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    #11
    Senior Member Cary Knoop's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OldCorpse View Post
    ... who discusses Notorious outside of mentioning it as one of Hitcock's films? It brought nothing to the art of cinema. It was not a milestone of any kind. It broke no barriers, it established no precedent. It was a film of its time, that did not pass the test of time. Those other movies - both before and after - continue to be admired and discussed (including many great Hitchcock films), but Notorious is a footnote in film history of crime movies.
    Well, I think for a film to be good it could be but does not have to be innovating.

    Also, I would not characterize Notorious as a crime movie, it's suspense I think of first when I watch Notorious.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Cary Knoop View Post
    Well, I think for a film to be good it could be but does not have to be innovating.

    Also, I would not characterize Notorious as a crime movie, it's suspense I think of first when I watch Notorious.
    Fine, we can call it "suspense" - although, c'mon, it's a "suspense" movie notably lacking in suspense, and by that measure fails at the most fundamental level - I mean, let us be real honest here... where was there suspense?! The most you could claim would be at the very end, when they all descend that staircase, with Claude Raines under pressure. I mean suspense is really, really hard to find in this movie. Btw. I was just rewatching with my wife various Hitchcock movies (that's how I just saw "Notorious"), and yesterday we watched the 1956 version of "The Man Who Knew Too Much" - a vastly more suspensful movie by any way you'd care to measure - not just that famous - and long, long, long! - concert scene waiting for the cymbal crash, but really almost throughout, every few scenes you have legit prolonged tension and suspense! No comparison! It even also had a "going down the staircase" scene, with Stewart, the bad guy with the gun and the little kid, lol.

    As a matter of fact, it's funny you mention suspense, as that's one of the things I was looking for in this movie given the premise. We are supposed to watch a woman insinuate herself into a dangerous group of bad guys and you'd think the suspense would be something one could really experience from the suspense master Hitchcock. Instead, there was just about zero. And it starts with the MacGuffin - the thing Hitchcock pronounces unimportant, but which in this case, sorry, is so poor that it actually becomes important insofar is it impacts the very sensation we're supposed to experience: "suspense". Because c'mon, you're trying to scare us with Nazis? In 1946, after they've just been resoundingly defeated? And not even holed up in some dangerous place under their control in Europe, or some remote area, but in sunny Sao Paulo, Brazil! A bunch of older men in dinner jackets talking out of the sides of their mouths in a sumptious mansion, but oooh, scary, a real mean granny, prospective mother-in-law in a lacy dress... oh God! the suspense is killing us, how will we ever stand it!!!UNO!! Note, how we witness no real physical demonstration of any danger, no dead bodies, no injuries even. At least in The Man Who Knew Too Much, you have a stabbing and a guy with the knife in his back who dies in Stewart's arms. You are creating no sense of danger. It's a soap opera. These kinds of fundamental establishments of the premise are fatally flawed in Notorious. Hitchcock was fully capable of generating some shocking violence (not just in Psycho!), but here he just miscalculated. No, you don't need physical violence to escalate tension or establish danger, but if you don't establish "danger!" by other means - which Hitchcock doesn't in Notorious - then you gotta give us something, or else we find it about as threatening as a crossword puzzle.

    But as is, it's just stupid. The house is under observation, the local authorities are aware of it, the American government has agents all over the place, even the main bad guy Claude Raines chats with our debonair agent Cary Grant and is fully aware of the Americans interest in him and his business. Where in the world is the sense of danger we need to generate suspense? I tend to agree with Hitchcock that the MacGuffin is not key, but I think there are limits, your plot has to have just enough elements to make the danger plausible, not so anodyne that we fall asleep. I think he muffed it in this case. There's more suspense in an average episode of Murder She Wrote. It's the kind of film elderly fans of Matlock might watch for all the suspense it generates.

    I agree that not every film has to innovate. But it does have to bring something to the table, that something being at least fulfilling its most basic genra mandate. A romance has to have romance in it, or it fails in its primary mission. A comedy has to be funny, or it fails in its primary mission. And a suspense film has to have suspense in it, or it fails in its primary mission. That's a failure at the most fundamental level. And so my #1 complaint about Notorious is not lack of innovation, but its abysmal failure at the most fundamental level - it fails as suspense. Again, YMMV.


