Cast: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains
Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Claude Rains), Best Original Screenplay (Ben Hecht)
SUMMARY: In Miami, Florida, a man named Huberman is convicted of treason (in particular, being a Nazi spy), and sentenced to prison. That night, his daughter Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) holds a small get-together with friends, where she meets T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant). When the two go for a drive and are stopped by a police officer, Alicia learns that Devlin is a government agent, and wants nothing more to do with him. However, he tells her that the U.S. government needs her help with a secret mission: there is a group of Nazis residing in Brazil, and as she knows one of them through her father, Alicia would be the perfect infiltrator. Alicia initially refuses to help, but is eventually convinced by Devlin. The two travel together to Rio de Janeiro, where they have a few days before being given their assignment. During this time, they fall for each other, but Devlin in particular is wary of getting too involved. Finally, Devlin gets the mission instructions: Alicia is to pretend to reunite with former flame Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains) in order to find out what he and the other ex-Nazis are up to. Devlin does not like the idea of Alicia being with Sebastian, but is unable to talk his superiors out of the idea. He dutifully tells Alicia of the mission, but his attitude convinces her that he never really loved her. Devlin and Alicia arrange to “run into” Sebastian when he is out riding his horse; Devlin, who will be Alicia’s contact, is explained to be someone she met on the airplane to Rio. Sebastian immediately resumes his interest in Alicia, and invites her to dinner at his house the next night. Alicia is instructed to memorize as many names and faces as she can, since several business acquaintances of Sebastian’s will also be there. She does this, and also notices that one of the men gets upset after looking at some of the wine bottles. Later in the evening, when the men are alone, this man is offered a ride home by another of the group, who has expressed displeasure; the first man later disappears.
Alicia periodically meets with Devlin to discuss the case, and tries to antagonize him by playing up her relationship with Sebastian. In fact, Sebastian quickly proposes to Alicia, and on the instructions of Devlin and their superior officer, she accepts and quickly gets married. After a brief honeymoon, Sebastian and Alicia return to Brazil, where Alicia resumes her spying activities. Under the pretense of needing closet space, she obtains her husband’s keyring. She learns that every key is on this ring, except the one to the wine cellar. When Devlin hears of this, he tells Alicia to organize a party and invite him, so that he can get into the wine cellar. Alicia is able to do this, and even manages to get the wine cellar key from Sebastian’s personal ring. The two get into the cellar, where Devlin accidentally breaks a bottle while investigating. To their surprise, the bottle does not contain wine, but rather black sand (he later learns it is uranium ore). Devlin takes a sample of this, and the two try to cover the accident by filling another bottle with the spilled sand, then replacing it on the shelf before quickly leaving. When Sebastian comes downstairs, Devlin and Alicia kiss to disguise their actions. After they leave, Sebastian notices that the key to the wine cellar is missing from his ring. However, the next morning, it is back on the ring, so Sebastian returns to the wine cellar. There, he discovers broken bottle shards and spilled sand, and realizes that Alicia knows his secret. However, he is afraid to act on this knowledge, for fear that his co-conspirators will find out that he married a spy, and get rid of him as they did the other man. Sebastian’s mother comes up with the solution: they will gradually poison Alicia, so that it will seem she died after a long illness. They begin to poison her coffee, and Alicia immediately becomes sick. Devlin notices a change in her, but Alicia claims to be hungover. When a friend of Sebastian’s visits the house and nearly drinks Alicia’s coffee, she is able to infer what is happening after seeing Sebastian’s reaction. Just as she leaves the room to call for help, she collapses; she is then sent to bed, and her phone is disconnected. When she misses their next meeting, Devlin gets worried, and goes to the Sebastian house. Sebastian is in a meeting, but Devlin sneaks up to Alicia’s room, where she tells him what has happened. Devlin admits that he has always loved her, then begins walking her toward the front door. They are stopped in the hall by Sebastian and his Nazi friends, but Devlin threatens to reveal Sebastian’s blunder if he tries to stop them. Sebastian is forced to silently help them to the car, where Devlin refuses to let him get in; as he and Alicia drive away, Sebastian is left to explain things to his fellow Nazis.
MY TAKE: I always like a good Nazi-hunting movie, and as this one is a Hitchcock movie, it’s extra good. It’s a good story, and it has that trademark Hitchcock tension, particularly in the dinner party scene, where Alicia and Devlin are trying to get into the wine cellar. Both of them notice that the champagne supply is going faster than expected, and realize that somebody will have to go to the wine cellar eventually. Thus, they know that they have to get down there as soon as possible, and that they will have to work quickly so as to avoid getting caught. This scene is actually one of Hitchcock’s most famous, because of the shot he uses to start it. The camera is positioned up near the ceiling of the Sebastian mansion, over two stories up, and slowly zooms in until it focuses on Alicia’s hand, which is holding the key to the wine cellar. Once they do get into the cellar, idiot Devlin has to go and break one of the bottles, and then the two dodos don’t pay enough attention to remove any evidence of their intrusion. Granted, they were in a hurry, but these are Nazis they’re dealing with! Don’t help them find a reason to come after you! The scenes where Alicia is experiencing the effects of the poison are also really tense, because you realize that she’s fading fast. She finally figures things out, only to collapse before she can tell anybody. The ending is really interesting, too, because there isn’t the big conflict you expect. In fact, Sebastian can hardly bring himself to speak, because he can’t decide what to do: if he lets her go, then the Americans will eventually come after him, whether or not he manages to explain himself to his colleagues. If he forces her to stay, he will reveal his mistake to these colleagues, who will undoubtedly kill him. Basically, he’s screwed either way. This movie contains one other famous scene, one which I found particularly clever. At the time, the Production Code prohibited any kisses that lasted longer than three seconds. To get around this, Hitchcock had Grant and Bergman kiss for three seconds, then break apart and either talk or nuzzle each other, then start kissing again. Through this method, he was able to get past the Code a kiss that essentially went on for two and a half minutes. Pretty ingenious.
RATING: Not bad.