The Hitchcock Conversations is an ongoing project between me and James W. Powell, in which we study Alfred Hitchcock’s filmography in chronological order. I’ll be publishing one conversation per week.

(By necessity, spoilers ahead!)

Synopsis: Following the conviction of her German father for treason against the U.S., Alicia Huberman takes to drink and men. She is approached by a government agent, T.R. Devlin, who asks her to spy on a group of her father’s Nazi friends operating out of Rio de Janeiro. A romance develops between Alicia and Devlin, but she starts to get too involved in her work.

James: Notorious is a terrific movie. It pretty much fires on all cylinders. The MacGuffin is used flawlessly. The romance builds perfectly. And there are plenty of classic Hitchcock elements for us to discuss.

Jason: It doesn’t get much better than this. Notorious is spectacular Hitchcock. As I watched, I felt mesmerized. I had to put my notebook aside, which I’m usually scribbling in every now and then, and just concentrate on the screen, because every single scene—every character moment—feels vital to the movie as a whole. Not one scene is wasted. This film is utterly compelling. And when it was over, I wanted to watch it again. Although I still value Shadow of a Doubt the most (so far), Notorious lands solidly in second place.

James: I think you nailed it with the words “character moment.” That’s what this film is all about—the characters. Each scene teaches us just a bit more about them, shows us how they see each other and themselves. More than any other film so far, the action means next to nothing. All that matters is that they love each other and can’t admit it. Or rather, they aren’t strong enough to go for it. They’re both strong on the outside, and they’ll do what it takes for the good of their country, but emotionally, they’re weak. Imagine, just one word from either of them during the pivotal scene at the hotel in Rio, overlooking the ocean—just one word, and it would’ve all been different for them.

Jason: There’s a real sense of tragedy to this story that practically vibrates between the two main characters, T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant) and Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman). The way these two personalities clash is deserving of study. The atmosphere is always tense between them. Every exchanged word is filled with the complications of their respective pasts and their unspoken desires. It’s really quite amazing. I would say these are two of the most precisely drawn and resonant characters in all of Hitchcock’s films.

James: Notorious starts off rather slowly, and it’s not immediately obvious what the film’s going to be about, which actually helps this story. I like how the budding would-be romance is introduced before the MacGuffin really takes off. It sets the tone, and it helps Devlin and Alicia’s relationship become more plausible. It doesn’t seem rushed or forced, which it could’ve if the characters were already in the thick of danger. Plus, I can imagine Alicia falling for Dev, because the way it happens seems real. She’s drunk and he’s a quiet, attractive man who draws her attention. Seems likely enough. (Interesting that the back of his head is all that you see through the whole party scene.)

Jason: Their romance builds very believably, and yet each has a specific reason to approach love cautiously or pessimistically. The end of World War II hangs over the film much more than I thought it would—not in any propagandistic way but in a pessimistic way that brings in all the doom and inhumanity of war itself. It’s almost as if the characters symbolize the mood of the nations involved in the war—quick to mistrust and even hate one another but, deep down, wanting to move on and find their humanity. And so the film is filled with hesitant moments, with each character not quite saying the one thing that will make the other begin to trust and love the other. I can’t help but watch these movies in the context of history, and when I see the date 1946, thoughts of the end of World War II and the coming Cold War are inevitable. I think the international climate of the time is essential to understanding the characters. At the same time, though, Devlin and Alicia work as very believable people, whom I felt totally connected to by the end. The way these two potential lovers—burned by their past and their secrets and stubbornness—succumb willingly to tragedy is just brilliant.

James: You mention the war, but to be honest, that never played a factor in my enjoyment of the movie. Sure, I understood the “bad guys” were Nazis, and all that. But it really didn’t matter. I think that’s why it works so well. Some of the other wartime films were firmly set during the war. You had to take yourself back to understand some of the key pieces of the plot. But here, it really could be set at any time. It’s like the MacGuffin. At first, the war matters. But by the time you understand the love they can’t express, nothing else matters. Sure, the war is in the background, but I never really thought about the war once the real story took off.