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    Senior Member Cary Knoop's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OldCorpse View Post
    Fine, we can call it "suspense" - although, c'mon, it's a "suspense" movie notably lacking in suspense, and by that measure fails at the most fundamental level - I mean, let us be real honest here... where was there suspense?! The most you could claim would be at the very end, when they all descend that staircase, with Claude Raines under pressure. I mean suspense is really, really hard to find in this movie.
    I think the film is loaded with suspense:

    1. The possibility of Alicia being discovered by the NAZIs
    2. The possibility of Alex's mistake being discovered by the NAZIs
    3. Alicia getting poisoned, can Devlin save her in time?
    4. The contrasting love/using relation between Alica and Devlin

    Sure it is not suspense in the way of "Will the killer stab with the knife now?", it's, as you indeed say in an earlier posting, much wordier.

    Quote Originally Posted by OldCorpse View Post
    Because c'mon, you're trying to scare us with Nazis? In 1946, after they've just been resoundingly defeated? And not even holed up in some dangerous place under their control in Europe, or some remote area, but in sunny Sao Paulo, Brazil! A bunch of older men in dinner jackets talking out of the sides of their mouths in a sumptious mansion, but oooh, scary, a real mean granny, prospective mother-in-law in a lacy dress... oh God! the suspense is killing us, how will we ever stand it!!!UNO!!
    Well, I think that is a bit overdone. Suspense can be subtle, it doesn't have to be about "ax murderers" only.

    Quote Originally Posted by OldCorpse View Post
    But as is, it's just stupid. The house is under observation, the local authorities are aware of it, the American government has agents all over the place, even the main bad guy Claude Raines chats with our debonair agent Cary Grant and is fully aware of the Americans interest in him and his business. Where in the world is the sense of danger we need to generate suspense? I tend to agree with Hitchcock that the MacGuffin is not key, but I think there are limits, your plot has to have just enough elements to make the danger plausible, not so anodyne that we fall asleep. I think he muffed it in this case. There's more suspense in an average episode of Murder She Wrote. It's the kind of film elderly fans of Matlock might watch for all the suspense it generates.
    Granted, this setting is a bit simple.

    Quote Originally Posted by OldCorpse View Post
    And so my #1 complaint about Notorious is not lack of innovation, but its abysmal failure at the most fundamental level - it fails as suspense. Again, YMMV.
    It seems we have to agree to disagree on that one.
    Last edited by Cary Knoop; 09-16-2019 at 05:33 PM.


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    Ha, ha, I guess we've long since agreed to disagree - but to me it's always interesting to try to understand (even if I don't agree) a different point of view, which is why I've continued to roll with this thread . People see the world differently, that's understandable.

    Re: Alicia being discovered by the Nazis, or as you put it NAZIs. To me that they are NAZIs is a downgrade - if not total collapse - of suspense. It's like bbbbut what if she's discovered by Bluto from Popeye the Sailor Man? The Nazis were just defeated so thoroughly, that the world moved on almost immediately into forgetting WWII. There was no lingering threat the way we have these days with war on terror, where just taking over, say, Afghanistan is a pyrrhic kind of "victory", because the threats linger on. Here the Nazis were demolished - and the world moved on into a whole new era so fast it ended up changing the society, the economy and the mentality of the world. So a few elderly Nazis in the capital of Brazil, lol, holed up in a mansion right under the noses of local and American authorities with full awareness? And really, the Nazis are threatening only or primarily in an organization backed by state power. That's what the threat and dread of Nazis is at essence - organized, mass state terror. Outside of that context - as it is here - a collection of nostalgically plotting elders living out their fantasies in pie in the sky plots, is pathetic at most. These are just a collection of guys who need to up their prostate meds so they can go to the bathroom and get relief. Outside of wielding state power, Nazis are less concerning than zombies. And here I am not kidding, I'm totally serious - I'd find it FAR, far, far more threatening if Alicia were trying to penetrate a terrorist organization, or a criminal mafia organization, or really just a gang of cutthroat desperados. But Nazis? Under observation? I find it severly lacking... the main baddie lives with his mom and under her thumb, lol! I hope she doesn't catch him sneaking extra cookies after dinner, or he'll really be in for it, lol! Honestly, it's a premise more suited to comedy, a la The Producers, where the Nazi thing is an object of humor, or Hogan's Heroes (both much better than Notorious, btw., because they're genuinely funny, thus at leat fulfilling their basic genre requirement).

