Sometimes, when I’m alone in a stairway, I’ll pretend someone is trying to find me. He’s above or below me, and he’s quietly listening to hear me, to detect me. The goal is to move up or down the steps while making as little noise as possible (this game doesn’t work on stairs with carpet. That would be cheating). This is not an easy game. The fabric of my clothes, the material of my shoes, all these can be surprisingly loud in a silent stairway. In real life, there are only two real options: don’t move, or make a run for it.
That in a nutshell, is the plot of Notorious. Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman are trying to walk down the stairs undetected by Claude Rains. Not easy in real life; not easy in this movie.
Ingrid Bergman is asked by the FBI (Cary Grant) to infiltrate a group of Nazi expatriates (led by Claude Rains).
Why they ask her, why she agrees, what the Nazis are trying to do, you can find that out when you watch the movie (I’m not an enabler; you’ve got to put in some effort here).
This being an Alfred Hitchcock film, some beautiful things are done with the camera: the long swooping zoom shot from the top of a staircase to the stolen key held by Bergman, the bottle on the shelf unknowingly being moved closer and closer to the edge.
You might see a movie as suspenseful as Notorious, but you won’t find one with more suspense. The fact that all this is done with a minimal of “action” is a tribute to the writer, Ben Hecht (he basically wrote every good movie made between 1930 – 1960). No unnecessary scenes here, no unimportant dialogue. Everything on the screen builds up to the nerve-wracking climax.
So take a break from playing SDSU (Sneaking Down Staircase Undetected) and watch Notorious. In this case, there’s only one option: sit still and watch.