Jason: To me, the war adds a lot of psychological undercurrent to what they’re going through. I mean, for me, if these two characters were going through all this hesitation and almost sadomasochistic cruelty without the backdrop of something like the end of World War II going on, I don’t think it would have the same resonance. For example, if it were set today, in some suburban tract, and all we knew about the characters is that the woman’s a lush and the man’s just some professional type, then it wouldn’t stick with you at all, you know? So, I think the war is vital as a backdrop and ends up adding immensely to the film’s sense of character tragedy. In a way, Notorious is more about the war than any of Hitch’s propaganda films. Those films incorporated the war in their plot but, with the exception of Lifeboat, didn’t really dig into the psychological, human toll of it. I think Notorious really mines that aspect of the war and ends up being a powerful commentary on war’s effect on human beings.

James: I hear what you’re saying about the war, and I do agree. I guess I just don’t look as hard into the movies I watch. In other words, the war wasn’t a conscious element for me. One aspect of their relationship I did find interesting is that Alicia’s first real introduction is when she’s drunk. Furthermore, she’s a party girl. A lush. I can’t imagine that was a normal role for a leading lady back then. Of course, her early drinking helps pave the way for the great sexual tension throughout the film. It’s obvious to us that these two love each other and that both are waiting for the other to say so, so that she doesn’t have to go through with the plan—marrying a Nazi agent (Alexander Sebastian, played by Claude Rains) in order to gain access to his stronghold. And so Hitch incorporates his theme of infidelity into Notorious. In this one, the woman is all but forced to cheat on the man she loves. That’s great stuff.

Jason: Both characters are endlessly fascinating. Alicia is the daughter of a traitor (an unrepentant Nazi who ends up committing suicide in jail). She escapes into liquor and partying and sex. Her loose moral character is clear from the start, the way she clears the room in order to be alone with this dark stranger. I was actually surprised by how obvious it is that she’s a sexually promiscuous drunk. I would have thought the Production Code would clamp down harder on these elements of her character. What did you think of that whole aspect of Alicia? Did that make you like her any less?

James: I didn’t like her any less at all. She likes to have fun, no harm in that. Now that I think about it more, the Alicia character is the complete opposite of Bergman’s character Constance in Spellbound. I think Bergman plays this role much more accurately.

Jason: I like the way Devlin comes to her defense when the other boys in the bureau are dressing her down by saying she’s “that kind of woman.” I think it’s that scene that really makes me “side” with Alicia and kinda fall for her.

James: You’re right, that scene is very telling. I like how Dev brings up the other guy’s wife. That’s awesome. But as far as the evolution of character, that’s where we see him finally learning to accept his love for Alicia. Before, he found ways to question the assignment, but he never really said he was against it. But in this scene, he finally says out loud—in essence anyway—that Alicia is worth loving and sticking up for.

Jason: Devlin is more of an enigma—apparent in the way he’s introduced. We come to find out that he’s become emotionally deadened in his war profession, and even though he feels love for Alicia, his past and his knowledge of her history won’t let him get close. I like how Hitchcock plays off Grant’s playboy aura. The Devlin character doesn’t seem at first like a great fit for Grant, but he ends up nailing it because of this tiny, secret smile he has, and that flinty glare he can give with those movie-star eyes. What’s your take on Devlin?

James: I like the way Devlin is an unknown throughout the movie. If you think about it, we really don’t know much about him. We learn a lot about Alicia, but hardly anything about him. That adds to his mystique. He has this wall built around him, and he’s so casual about his dismissal of her because he doesn’t want to get hurt. So, in order to protect himself, he’s rude. It’s as if he’s trying to hurt her. The way he smokes his cigarettes, and the words he uses. He’s callous as a self-defense mechanism.

Jason: Yeah, I think Devlin’s got the shadow of World War II on him, more so than Alicia. That’s where I really see the tension of war, in his inability to acknowledge the human side of himself. He’s more prone to anger and dismissal than love. I keep thinking of that scene at the track when Alicia says, “You can add Sebastian’s name to my list of playmates.” Your heart falls right along with Devlin’s, even though you know his inability to communicate his emotions is what caused her to go so far. It’s tragic not only because of what these two have let happen but because you know it’s only the beginning of their descent. Powerful and compelling.