    And Alex being discovered by the NAZIs - you've gotta be kidding. The most that would've happened was that his cover would be blown, so he wouldn't get any more invites to the mansion parties - which is in fact what ultimately happened, after his dastardly wine cellar bottle swapping was belatedly discovered by the resident criminal genius Nazi. Alex was never under physical threat, the tension was of losing a promotion in case he didn't discover what the eeevil Nazis were cooking up in their Brazilian retirement, boy that suspense has me twisting my socks... what if he really has to go on a posting to Spain! Spain! Oh, the horror of it all!

    Alicia getting poisoned - oh the humanity! So emasculated are the Nazis, so completely bereft of any threat capability, that the poor schmucks can't even use such violent means as a gun! No guns, gentlemen! Ouch! So they are forced into poisoning, cause really, they got nothing, not even a pocket knife. After all, they're all watched by a thousand eyes - in the "clever" Hitchcock premise of diminishing the feeling of danger at every turn, lol - again, I say, fundamentally miscalculated if you are looking for suspense. They're reduced to poisoning the coffee, like in your aunt's paperback crime novel. Can Devlin save her in time? I experience the same amount of suspense when I wonder if Elmer Fudd will finally get Bugs Bunny.

    The relationship between Devlin and Alicia, as I experience it, completely lacks any suspense or tension. The use/love thing feels fake as all get out. But if you really look at what's supposed to be at play here is the hope of the audience that Alicia and Devlin will end up together - that's it, wish fulfillment. Sum total of that tension. And here's the kicker - you wish for that, if you believe what these two actors are selling. Trouble starts when you don't perceive any chemistry between them, and so you are not pulling for them to end up together, because you picture them at opposite ends of the room having nothing to say to each other. There's no romantic/sexual spark there - as far as I can see (although granted, endless prattling on and on and on). Now, sure, this is an individual reaction. You - and clearly many others - have a different reaction and they buy this couple. No harm, no foul. Opinions will differ. So I can see how this might generate suspense, but for reasons I enumerated, it just doesn't work for me.


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    Senior Member Cary Knoop's Avatar
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    I think it was implied that the discovery of Alex's serious misjudgment would have caused him to follow Emil's footsteps.
    Using poison was deemed necessary by Alex's mother because the elimination of Alicia had to be done in an inconspicuous way in order to cover up Alex's mistake.

    With respect to the love interaction between Devlin and Alicia, I find it a bit of a distraction from the main story actually.
    But eh, what can you expect, it's Hollywood after all.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Cary Knoop View Post
    I think it was implied that the discovery of Alex's serious misjudgment would have caused him to follow Emil's footsteps.
    Using poison was deemed necessary by Alex's mother because the elimination of Alicia had to be done in an inconspicuous way in order to cover up Alex's mistake.

    With respect to the love interaction between Devlin and Alicia, I find it a bit of a distraction from the main story actually.
    But eh, what can you expect, it's Hollywood after all.
    All true - and I glossed over it, because the relevant part was that it all served to diminish the danger and sense of threat that is necessary for suspense to operate, and the details you mention serve to weaken the sense of danger even further. The fact that the bad guys were themselves internally divided and fearing each other, makes the "gang" such as it is, even weaker yet. I mean, now Claude Raines has to hide his actions from the other bad guys, so all he has left is some slow acting poison that needs multiple doses over many days to be effective. The weak only get weaker. It's not even the power of a well organized and cohesive gang.

