sexual frisson to these moments, leading to a possible conclusion that Hitchcock is playfully treating this plot as if it were entirely a seduction by Lisa, albeit a vicarious one considering Jeff’s incapacity.

There isn’t a lot of suspense until the final act, but it more than makes up for it as the helpless Jeff can only watch events take an awful and serious turn as maybe he has gone too far in his amateur sleuthing. Stewart has been stuck in one place for the entire film and he really makes you feel his impotence. But then he has always been the ultimate every-man and this is a classic performance. Hitchcock too seems to be willing to be more ruthless and messy in depicting violence. There are a couple of brief but very uncomfortable moments.

A hard sell on paper as there isn’t really a plot, Rear Window is one of the absolute essential Hitchcock films and epitomises his fascination with murder right on your doorstep. It feels like a shift into another level of confidence that will see him create his most famous films over the next few years.

Hitchcock Reviews

Dial M For Murder (1954)

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Having found out about Margot’s (Grace Kelly) affair with Mark (Robert Cummings), Tony (Ray Milland) meticulously plans the perfect murder, blackmailing an old college acquaintance, Swan (Anthony Dawson), into doing the deed.

Dial M for Murder is in many ways dated, talky and staged (although that wasn’t a problem for Rope). Strangest of all, it often feels over-directed by Alfred Hitchcock, who by all accounts was bored and only doing this to honour his Warners contract. It doesn’t help that he had to make it for 3D, which the Master had rightfully little faith in. As such there are multiple strange angles, cuts, cluttered foregrounds, and one bloody huge thumb! Thankfully there are only a couple of scenes obviously staged for 3D action and one in particular works brilliantly well anyway. In the end I don’t think it was even released as 3D, the gimmick had died off so quickly.

In retrospect it’s a strange story for 3D and the compositions are therefore ingenious, making the most of the almost single set (again, like Rope). No morals this time though, just cold, hard logic in a simple, but incredibly detailed and ingenious plot, developed from a play. It hasn’t lost its roots, so it’s very much an actor’s film, but it’s never less than engrossing and is brought to life by its marvellous cast.

There are essentially four main sequences, mostly shouldered by the smoothly brilliant Ray Milland as the despicable Tony. His delivery of what could be a boring screenplay demands attention, not least in his long scene with Anthony Dawson as he maps out every intricate detail of the murder he has inveigled him into committing. Then we have the murder itself, giving the luminous Grace Kelly a chance to shine as she fights back; her hand stretching out to the audience is the 3D moment I referred to earlier. It’s no spoiler to say that she turns the tables and kills Swan, and that is one of Hitch’s more memorable murders from this stage of his career.

It’s a fairly passive role for Kelly, but she is marvellous. Then again, she can do no wrong in my eyes, able to convey fragility and strength in equal measure. There’s a lovely moment with a key between her and Milland, which reminds you of Notorious. Cummings has fun with a great character in Mark; who better to try and solve the plot than a thriller writer? Well, John Williams as the Inspector would disagree and he has to be my favourite. He is an absolute joy, appearing at first to be rather stiff and old fashioned, he can’t contain his glee every time one of his questions trips someone up. He’s a similar character to the Detective in I Confess, but far less passionate, yet just as funny. And though his dedication is ultimately absurd, he’d give Columbo a run for his money and the scene of one-upmanship between him and Cummings is hilarious.

Part of me feels this is more average than the tighter, more ambitious I Confess, but what could have been a dry, humourless technical experiment, ends up being great fun, with a proper villain to boo. He doesn’t even do the dirty work! The remake, A Perfect Murder, is competent, if overly-serious, but you can’t find a cast like this one anymore. Should you ever be framed for murder, pray you have someone like Inspector Hubbard ready to fight your corner.

Hitchcock Reviews

I Confess (1953)

Rating: ★★★★☆ 


Father Logan (Montgomery Clift) hears the confession of a murderer, Keller (O.E. Hasse), and urges him to turn himself in. Instead he stands by as helpless Father Logan himself is suspected of the crime and unable to tell the wily Inspector Larrue (Karl Malden) the truth.

Hitchcock must have relished this plot, expanded from a play. It’s an ingenious conceit to trap a priest within his own belief system, unable to reveal anything he heard in confession, with lots of margin to turn the screws on both the characters and viewer! From the simplicity of that central theme, the story unfolds gracefully, revealing a compelling motive for Father Logan to have actually done the crime.

