Friday, May 7, 2010

OCD for the Big Screen: Notorious

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to catch Notorious (1946) at the Riverview Theater. I had a unique experience at that screening: I got there late. Call me an incorrigible optimist, but this was actually a good thing. I walked in during the scene in which Devlin and Alicia are flying down to Rio, their heads pressed together in murmuring conversation against the backs of those gloriously huge 1940s airplane seats. "I was remembering how nice we both were," Alicia says wistfully of her father. Oh, what a thrill to walk into a big movie palace and see those two up there on the screen, carrying on like that. It was a bit like that moment in Radio Days when the boy walks into Radio City Music hall and sees the kiss between Jimmy Stewart and Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story? Nevermind that I had to miss all my favorite business with the scarf and "this fog get's me" at the beginning.



With the retrofit sound equipment at the Riverside, I noticed a line I hadn't heard before. When Devlin and Alicia are at the races being watched by Sebastien through the binoculars, Grant says, "Dry your eyes. His nibs is coming." I was so excited because I'd never heard the second half of that before. My husband and I call our son "his nibs." We collect moments in pop culture when the phrase is used. (I noticed another one the other day in When Ladies Meet" when Robert Taylor refers to Joan Crawford as "her nibs.")



It was also great fun to watch Notorious with a really big audience. All around me I heard the gasps of the people who'd never seen the movie before, reacting to the suspense. I'm always so dang jealous of those folks. It's nice to find out which lines get the biggest laughs. My own favorite about the chicken catching fire once garnered a few chuckles, but I was surprised at how much everyone laughed at Louis Calhern's preening when Alicia tells him that Sebastien thought him very handsome. After that, I began to take notice of Calhern's performance and, indeed, he is terrific. I love the scene in which Devlin comes in to tell him that Felicia might be really ill and he's eating cheese and crackers. He's just so into those crackers.




Hitchcock's artistry can't be left out in any discussion of Notorious. During the party scene, Felicia and Devlin must complete their investigation in the wine cellar before the champagn runs out. Hitchcock empahsiszes the champagne in every shot and the effect is like a ticking clock. A while back, I coined the term "champagne clock" to describe this sequence. This time through, I noticed that time and champagne are linked in other scenes as well. Devlin buys a bottle of champagne before he goes to meet with Prescott, and though he refers to it in the script as a "bottle of wine," it is specifically champagne. Hitchcock places the bottle prominently in the scene in which Devlin is presented with the nature of Felicia's work. Unwilling to stand up for Felicia's new found sobriety and faithfulness, which is only a few hours old, Devlin allows the begging of their love affair to sleep away. The champagne clock begins to tick out what Devlin believes to be their final moments. Tellingly, Devlin leaves the bottle behind and doesn't remember it until after he an Felicia have fight later that evening.


The big screen always affords the opportunity to notice new things about Grant's performance. I think the moment when he starts up the stairs to Felicia's room might be the most beautiful moment in the whole movie. Archie Leach the acrobat takes over as he silently bounds the stairs two or three at a time.

I can name movies such as Cary Grant's Pride and the Passion, that I did like at all until I saw them on the big screen. I would encourage those of you who have the opportunity to watch any classic films that you can on the big screen. It is always worth while.


9 comments:

Clara aka aguass said...

Wow, Notorious on the big screen, that's awesome :)

Java Bean Rush said...

There aren't any such theaters around here, but I'd certainly go to them if there were.

They were meant to be seen on the big screen. I sometimes wonder what I'm missing, b/c movie makers then didn't anticipate these things being shown on a little laptop.

dare713llflagg0 said...

i trust everything will be fine. bless you!........................................

Jay said...

I was out of town for Notorious--it's my favorite Hitchcock flick. :(

Glad to hear it was a hit at the Riverside!

Jennythenipper said...

Java Bean: check your local college or University, often they will show old movies as part of classes or sometimes just as cheap entertainment.

If you want, you can get pretty close to recreating the experience using a modern LCD projector, a blank wall or a pull down screen. It's not quite the same as an old movie palace, but at least you are getting close to the right size.

Jay: Bummer you missed it, but check out the Trylon's summer schedule. Bill Murray fest starts tonight. I'm so pysched! Also, I happen to know that they will be doing a Cary Grant Festival Monday evenings, this summer at the Heights.

esther said...

Glad you got to see it on the big screen! I've seen it a couple of times here in CA. It always amuses me that Prescott is called handsome as often as Devlin is. (I actually verified this on the script once- talk about OCD!) lol I love his crackers in bed too...reminds me of Walter Matthau in Charade. Of course, Madame Konstantin is the real star of this movie. lol

SteveQ said...

I know you're not a fan of film noir, but I go all gooey just looking at the stripes in that collection of pictures, from the suspenders matching the bedspread, the venetian blinds across the suit, the horizontal steps versus the vertical balustrade. Hitchcock nailed the style so much better than, say, his attempt at surrealism (not in Notorious, of course).

Java Bean Rush said...

Thanks, Jenny. :)

skdin said...

Speaking of the scene where the champagne is running out, I love the way Hitchcock does his cameo there, drinking champagne. He is literally building up the tension himself by making the champagne run out faster. There is a picture of it at www.black-and-white-movies.com