    But this whole threat scenario and the utter botch that was made of it, prompts me to write a bit more about the Nazi debacle I alluded to before: a fundamental mistake in understanding how threatening villains work. How can you make your villian(s) effective? Everybody understands that you have to maximise their power, so that the perceived threat to our hero is the greatest and the predicament most dire. Unfoturately, Hitchcock (and screenwriter Hecht) appear to have completely misunderstood that dynamic in the case of organized villains, thinking "NAZI" is enough.

    On the surface of it, saying the bad guys are NAZIs seems to increase the threat. But it all depends on context. In some contexts that's true. In other contexts it's exactly the opposite. Like I mentioned before, the power of political villians derives from the power of the state behind them. We fear Nazis, because they can call upon the power of Nazi Germany. Absent that power, their threat collapses. It's exactly the same with other political villains. The film industry has long lived off the threat of "OMG, COMMUNISTS!". But note, that this power is much diminished when those commies are not in their own country. We fear much less for our hero if he stumbles into a meeting of commies in Topeka Kansas, but we fear a great deal, if he's in Moscow, the USSR. We don't worry as much about Nazis in Florida, or Sao Paulo, but worry about them if they're in Nazi Germany or territories under their control. If the power of their state is distant - less worry - if near, more worry.

    Things change even more drastically, if the power of the state is no longer behind them, because the state that supported them has collapsed or been defeated. If Nazi Germany has been defeated, or if the USSR has collapsed, how worried would we be if our hero stumbled into a den of communists... what, they'll cram Karl Marx books down his throat and suffocate him? Now, you are taking a band of Nazis (or Communists) from a defeated/collapsed country and they are not even in their own country but some other country? Threat level collapses. What else could have been done? What if those Nazis are somewhere in a remote area that nobody knows about - the jungles of Paraguay or Brazil - perhaps some small danger charge (The Boys From Brazil), but Hitchock/Hecht managed to fumble even that, putting the gang right in the capital of a state that's friendly to the U.S.! The isolation of the jungle is like isolation in every horror/crime film, it works, because the forces of rescue are far away - but here we don't have isolation, the rescue is a taxi-ride away from the front of the house (ending of "Notorious"). If at least the Nazis were holed up in some unknown house in Sao Paulo, you'd have the prospect of tension of "where?!" to threaten our heroes, but once again, Hitchcock decided to diminish the threat by placing them in a sumptious mansion well known to the authorities and American agents, with full knowledge of the "Nazis". A more limp-wristed danger would be hard to conjure.

    Now that Hitchcock/Hecht managed to thoroughly defang and infantilize the "NAZIs", he'd not done yet, because he decides to weaken and ridicule the head villain further if at all possible - a mama's boy fearful of the rest of the gang, and dumb as they come. And the security at that place - lol, Devlin simply waltzes in without an appointment (after Claude Raines is fully aware that he's an American agent), and then wanders the halls taking his sweet time to locate the unguarded Alice and simply opens the unlocked door and there has another one of those lengthy conversations with Alice, and criminal anti-genius Claude Raines waits patiently for Devlin to complete all these actions. At this point, it's no suprise that the way out is simply calling a taxi. So much for making the villain powerful.

    But let's look at how Nazis (and Communits) are treated in film, when the writer/director actually understands that dynamic of what makes Nazis/Communists threatening. First, it happens when Nazi German is still in full power - as depicted in the movie Casablanca (1942) - (of course, a vastly superior movie to Notorious) Rick and Ilsa could be arrested by the Nazis, because the area is still under Nazi control; can you imagine how the stakes and tension and suspense would collapse if they were instead in Sao Paulo (even if it was 1942) and the local state power was not under Nazi control as in North Africa, but under America-friendly regime? Even in purely entertainment/adventure movies like Indiana Jones, when Nazis were invoked, it was in the 30's and they had state power behind them. Or take the case of a movie where Nazi power was defeated, but you wanted to maintain some survivor Nazi threats, look at how that was handled in The Third Man (1949), you don't go off into a tropical climate merry old Sao Paulo and its cafes, but war devastated Vienna, where competing powers were struggling for supremacy, partly occupied by the menacing Stalinist USSR, people scrabbling for food and survival, criminal gangs of smugglers and unrepentant Nazis, everybody battling it out, villains and heroes chasing each other in city sewers, not sumptious mansions with parties and champagne - and even here, the Nazis were hardly the point, it was about crime, war profiteering and uncertain loyalties and bonds of friendship. Oh, what a dramatic contrast - with The Third Man so vastly superior to Notorious, you don't even know where to begin - cinematography, script, acting, music, characters, dialogue, or the superb mood creation.

