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.
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