James: How can two people in love be so cruel? It’s a heart-wrenching moment. Several times during the movie, I made verbal intonations like “Ouch” or “Oooh” when one character was rude to the other. Their relationship is so well executed, I could feel it. I mean, imagine what it’d be like if the woman you loved was forced to marry some other guy? Man, that’d be rough.

Jason: I had similar interaction with the onscreen action, actually flinching here and there.

James: I really enjoyed the moments in the film—particularly the party scene—in which Devlin and Alicia must put on a pretty, smiling face while talking about their spy work. They’re talking about matters of importance and danger, yet laughing at the same time. Added a sort of spooky, surreal quality to the scene.

Jason: Those are good moments, and they fit right in with the whole idea that these characters are conflicted—they’re saying one thing but feeling something else entirely. So those little moments you’re talking about parallel the larger moments of self-deception.

James: Great point. I love the constant tension between them. I mean, throughout the film, each of them basically wants the other to just make a move …to say that one thing that can bring them together. The more I think about it, the more similar the characters become. She hides her insecurities through drinking and sleeping around. She acts like she doesn’t care and that she’s totally carefree. That’s her way of not getting hurt. He hides his insecurities through being callous and acting as if her actions don’t mean a thing to him. They’re both passive in that they want the other to act, and when he/she doesn’t, they both revert to their nature.

Jason: Notorious is all about concealed feelings, sideways glances, averted gazes, misunderstandings …

James: Interesting also that, in the beginning, she’s trying to win his affection by being a good American (which in turn is pushing him away because of how she’s forced to do it), but in the end, he’s the one who wins her. She’s doing the job she signed on for, but he goes to save her.

Jason: I loved their big kissing scene on the balcony and in the hotel room, as they press together and mumble while they walk around. For its time, it’s an incredibly hot scene. I read that the Production Code had a limitation for how long a kiss could go on, so Hitch circumvented that by having it constantly interrupted with mumbles, breaking the kiss but keeping the energy of it going. It ends up being really tense and emotionally believable. Must have been scorching for the time.

James: That kiss is well done. I remember watching a commentary for some other older film, and the Code said the kiss couldn’t last more than, what, 30 seconds? The director of that film (it might even be a later Hitch film) got around it by cutting to shots of the window, where you could see lightning, which amplified the moment. But yeah, this scene in Notorious is very effective. They’re both trying to detach and play their role, and Alicia needs to push Devlin away, but it’s so powerful, they just can’t break it up. Great stuff. I think Hitch tried to create powerful moments like this in his previous films, but the characters are so well done here, this takes the cake.

Jason: Apparently, Grant and Bergman felt awkward filming it, but Hitch was confident about making it one long 2.5-minute take, following the couple around in a tight close-up as they kiss, so that the audience might feel as if they’re having a ménage a trois with the stars. There’s no music, just murmurs and kisses, all in the effort to feel like you’re right there with them. It works!

James: That’s awesome. Yep, a powerful scene.

Jason: Speaking of powerful, I want to talk about the ending. Okay, here’s an ending that just grabs you and doesn’t let go. It’s got the suspense of the top-level mystery, but much more important is that Devlin finally gives in to his emotions and rescues Alicia—both physically and internally. There’s palpable emotion coming off the screen at that moment. It feels perfect, and it really works. A spectacular ending, which you can’t say about a lot of Hitch’s films!

James: The ending is great because all the elements finish at the same time. In other films, the resolution of the MacGuffin is just glossed over or mentioned in passing. Here, Sebastian’s end plays in time with the romantic ending. Like you said, he saves her physically and emotionally, too, and tied with the ending of the surface elements involving the Germans, everything comes off more powerfully.

Jason: I’m in total agreement. Everything wraps up perfectly in that scene, and all our emotions about every plot thread pay off. A denouement scene after that sequence would have diminished the film horribly, but Hitch stuck to his instincts to end abruptly, and this time it’s perfect.

James: No matter what part of the film that’s most interesting to you, there’s something in that ending to make it all come together.