In Montgomery Clift, Hitchcock has the perfect lead. Clift was the original method actor and a controversial choice, apparently causing some issues on set, but still, it suited the role. There isn’t a glimmer of doubt in his eyes, except when he walks the picturesque Canadian town alone, and even then it is implied he is considering turning in his frock, not the confessor.

He is never judgmental or emotional. All we see is a man willing to accept whatever fate is laid out. This is an excellent depiction of faith and sacrifice, and Logan is a heroic character to rival Atticus Finch (To Kill A Mockingbird), especially given that Keller is German and Logan an ex-soldier. It’s criminal that such a character is not better known and makes this one of the most underrated Hitchcock films.

Clift is ably supported by Hasse as the nervy Keller, and Karl Malden who is typically superb as the Inspector, barely hiding his glee when he has the scent; a scene with the two of them in Larrue’s office is wonderful. The other main role is Anne Baxter as Logan’s ex-lover and potential motive. She’d recently won an Oscar for All About Eve, but this is a warmer, if simpler, role. Still the plot twists around her brilliantly as she unwittingly digs Logan in deeper while undermining her own marriage to Roger Dann. Mind you, he is a bit of wet blanket anyway, perhaps the weakest character.

The film seems to lose a lot of energy during the courtroom sequence (thankfully still much better than the method used in Spellbound) as it can’t help but repeat a lot of what we already know, but the story still has a couple of twists and it’s fascinating to see how Logan still doesn’t condemn Keller, not even with a mere glance. Apparently the subject of much discussion with the Catholic savvy censors.

A key to Baxter’s story is a flashback sequence featuring her relationship with Clift which compares to Stage Fright as it is also subjective and open to interpretation because it is strictly from her point of view. Not just a technical theme, it suits the narrative in that it does not specifically explain Clift’s reasons for becoming a priest and keeps him enigmatic. It’s an interesting break of pace from Hitchcock because it is so bright and romantic! He even uses slow motion at one point.

The rest of the film compares with Shadow of a Doubt. It is beautifully lit, with real locations instead of rear projection (Hitch’s Expressionistic background meant he would usually prefer to construct every aspect of the sets). Nothing flashy, but just solid, efficient quality revolving around character, not least at its most potent during a simple scene of Logan walking.

The film settles for an overall serious, nourish tone. Interestingly, it finishes as Hitchcock often likes to do, on a stage. But this time there is no audience…

Hitchcock Reviews

Strangers On A Train (1951)

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Tennis ace Guy Haines (Farley Granger) meets Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) by chance during a train journey. At first he appears to be a fan who knows a little too much about Guy, including his wish for a divorce so he can marry Anne Morton (Ruth Roman). He suggests a bizarre plan to “swap murders”, thereby eliminating motive. Guy pays him no heed until his wife is found strangled.

Strangers on a Train is one of the many timeless gems in Hitchcock’s career. Based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, it’s a fantastic premise and it is executed in a watertight screenplay that ramps up the tension throughout. Like Shadow of a Doubt and Notorious, there is little that stands out as all the elements fit together perfectly balanced in a believable drama. It’s a thriller masterpiece.

Robert Walker is superb as the unhinged, but intelligent Bruno and comes across as a viable threat. As in several of Hitchcock’s films, most recently Rope, Bruno talks about murder like some sort of socially acceptable pastime. Farley Granger was in Rope as one of those thrill seekers, but Guy dismisses it here as a joke. He convinces as the privileged individual about to join high society, but otherwise a perfectly normal man we can all identify with. And so his situation is terrifying. That his everyday comments about throttling someone should come back to haunt him, and the murderer has him over a barrel, with possibly the only feasible way out is to consider following the madman’s plan. With the added unspoken twist of course, that Bruno has done him a favour! Guy can’t avoid the fact he wanted Miriam out of the way. Luckily for the viewer, we want her out the way too as she is awful. Trust Hitch to make the audience feel just as guilty as the characters!

The rest of the cast don’t really stand-out except for Hitch’s own daughter, Patricia, as Barbara Morton. She is the stock character who is obsessed with stories about murder, probably like her dad, and she is very funny.

The murder scene is one of the best, as we see Miriam throttled in a reflection on one of the lenses of her glasses. There are few other obvious touches like this, except Hitchcock is expanding on the depth of field trick from Stage Fright (at least). This films real power though is in the pacing and editing. The final sequence is far more exciting that Wimbledon as Guy races through a tennis match, while Bruno is desperately trying to retrieve the all-important lighter. The great thing is, the whole sequence of him losing it temporarily is superfluous, but nail biting all the same. The finale on the merry-go-round is absurd, but utterly fantastic anyway. A stand-out set-piece.

