Why I Love Notorious
By Andrew J. Douglas, Ph.D., BMFI Director of Education
Notorious (1946) isn’t one of Alfred Hitchcock’s flashiest films, even though it has two of the most glamorous stars he ever worked with—Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. Notorious doesn’t have nearly the most memorable narrative or surprising plot twist of any Hitchcock film, though its story provides such a potent conflict, it’s been lifted for a number of novels, television episodes, and films—perhaps most famously by screenwriter Robert Towne for Mission: Impossible 2. Neither does Notorious have one of the director’s most visually arresting scenes—think of Psycho or North by Northwest—but it does have the single most clever and meaningful use of a coffee cup in the history of cinema.
But don’t lament Notorious for what it doesn’t have; love it for what it does. Beyond the great elements mentioned above, the movie also contains perhaps the single most romantic and suggestive on-screen kiss ever to come out of the studio system, one of Hitchcock’s most thoroughly malevolent “mothers”, and one of the best uses of the MacGuffin ever.
The coffee cup in question. Ingrid Bergman shines as a spy who infiltrates a ring of Nazis in Rio de Janeiro in Hitchcock's Notorious, showing Tuesday, August 2 at BMFI.
I love it for that coffee cup I first noticed when I saw the film as a college student. That petite mug put me on the path to learning and caring about mise-en-scene. It is true that sometimes a coffee cup is just a coffee cup... but Notorious taught me to never take it for granted.
Dr. Douglas received his Ph.D. from the Department of Radio/Television/Film at Northwestern University. His next class at BMFI is a one-night Summer Classics Seminar focusing on Steven Spielberg's classic thriller, Jaws, on August 16.