Tonight: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains in Alfred Hitchcock’s five-star classic Notorious.
The film was inspired by a 1921 story by John Tainter Foote, Song of the Dragon, which ran in The Saturday Evening Post. It was first made into a film, called Convoy, in 1927. “Inspired by” means that no one paid for any literary rights and no credit was given.
Notorious was produced by David O. Selznick, directed by Hitchcock and written by Ben Hecht.
Hecht was paid $5,000 per week and began writing the screenplay in New York with Hitchcock in late 1944. The title Notorious was registered in October; two months later, Selznick approved a $2 million budget.
Noted dramatist Clifford Odets contributed to the screenplay, but neither he nor Hitchcock received a writing credit.
“In designing the story of the film,” Hitch explained, “I thought about what were the Germans up to down in Rio? What were they doing there? And I thought of the idea that they were collecting samples of Uranium 235, from which the future atom bomb would be made. So [Selznick] said, ‘Oh, that’s a bit far fetched. What atom bomb?’”
“I said, ‘Well, both sides are looking for it. We read that the Germans were experimenting with heavy water. Of course, they were working on an atom bomb.
“I said, ‘Look, if you don’t like Uranium 235, let’s make it industrial diamonds. It really makes no difference. It’s what we call the ‘MacGuffin’—the thing that the spies are after, but the audience doesn’t care.”
But the Feds cared, when they heard what Hitch was on to. This was a year before the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. It was April 1945 when the uranium angle was incorporated into the screenplay.
Hitch and Hecht went to Cal Tech and consulted with Nobel Prize winner Robert Millikan on how to make an atom bomb. He refused to answer most of their questions, or furnish any ideas. The scientist did confirm however, that the crucial ingredient for such a powerful bomb was uranium, and that it could indeed fit into a wine bottle.
As a direct consequence of this inquiry, Hitchcock was placed under constant FBI surveillance for the next three months.
Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman were chosen to star, though Bergman initially rejected Grant as her co-star. Later, Hitchcock said that Grant literally added a million dollars to the gross.
Bergman relented in May 1945 and Grant was signed with a $50,000 salary, to be deferred in lieu of 10 percent of the gross. Hitchcock was being paid $7,500 per week.
The first choices for the Nazi and his mother were George Sanders and Ethel Barrymore. She wouldn’t consider the role, not even it if was rewritten. She wouldn’t even discuss the matter.
Hitchcock wanted Sanders as the sympathetic Nazi, but also considered Clifton Webb, who had made a big impression in Laura in 1944. Instead of Sanders or Webb, the role of the Nazi was assigned to Claude Rains. Because of the height differences, Rains stood on a box for his close-ups with Bergman.
She was being paid $2,000 a week, and this was her last picture under contract to Selznick, who originally brought Bergman to America. She would make only two more films in the U.S.—Arch of Triumph and Joan of Arc in 1948—before her departure to the U.K. for Under Capricorn and Italy for Stromboli.
On August 6 and 9, 1945, atom bombs were dropped on Japan. Grant was tied up filming Night and Day until October, and Selznick wanted to hurry and capitalize on the atom bomb angle in their story while it was timely.
Selznick actually tried to replace Grant with Joseph Cotten so they could start shooting earlier, but it didn’t happen. Fortunately!
Selznick’s attention was increasingly distracted by his interest in Duel in the Sun, an overblown western that was over budget.
He needed an infusion of cash. So on July 23, 1945, Selznick made a deal with RKO to sell this package—Hitch, Hecht, Grant and Bergman—for $800,000, plus 50 percent of the net. So Selznick retained half of his picture.
In the meantime, on May 25, 1945, Selznick was informed that the screenplay for Notorious was “definitely unacceptable,” because the heroine was “a grossly immoral woman, whose immorality is accepted in stride.”
Selznick was also advised to confer and be guided by notes from the FBI as “the industry has had a kind of ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’ with Mr. Edgar J. Hoover, wherein we have practically obligated ourselves to submit to him, for his consideration and approval, stories which importantly involve the activities of the FBI.”
Besides FBI objections, the Office of the War Information opposed the depiction of a highly organized Nazi underground operating in South America.
Notoriousbegan shooting on October 10, 1945 and concluded on January 17, 1946. Additional scenes and retakes continued through April 5. The New York opening was August 15, 1946.
The film cost $2,315,000. Ads and promotion were another $500,000. The domestic revenue was $5 million, with another $1.7 million overseas—an 88 percent return on investment!
The $2.1 million profit was split with Selznick.
Bosley Crowther wrote in The New York Times: “Velvet smooth in dramatic action, sharp and sure in its characters, and heavily charged with the intensity of warm emotional appeal. Ben Hecht has written and Alfred Hitchcock has directed in brilliant style. Just about as thrilling as they come.”
The Production Code forbade any kiss lasting more than three seconds. To get around this obstacle, Grant and Bergman paused and alternated between speaking and smooching. But their embrace continued all the while.
It was close-ups of this that expressed what the characters could not. Hitchcock used subtle dialogue and innuendo to convey the message of “improper sexual conduct,” forbidden by the Code. And he got away with it.
Said Bergman of her passionate scene with Cary: “We just kissed each other and talked, leaned away and kissed each other again. But the censors couldn’t and didn’t cut the scene because we never, at any point, kissed for more than three seconds. We did other things. We nibbled each other’s ears, and kissed a cheek, so that it looked endless, and became sensational.”
Said Hitchcock of the three-minute kiss, “It’s one of my most famous scenes.”
Cary made two films with Bergman and said, “I was very fond of Ingrid. She was an amazing woman. She used no makeup, not even lip rouge.”
So now, from 1946, Notorious!