Performance of the week: Ingrid Bergman in Notorious (1946)

I love Ingrid Bergman. I really do. I wouldn’t say I’m a huge fan of hers but her unique and strong presence on screen is something that I’ve always appreciated, even if her performance isn’t that good. I do agree with the criticisms about her though; she does have the tendency to go EXTREMELY over-the-top, especially in her 40s performance, but I’ve always thought that the emotions she portrayed were pure, genuine and in a strange way, beautiful. For example, it can be seen from the intense darkness when she’s talking about her horrible past in For Whom The Bell Tolls, or from the quiet sadness when she told Sam to “play it again” in Casablanca. Although I haven’t watched Murder On The Orient Express, I really loved her later performances. She was INSANELY terrific in Autumn Sonata, and she displayed excellent comic timing in Cactus Flower. I’m beginning to wonder if she’s the kind of actress who gets recognised for their lesser performances, since I found her performances in Gaslight and Anastasia were a bit underwhelming.

Speaking of being recognised for the wrong work, the same can be said for Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious. This could be my favourite Hitchcock film from the 40s, and yes I’ve watched Rebecca, which I won’t deny is a magnificent film. I’m not really surprised by how under-recognised this film is since the Academy is pretty much known for making funny choices, but I think it’s incredibly weird that they chose to give Suspicion (1941) a best picture nomination while they pretty much ignored this film, other than nominating Claude Rains’ fantastic performance. For a film that is made in the 40s, Notorious is actually quite modern and refreshing. It does have some pretty dated aspects, like the two leads falling in love a bit too fast (I was like WOAH when they first kissed), and I don’t find Devlin a very good agent LOL (Smashing bottles? Really?). The editing also takes a while to get used to, especially the way each scene fades out. However, the suspense and tension is actually really well-done. I mean, the key scene and the wine-cellar scene were really intense, and the ending staircase scene was also brilliantly shot, with the use of the camera angles and the great score. Hitchcock is known for blending romance and thrillers together, and he does it superbly here. The characters are very fascinating, and unlike Suspicion, I really believed this time round that the two leads were in love despite it happening a bit too quickly. Cary Grant was really good here, although I prefer the performances of Bergman and Rains. I also loved Hitchcock’s use of objects and motifs, like the “wine bottle” and Sebastian’s evil mother (played splendidly by Leopoldine Konstantin).

Ingrid Bergman plays Alicia Huberman, the woman who is asked to spy on the Nazis. In the starting of the film, Bergman’s performance as the drunk Huberman really surprised me, largely because I’m so used to see her playing those teary-eyed virgins good girls. It is a bit unusual to see her acting like that (Susan Hayward!) but she was pretty good. I wished she brought out the sadness of the character a bit more, but I think she nailed the awkwardness of the drunk scenes. You might expect her to be really over-the-top in her melodramatic Bergman fashion but she was actually quite controlled. In fact, I kinda wished she unleashed the un-glam side of the character more, but it wasn’t something I really minded. The scene where she was driving with Cary Grant was a bit unbelievable and unnecessary but she was funny. The other aspect of her performance that I’ve really enjoyed was her very strong chemistry with Cary Grant. Unlike Joan Fontaine in Suspicion, she really made me believe that the two were attracted to one another despite it happening quite quickly. They even made their relationship more complex than it seems. I mean, it’s pretty clear that they loved one another, and yet they still had their doubts about their own feelings for one another in some scenes. The way she flirted with him was also really memorable and un-Bergman, because of her subtle and charming approach.

I don’t find Alicia Huberman the most complicated character ever, but Bergman successfully communicated all her emotions to the audience. Although her father remains a mysterious and unknown figure in this film, she actually managed to suggest her complicated relationship with him. In a very well-acted scene, Bergman actually showed the quiet shock and sadness when she learned of his death, and her surprise at herself for even feeling this way despite hating him. Like I said, Bergman’s performance is actually quite toned down here, especially in comparison to her other works, but I really took away quite a lot from her work. She showed many sides to her character, such as the broken-down mess in the beginning, the flirtatious exchange with Devlin and her inner conflicts about her feelings for him, as well as the nervousness and fear when she was with Sebastian. Her unique presence worked very well here too, which I won’t deny is helped by her beauty. There’s a kind of mystery behind the character that makes you feel very interested in her and curious to know what happens to her at the end of the film.

While I don’t consider this performance Bergman’s greatest work, she’s really excellent here and I consider this one of her best, especially in comparison to her 40s performances.  She created a memorably flawed character whom you root for even if she’s not the most likeable.

p.s. How did this get nominated over her?

 

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