Jason: No doubt, Notorious has the best use of the MacGuffin so far. The uranium ore in the wine bottle speaks to the big political machinations of the time, and yet it’s meaningless within the context of the film’s primary story—the romance between Devlin and Alicia. All the suspense scenes involving the wine and the Unica key are delicious, and I felt the confident hand of Hitchcock guiding me through them. Even as I watched, I knew all that political mumbo-jumbo involving Nazi secrets and intrigue was just a joyride on top of what really mattered. So, thanks to my knowledge of Hitch’s techniques, I felt like I was watching the movie in just the right way. Does that make sense? I felt totally connected to Hitch’s storytelling and found myself deeply involved.

James: I totally agree with your comment about watching the movie in the right frame of mind. For this movie, I was completely tuned in.

Jason: Let’s talk about the big MacGuffin suspense scene. Suspicious of a wine bottle that seems to hold some kind of secret, Alicia tells Devlin that something is perhaps going on in the wine cellar. She steals a Unica key from Sebastian’s key ring and intends to give it to Dev during a party at Sebastian’s mansion, so that Dev can search the cellar. How about that zoom-in on the key in her hand from above? It reminded me of the climactic shot in Young and Innocent, when Hitch’s camera crosses the room to focus on the drummer’s twitching eye. Both shots are technically superb, but more important, are perfect for the flow of the scene and the suspense.

James: I loved that high camera angle and the zoom-in. Hitch shoots angles like that throughout his career. And this one is perfect—even the fact that Alicia shifts the key slightly and opens her hand at precisely the right time for us to see it in the shot. Perfect. The way she hands it off to Devlin is great, too. I like how the camera focuses in on their handshake to show the handoff.

Jason: I just found this in the Bogdonavich interview with Hitchcock. He asks Hitch, “How did the idea develop for that remarkable crane-shot down to the key?” And Hitch answers, “That’s a statement which says, “In this crowded atmosphere there is a very vital item, the crux of everything.” So taking that sentence as it is, in this crowded atmosphere, you go to the widest possible expression of that phrase and then you come down to the most vital thing—a tiny little key in the hand. That’s merely the visual expression to say, “Everybody is having a good time, but they don’t realize there is a big drama going on here.” And that big drama epitomizes itself in a little key.

James: Perfect.

Jason: One thing mentioned in the commentary is how, during the party, trays full of champagne glasses and the sound of popping corks—things that usually have a light-hearted celebratory quality—are now signals of doom for the protagonists. Such ironies bring a nightmarish quality to many of Hitch’s scenes, infusing light with darkness.

James: We’ve touched on this briefly already. Hitch is the master of creating tension in everyday scenes, particularly at parties or formal affairs. On top of the celebration vs. nightmare qualities, I think what makes stuff like this work is the fact that the people surrounding our heroes have no idea what’s going on. And although they’re so close, those bystanders can’t be of any help either. It’s tense because help is so close, yet so far.

Jason: Back to the MacGuffin. The whole idea about a mass weapon spawned from uranium ore seemed ridiculous to Selznick and the honchos at RKO, for whom Hitch made Notorious. No one knew about the potential of nuclear bombs in 1944, when Hitch was pre-producing the film. But the idea turned out to be quite prescient and timely by the time the film came out.

James: Any idea why Hitch ran with uranium ore if no one knew it might indicate nuclear weapons?

Jason: Well, Hitch knew that more people would soon care. He was paying attention to rumors coming out of Los Alamos.

James: One thing I noticed in Notorious is that stairs are everywhere, and most of them, if not all, spell doom for our leading lady in one way or another. I’m thinking of the scene where Sebastian walks down the stairs to find Devlin and Alicia kissing near the wine cellar.

Jason: I also caught the symbolic use of the stairs.

James: The first time we see Sebastian’s mother—Madame Anna Sebastian (Leopoldine Konstantin)—she’s walking down a huge stairwell. And it turns out she’s really the force at work at that mansion. (I equate her relationship with Sebastian to the mother-son relationship in Psycho). And later, Alicia has to walk up a flight of stairs, supposedly to die as a prisoner in bed, because Sebastian and his mother have conspired to slowly poison her.

