Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious reenters the Criterion Collection with a new Blu-ray edition, presenting the film on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. This new 4K restoration, performed by the Walt Disney Company and the Criterion Collection, was taken from a scan of both the 35mm original camera negative and a 35mm nitrate fine-grain. The high-definition encode is delivered in 1080p/24hz.
The previous (long out-of-print) DVD looked great at the time, and still holds up decently (I think I actually preferred it in some ways to the MGM Blu-ray) but this presentation is just about flawless. They’ve really gone the extra mile with this, cleaning it up to an incredible degree. Some shots involving rear-projection of course look off but not much can be done about that, but outside of those sequences there is no damage to speak of. This is incredibly clean, easily the cleanest I’ve ever seen the film. All specs, tram lines, jumps, and such are now gone. Motion is smooth and clean, and the black and white image delivers great blacks and wonderful tonal shifts in the grays.
Sharpness and detail is mostly great (some of those tweed jackets just pop in terms of detail) but soft focus has been applied in several instances and that can destroy some of those finer details (obviously inherent to the look of the film). Film grain is gorgeously rendered, though, sharp and clean, never like noise. This has also been encoded perfectly and doesn’t present any digital artifacts that I could see. It’s beautiful, really stunning, and the wait to get this film back in the collection was worth it, and hopefully Spellbound will follow soon. 9/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion ports over the same two audio commentaries from the previous DVD release, which was one by scholar Marian Keane, recorded originally for that DVD, and then another by historian Rudy Behlmer, recorded originally for their LaserDisc edition. I’m not a fan of Keane’s commentary tracks in general because she can kind of take the fun out of things, though she balances out that lack of fun by basically recognizing everything in a frame as a phallus. I’m exaggerating of course but I do a lot of eye rolling with her tracks. There is of course a lot of sexual tension in the film so she might not be too far off the mark sometimes but it can be a bit much. Still, it’s an interesting perspective to get in reading Hitchcock’s images, and she does a nice job going over his editing and visual techniques, which are always so subtle and easy to miss. I’d be lying if I said I learned nothing from it, but I know many take issue with her tracks.
I prefer Behlmer’s track, even it’s probably a safer, more general track. He focuses more on the production and technical aspects of the film, giving us anecdotes, pointing out camera techniques and bits about the cast and working with Hitchcock on the set. It's fairly detailed and rather enjoyable and if I had to pick between the two commentaries, I would definitely say go with this one, but it’s still great to have the options.
MGM’s Blu-ray had a couple of different tracks but they do not appear here.
The previous DVD consisted mostly of text features, and none of them make it over unfortunately, though some of the material is covered in new features here. Criterion first includes another episode from a series called Once Upon a Time…, which covers in staggering detail the making of various classic films and relates them to the time in which they were made. This one of course focuses on Notorious and it’s just as wonderful and engaging and informative as previous episodes. The 52-minute program gathers together an assortment of scholars, filmmakers, and collaborators, from Stephen Frears to Claude Chabrol to Isabella Rossellini and even Peter Bogdanovich (among others) to talk about the history of the production. There is of course a lot about the development of the script, the history behind why Selznick sold it to RKO, and stories about the production, but what I’ve always most enjoyed about this series is how it does explain how events at the time, particularly the end of the war and the revelations that were coming from it, influenced the film. I really enjoy these and I’m glad Criterion continues to throw them on releases where appropriate.
We next get a series of new interviews and essays, exclusively made for this edition. First is David Bordwell’s Powerful Patterns, examining the climax of the film and how it contains several elements the director has worked into his films before and since. He also looks at how scenes earlier help lead up to the events in the climax, and even looks at similar construction or themes in some of his other films. The feature at 30-minutes lasts far longer than the actual sequence in question but it’s a really wonderful breakdown of Hitchcock’s editing and the themes that interested him.
Glamour and Tension features cinematographer John bailey talking for 23-minutes about the visual style of Hitchcock and this film. He points out how its look does differ a bit from previous films but then also how he uses various visual aids (placement, close-ups) and then editing to clearly indicate not only what is going on in a scene but what a character is feeling. He also explains some technical aspects around the cameras that would have been used and how the camera crew would have to adjust to them. Bailey’s always an invaluable contributor and I was especially pleased with this one, especially the various visual aids to assist in explaining what Bailey is covering.
Poisoned Romance features author Donald Spoto talking generally about the film’s production and its story. He mentions a possible inspiration (a story called “Song of the Dragon”) and also talks in detail about screenwriter Ben Hecht’s work on the film and his work prior. He then covers the narrative structure of the film and elements of it that have possibly played into making the film as effective as it is, even still to this day. It runs 21-minutes.
Daniel Raim then puts together an excellent 16-minute piece called Writing with the Camera featuring archival interviews with various crew members on Hitchcock’s films as well as critics/scholars, examining all of the pre-planning that went into Hitchcock’s films, primarily so he can get exactly what he needs and wants and make it harder for the studio to change things later. The feature actually deconstructs a number of scenes from his films (not just Notorious), compares the sequences to storyboard panels, and demonstrates how Hitchcock had the film clearly in his head before he even shot one frame of film. It has been marvelously put together and is one of the stronger supplements on here in regards to how the director constructed his films.
Carried over from the original DVD is the Lux Radio Theater adaptation, featuring Joseph Cotten as Devlin and Bergman yet again as Alicia. It runs about an hour and plays over a still of Bergman. It runs an hour so obviously it is condensed, but it follows the story quite closely. This release drops the text notes that gave a history of radio theater. Also here is a 48-second news reel clip featuring Bergman and Hitchcock arriving at Heathrow, Bergman about to shoot a new film, and Hitchcock asking her a few humorous questions. They play marvelously off of one another.
Four trailers then close the supplements.
The insert features a new essay by Anjelica Jade Bastien that focuses more on the romance in the film and how obsession comes into play. William Rothman’s essay from the original DVD is missing. A lot of material from the previous DVD is missing, most of it being text. The DVD is missing excerpts from “Song of the Dragon” and the production correspondence between Selznick and Hitchcock, as well as concerns from the production code over the sex in the film, and even a letter from J. Edgar Hoover, who was concerned over the presentation of the FBI. Also missing are script excerpts around deleted scenes, a feature about rear-projection (though Bailey’s feature covers this), along with ashort essay by Keane. Also gone are the various galleries covering production stills, posters, and such. Unfortunately a lot of this material was great so it’s sad to see it’s missing here. Some of it gets covered in the features found here but not all of it sadly. As it stands, this is a solid and really wonderful special edition, but getting all of that text material carried over would have made this release perfect. 9/10