    Same with the various Communist plots - even Hitchcock put our hero in danger in Communist Eastern Germany in Torn Curtain (1966) - and as soon as Communism collapsed in the USSR, the number of films featuring Communism collapsed right along - the only time Commies or Nazis are invoked in film, are in period settings when they were still in power (except jokey things like Zombie Nazis).

    So we can establish a rough hierarchy of danger levels and the resulting suspense potential from the strongest to the weakest:

    1) Nazi villains in the heart of Nazi Germany (for Commies USSR, N. Korea etc.) - Max Threat level 1

    2) Nazis in areas they control fully or with axis allies (Casablanca - French Vichy collaborators) - Threat level 2

    3) Nazis in areas they don't control, but Nazi Germany is still around - Threat level 3

    4) Nazi Germany has been defeated, but Nazis are still around in Nazi Germany, Austria and so on - Threat level 4

    5) Nazi Germany has been defeated, but surviving Nazis are holed up in some third world country, deep in an isolated secret location (The Boys From Brazil) - Threat level 5

    6) Nazi Germany is gone, but surviving Nazis are holed up in a secret location in a major city in some country - Threat level 6

    7) Nazi Germany is gone, but the surviving Nazis are in the capital city, tropical location, galavanting about in a sumptious mansion, under full supervision of local authorieties and American agents, with lax security, free to enter for American agents with no appointment and wandering about with no supervision - Threat level 0 - Notorious for lack of suspense.

    And there you have it. With the villain in addition ludicrously devoid of power and menace and brains on top of everything else - where a dangerous villain is super smart and super organized, we have a mama's boy and a dunce of epic proportion who can't even control his own buddies.

    Since the sense of danger is directly related to the suspense you can get out of it, I have to say, the suspense in Notorious is non-existant. It is a movie so devoid of suspense that they filled it with endless chatter of two lovers whose chemistry is also zero.

    So we've established that the power of Nazis (and Communists and Royalists or whatever political system) derives from an active state power. Without that, it's defanged. That is in contrast with things like the Mafia - because the Mafia is still around, and its threat is not dependent on state power. Even common criminals in a gang - they are menacing because they are a constant feature of all societies, unaccountable and often unpredictable and therefore dangerous. Nazis/Communists are ideologues we're not in agreement with, but they represent an ideology, they are not criminals per se, even if they act illegally and ruthlessly. Now, if you remove their state power, you're left with political opponents, unlike a criminal who has no ideology and is a criminal per se, bound only to his own criminal mind, immune to the society norms around him. A Nazi outside of Nazi state power is always going to be less menacing than a criminal, a gangster, a mafioso. Which is why Hitchcock should have had Alicia infiltrate a Nazi group either in Nazi Germany, or infiltrate a group of criminals or terrorists. Going with powerless Nazis was the very bottom of the threat scale, and consequently, the 0 suspense score.

    Hitchcock and Hecht botched it epically. There is zero suspense in a movie that depends on suspense. FAIL. All IMHO, of course, and YMMV.


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    #17
    Senior Member Cary Knoop's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OldCorpse View Post
    Since the sense of danger is directly related to the suspense you can get out of it, ...
    You see that's where we disagree.

    Interesting you mention Casablanca and The Third Man. The Third Man, to me, is extraordinary, near the top of the pyramid, simply a masterpiece. Casablanca is good, slightly better than Notorious, but Notorious is still really good in my opinion.


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