The DVD includes a “preview” version. There is very little difference, except this was the British version I believe. It was apparently edited to play down the homosexuality theme. It’s hardly explicit, but I can see where the story could be emphasised about two men and their clandestine plans binding them together. Apparently in the book, Guy goes ahead with his side of the bargain after all, which I find silly, but would twist their lives together even tighter.

Hitchcock Reviews

Stage Fright (1950)

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Eve (Jane Wyman) is an aspiring actress determined to clear her friend Jonathan (Richard Todd). He is accused of murdering the husband of his lover (Marlene Dietrich), also an actress.

In many ways Stage Fright feels like a step backwards. The format is similar to the cross-country, framed for murder plots Hitchcock has done so well before and features one of those romances that always come across so naive, especially after Notorious. It doesn’t help that Jane Wyman’s Eve can’t seem to make her mind up. Key moments are played out to an audience or on stage, something that has always fascinated Hitchcock, from The 39 Steps to Saboteur. Although the rather gruesome (implied, anyway) end is a new development!

So it is disappointingly old-fashioned and even more of a letdown if you read the DVD case and might have been expecting Hitch’s take on Phantom of the Opera. It seems a bit messy and not very exciting overall, but it rewards repeat viewings as Hitchcock’s intentions become clear and you find this is typically ambitious and technically superb.

The story is about duplicity and the theatre is not just a location this time, but is fundamentally woven into the plot. Everyone is playing a part. Charlotte, a classic femme fatale, is fooling everyone into believing she is the brave widow, while Eve takes on the role of her maid and dresser to gain information. By the end, several others are involved in a complicated plot to prove Jonathan’s innocence without involving the police. But beyond the plot, the screenplay is structured brilliantly to be duplicitous to the audience as well. Aside from the opening and closing conceit of the curtain, the flashback sequence was reminiscent of Citizen Kane, in that it subverts audience perception. This was rare in 1950 and unheard of before Citizen Kane, where the viewers perception of the character was altered depending on who was relating the story at the time.
Kane was also noted for keeping focus, even in a deep depth of field. Hitchcock has played with this sort of thing before (the huge glass in The Lady Vanishes) and achieves a similar effect by super-imposing Dietrich into the foreground with Richard Todd in the back. Very clever and shows how he shared Welles’ determination to not be limited by mere physics.

The complicated structure perhaps kills the suspense, but the early chase, the finale and especially the wonderful sequence with Wyman trying to avoid Detective Smith (Michael Wilding) when she’s pretending to be the maid, are standouts. Perhaps it can be dismissed as a light and breezy caper, but overall the film is very entertaining, mainly thanks to British comedy legend Alistair Sim, who is a joy in every scene. Joyce Grenfell pops up too in a hilarious sequence at a shooting gallery. If you enjoy these two, you must look them up in their home turf of Ealing and St. Trinian’s comedies.

The rest of the cast are excellent too. Jane Wyman is essentially playing two roles, while Richard Todd plays up to and against his reputation. I tend not to enjoy Dietrich’s performances and I could certainly have done without the musical interludes, but still, she was perfectly cast here. I did enjoy how she kept undermining Eve’s complicated ruse; refusing to read what must have been a carefully forged letter and constantly getting her ironically false name wrong!

This is not essential viewing so far as Hitchcock films go, but it’s a lot of fun if you don’t take it seriously, with bonus points for actually being pretty radical in its structure.

Hitchcock Reviews

Rope (1948)

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Farley Granger and John Dall play two friends who have committed an audacious murder in their own apartment, shortly before a party with several friends and relatives of the recently deceased David, who is hidden inside a chest which they have made the centre-piece. Amongst the guests is James Stewart, the moral but unwitting inspiration for the plan.

In Rope, Hitchcock set himself a challenge by using a single set (the apartment) and one camera. He also intended to use one take, but as Achim already mentioned, was limited by 10 minute reels. But you have to look for the joins to spot them and they are very clever. Far from a mere experiment, Rope is a dark little moral tale that’s great fun to watch unfold.

So overall, it feels like a play, though far more dynamic and Hitchcock doesn’t waste a second. The screenplay (by Hume Cronyn) and actors are so good that the story would have worked if the camera was static, but he moves it around like an invisible guest, treating the chest with the body inside like an axis. Every time it is in shot the tension is tightened, none more so than when the maid starts to clear it towards the tail end of the evening.