Jason: The way Alex’s mother descends the stairs in her introductory scene, gliding straight toward Alicia, is downright ominous. That scene, along with other scenes involving the mother—especially after Alicia has married Alex and is exploring her new home—remind me strongly of Rebecca. I got a distinct Mrs. Danvers vibe from Alex’s mother, although the fact that she is this controlling mother adds a lot of weirdness to the character, as well as to the son. Your comparison to the mother-son dynamic of Psycho is right on. And you forgot one key scene involving stairs: Sebastian trudging up them in the film’s last shot, toward his Nazi comrades and certain doom at their hands.

James: What did you think of the Sebastian character? I thought both the character and Claude Rains were great. Sebastian isn’t the outright sleazeball you might expect him to be. As usual with Hitch villains, he’s likeable. Courteous. Intelligent. But the fact that he’s always watching gives him a creepy feel. He’s well developed, actually. He’s in love, but he’s also suspicious, just not in the way he should be. I’m actually surprised he doesn’t wear glasses, because it turns out he isn’t seeing clearly. She’s an agent, and he falls for her even though his mother has doubts.

Jason: In a way, Sebastian is just as interesting and complex as the main characters. There’s the weird Oedipal mother relationship, which leads to some great lines, such as the scene at the race track where he’s begging her to at least smile at Alicia. She responds, “Wouldn’t it be a little too much if we both grinned at her like idiots?” All this leads to his dismal, head-hanging confession in his mom’s room: “I’m married to an American agent.” To which she lights a cigarette and starts thinking of how to work themselves out of their predicament: “We are protected by the enormity of your stupidity.” He’s really just a pawn trying to break free of the control of his mother, and in his one attempt to defy her, he fails. He’s yet another tragic character in this film. You really feel for him, even though he’s the “bad guy.”

James: I liked his reactions to certain things. For example, instead of blowing up when he sees his wife kissing Devlin, he just seethes under the surface. You know he’s livid, but he keeps it all in. That says a lot. And then later, he’s very calm and collected when he figures out she’s a spy (minus the one outburst about killing Alicia).

Jason: You’re right, the way he underplays his emotions is perfect for the character. I wrote in my notes, “Sebastian is civil, human, and vulnerable. A complex bad guy.” If you think about it, Sebastian is a more likeable and sympathetic character than Devlin! I’m fascinated by the dynamics of characterization in this movie. Because Devlin’s is the lead role, a “good guy,” on the American side, played by Cary Grant, we immediately put our sympathies with him, even though he’s a bastard through the bulk of the film. We talked earlier of loving the Alicia character even though she’s characterized a few times as a drunken whore, and that’s because she’s our main character, played by another huge star, Ingrid Bergman. How much of a role does celebrity play in our sympathies for given characters? This is the first time, after all, that Hitch has landed two huge celebrities for his two main characters. He’s finally gotten his dream cast. How much of that contributes to our enjoyment?

James: I don’t think the high-powered cast means much, looking back. I mean, I didn’t grow up on Grant or Bergman, so that means little to me. I just think the movie is set up for us to believe Grant is the good guy. I can see that he’s the bigger ass and doesn’t deserve our sympathies, but he’s the American fighting the Germans, so of course we’ll side with him. Plus, as we mentioned, he’s flawed because he can’t express himself. That speaks to every viewer to some degree, so we can relate to him. As for Sebastian, if he were just another guy trying to steal Alicia, then maybe I could side with him. But the fact remains that he was set up to be the bad guy, a Nazi, so no matter how much I like him, it doesn’t matter.

Jason: I agree with you, but I still think that’s an interesting observation, that Sebastian is a more likeable character than the lead.

James: You say that the main character is Alicia, which I most likely tend to agree with. However, it seems that Devlin is the only one who changes. On screen, anyway. Alicia never gets her chance to express her feelings for Devlin, but Devlin does when he goes to save her. It was always hammered into me that the lead character must change in some way, or at least decide not to change.

Jason: Actually, I would argue that Alicia changes a great deal. At the beginning, she’s foundering. She’s at her lowest point. She’s drunken and promiscuous, and she has possibly traitorous tendencies. By the end of the film, she’s straight-arrow, a one-woman man, firmly in the American camp. She goes from whore to heroine.

James: I suppose that all three of the main characters change to some degree. I guess Devlin’s change is just more pronounced—and of course, more obviously affects the plot.

