Certainly a nearly flawless film on its own and one of the best films of Alfred Hitchcock's career, "Notorious" offers the splendid pairing of Cary Grant and the luminous Ingrid Bergman in the midst of a romance peppered with liberal amounts of fine suspense. The film stars Bergman as Alicia Huberman, an American whose father has just been arrested; she's turned to drinking and other such activities. She meets a man named Devlin (Cary Grant) and the two begin to have a flirtation before she finds out that he needs her for something else - to be a spy and infiltrate a ring of Nazis lead by Sebastian (Claude Rains) who are currently in Rio De Janero.
While the film certainly does sustain tension from the spy elements, the most charged piece of the puzzle remains the pairing of Grant and Bergman, whose chemistry is marvelous. The camerawork and lighting throughout the film is masterful, highlighting glances and other touches that subtly reveal emotions. As Alicia gets further into the assignment, her life becomes increasingly in danger and Hitchcock is able to up the tension without much action and with performances that are often underplayed, but masterfully so. The film is helped by a terrific screenplay by Ben Hecht, as well.
The film also apparently pushed the limits of the "production code", with its kissing and other elements - further details on this can be found in the "production correspondence" section of the DVD. Fans of the film can finally have a supremely well-done DVD edition to enjoy. One of Criterion's best releases in quite some time, the DVD not only offers a beautifully restored image and fine sound, but a wealth of Criterion's usual high-quality supplements.
VIDEO: "Notorious", according to the disc's insert, has been restored and preserved from the original 35mm nitrate camera negative, a 35mm nitrate fine-grain master and a 35mm nitrate copyright print. A newly printed 35mm fine-grain master, and the 35mm nitrate fine grain-master for reels 4a and 5b, were used for the digital-to-tape transfer. According to the insert, Criterion also used the MTI Digital Restoration System to remove elements of wear on the film, which is what I also believe they used on their edition of "Gimme Shelter". All that work that has been done for this film has certainly paid off; the 1946 picture appears largely crisp and fresh - often suprisingly so. Sharpness and detail in the black and white image is exceptional - although the film has a somewhat "soft" look at times intentionally, detail is still fine and the picture never starts to go "hazy" or "blurry".
While the MTI Restoration system has been used, the film still does retain some wear in spots. Marks, specks and a scratch or two do appear, but considering the picture's age, none of these flaws really caused distraction, nor did the amount of flaws ever exceed my expectations of the amount of wear I'd see on a picture of this age. Edge enhancement was not seen throughout, nor did I spot any instances of pixelation. Grain remained light during the film, never heavy or distracting (although a couple of bits of stock footage showed more grain, they weren't distracting).
The black and white film looked rich and fresh, not seeming faded in the least. While not completely without any blemishes, Criterion has still done a marvelous job restoring this picture to a level that probably hasn't been seen in many years.
SOUND: "Notorious" is presented in the film's original mono soundtrack by Criterion. Going back to the booklet, we find that the soundtrack was resotred and preserved from a 1954 acetate release print, a 35mm nitrate fine-grain master, and a 35mm nitrate optical musical and effects track positive. New 35mm magnetic analog masters and DA-88 digital masters were created using Sonic Solutions noise reduction software. The mono audio track sounds about as good as one can expect from a mono presentation of the film's age - the elements don't sound thin, but on the other hand, they don't exactly sound full-bodied, either. On the positive side, there's no distortion, hiss, or other flaws, and dialogue sounds fairly clean and clear.
MENUS:: As per usual, Criterion has crafted subtle, yet attractive animated menus that provide an enjoyably atmospheric entrance to the DVD.
Commentaries: This DVD edition includes a commentary track from Hitchcock historian Marian Keane and film historian Rudy Behlmer, editor of Memo from David O. Selznick. Both reveal a superb amount of detail about the production, but impressively don't really overlap each other's information all that much. Keane does an exceptional job discussing not only the motivations of the characters and general story themes, but she also is able to discuss some interesting elements about the film's look and other details. Behlmer discusses a somewhat wider span of information, talking not only about the film at hand, but going into further historical detail about the actors and other films of the time period. Both are excellent tracks and should certainly be listened to by fans of the film.
Song of the Dragon: This is the text of the original story that inspired "Notorious".
Production Correspondence: This, as far as I'm concerned, is one of the disc's real treats - the text of various letters back and forth between members of the production are offered in this section. It's fascinating to be able to read letters from Bergman and from the head of the Production Code Adminstration, telling why the screenplay in its original form was unacceptable to their organization.
Rear Projection: This section offers text notes about the film's use of rear projection, then offers a photograph of the production and the scene that uses rear projection.
Script Excerpts: These two sections allow the viewer to read script excerpts from a few deleted scenes and different alternate endings for the picture.
Lux Radio Theatre Adaptation: Amazingly, Criterion was able to fit the entire hour-long audio edition of the radio play version of "Notorious". Presented in high-quality audio, this is a really remarkable extra to have included.
Trailers and Teasers: 4 total.
Galleries: There is a production stills gallery and a publicity stills gallery, both of which are packed with crisp photographs of the cast and crew at work.
The Fate of the Unica Key: An interesting tale told by commentary participant Marian Keane, this featurette tells the tale of Bergman's hosting of the AFI tribute to Hitchcock, where Bergman presented the director with the item.
Extra! Arrivals at Heathrow: A fun little addition, this is a very short little newsclip about Hitchcock and Bergman arriving at the airport.
Also: Isolated score (mono).
Final Thoughts: "Notorious" is an outstanding film from Hitchcock with three excellent lead performances. Criterion's DVD is one of their most packed special editions yet and offers excellent audio/video. Recommended!.
The Film ****
Video 89/B+ = (356/400 possible points)
Audio: 82/B = (328/400 possible points)
Extras: 95/A = (285/300 possible points)
Menus: 85/B = (170/200 possible points)
Value: 88/B = (264/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: ****
DVD GRADE: B