The screenplay is brilliant at following two broad themes: the murderers getting a thrill from hiding David and the others considering David’s role in their lives and where he could be, subconsciously turning detective between them. The camera works to smoothly switch the emotional focus between the discussions and uses the chest to twist the audience’s perceptions.

Key to this is Rupert (James Stewart in his first Hitchcock role). While there are scenes similar to earlier films like Lifeboat, which overlap dialogue, he is the only one who can join in on both sides, especially as he has the least connection to David. He wonders where he is, but can consider all the evidence rationally, and it’s his own theories Brandon (John Dall) has used as inspiration for the murder; that it is ones moral right to kill someone inferior. So it is he who makes the link between his hosts’ strange behaviour and the possibility of a crime. Rupert is the closest character for the viewer and probably the director himself. While the subject could become pompous, he is a safety net for the audience in more ways than one. He enjoys the idea of murder, but could he actually go that far? Stewart is fantastic, quickly establishing himself as an intelligent, but rather manipulative and mischievous character (the discussion about Grant and Bergman is particularly funny).

The rest of the cast are excellent too, but Granger and Dall are particularly good because they are so different. They sort of represent each other, with Dall enjoying the thrill and Granger falling apart, while only hinting that they share the emotions. Interestingly it is Granger that actually did the throttling.

Rope is an excellent example of cinema and demonstrates how well all the elements can blend. Acting, writing and direction have to balance for a film like this to work. By restricting the action to one set, there’s no room for prevarication or indulgence, yet it is so much fun.

Hitchcock Reviews

Notorious (1946)

Rating: ★★★★★ 

A beautiful, but supposedly immoral woman and daughter (Ingrid Bergman) of a convicted war criminal, is persuaded to spy on Nazis at work in Rio. Before the job begins, she and her agent contact, Devlin (Cary Grant), fall in love. Their real feelings must be hidden, even from each other when she marries one of the group, Alex (Claude Rains), and her situation grows desperate.

This phenomenal and intense film is a milestone in Hitchcock’s career, with a distinct shift in style and confidence; every shot and setup is full of invention, yet never feels experimental while he stamps his authority on the suspense genre. Look the word up in the dictionary and it should say, “watch Notorious, and try not to hold your breath”. He puts Bergman and Grant through absolute torment and the sequences with the wine cellar key are particularly nerve shredding.

The plot is delivered similar to Shadow of a Doubt, in that there are no big set-pieces and it is driven by subtleties of human character, while defining earlier themes. We have a secretive Gentleman’s Club of Fifth Columnists (or SPECTRE perhaps), with an older woman (Leopoldine Konstantin) possibly at their head, such as the ones in Saboteur, except these have real menace behind their formal exterior (mainly down to Ivan Triesault) and none of the silliness. Although the motivation is completely different, the wonderful Bergman has similar situations to deal with as seen in both Rebecca and Suspicion, and delivers a spellbinding performance, especially well-judged with Casablanca co-star Claude Rains.

Rain’s is one of several characters that could have gone quite wrong, but ends up very much the opposite. Another is Cary Grant’s, here with a character that he deserves, playing up to, rather than against his romantic movie star image while allowing him to get his teeth into the role. It suggests that had Suspicion been allowed to unfold properly, it would still have felt wrong. He was a very good, but underrated actor and this is amongst his best work. Just watch his face as he delivers “one below the belt” to Bergman. They work together beautifully, enhanced by Ted Tetzlaff’s gorgeous photography, creating a tangible sense of longing. Bergman’s eyes are hypnotic. Once again the myth that Hitchcock didn’t work well with actors is shamed.

The dialogue is note-perfect and sophisticated, especially when Grant is dealing with his superiors who dismiss Bergman as a drunken tart. Or later, in the nail-biting finale on the stairs.

This was a Selznick production and I don’t think they ever worked together better, with the producer successfully negotiating with Hollywood’s morals and even J. Edgar Hoover! You would never know several concessions had to be made to the script, as usual.

The Criterion disc is predictably superb and the booklet theorises that Notorious was Hitchcock’s first true American thriller, but he wouldn’t again capture the heart and sympathy he has here. I don’t think that’s true, but certainly the balance between romance and thriller is rarely so well executed by anyone, never mind Hitchcock. This is a cinematic milestone as well.