Jason: The tragedy, or comeuppance, of Sebastian’s character is that he tries to grow, to break free of his mother’s dominance, and fails. I paid a lot of attention to the sequence in which Sebastian discovers he’s being betrayed by Alicia, how it’s a long silent sequence with no dialog, just a very good accompanying score. It harkens back to Hitch’s silent-film days, and of course ends with another staircase trudge, until he enters his mother’s room to seek help.

James: I wouldn’t say it harkens back to his silent-film days. I think it just speaks to Hitch’s mastery of the medium. He knew that silence would be very powerful in this scene, so he used it.

Jason: The silents informed his entire career! He understands the power of silence because of his silent-film origins. I also liked the scene in which Alicia discovers she’s being poisoned. It’s very expressionistic—the frenzied editing, the chaotic sound and blurring effects, the focus on the stairwell as she suffers her final breakdown.

James: Drinking sure was important in Hitch’s films. How many times have we seen a drink—whether it’s liquor, milk, or something poisoned—play into the scene’s tension? It’s all over the place.

Jason: In the commentary, the historian talks about the importance of glasses, containers, and bottles, and points out this visual motif throughout—from the glass of liquid Dev hands Alicia to cure her hangover at the beginning, to the wine bottle that contains the MacGuffin, to the coffee cups that hold the poison slowly killing Alicia. Often, the camera is riveted on these containers. I wonder if this motif began with the glass of milk in Suspicion.

James: There’s no way this was a coincidence. I think it was a very important part of the film, and Hitch made it more pronounced by focusing on those images. I love the fact that Hitch uses regular, everyday items as the “weapons” in his films (just like he uses everyday locations and situations). I totally agree with you that his interest in glasses and containers most likely started with Suspicion.

Jason: Did you notice how that early scene of Alicia waking up echoes Grant’s milk scene in Suspicion? She wakes to find a strangely lit glass of liquid at her bedside, and Devlin in shadow across the room. I wonder if that was a conscious homage to that classic scene of Grant walking up the stairs. It might have made audiences of the time immediately suspicious of Devlin.

James: I totally noticed that drink. That’s actually what made me notice all the liquids in the film. It’s entirely too similar not to be a bit of an homage.

Jason: One of the books suggests an interesting parallel with the Snow White fairy tale. Alicia is in a house with seven men, as well as a wicked “queen” who poisons her. It takes a kiss from her prince to awaken her from her doom. As much as I acknowledge that Notorious has fairy-tale elements, I think probably the only conscious element was “Prince Charming coming to the rescue.”

James: I can see the connection, but I can’t help but think it’s coincidence. Sure, it’s possible that Hitch and writer Ben Hecht had Snow White in mind when they hammered out the script, but it feels a bit farfetched that they would consciously write in all the similarities. Still, it’s interesting to note. I never would have made that leap.

Jason: What about the film’s structure? At the beginning, a judge, flanked by two men, is sentencing Alicia’s father to his doom. At the end, three men are about to “judge” Sebastian, Alicia’s husband, and send him to his doom. At the beginning, Dev brings a hangover cure to Alicia just as he’s about to get her into a huge mess. At the end, he cures/rescues her and gets her out of a huge mess.

James: Interesting how most of Hitchcock’s film have a circular feel to them. It’s very subtle, until you point it out like that.

Jason: So, I was watching for a bird scene, and I found it. Just before everything goes horribly wrong between them, Alicia cooks (and burns and hacks up) a chicken for dinner. And it goes cold as they go their separate ways toward disaster. Also, in the later hotel-room scene, she begs him, “I’m only fishing for a little birdcall from my dream man.”

James: Ah, damn it. I was wondering when the bird symbolism might appear. I mean, she burned that chicken, and she made a point of saying it was cold. I couldn’t quite make that leap, but now that you say that you’ve reminded me that the chicken is a bird, it’s so damn obvious. Nice.

Jason: I’m obsessed with that symbol, for some reason.

James: Was this costume-designer Edith Head’s first work with Hitchcock?

Jason: I believe this was Edith Head’s first Hitchcock film, beginning a long collaboration that would lead all the way to Family Plot, Hitch’s final film.

James: What did you think of Hitch’s cameo?

Jason: I got a kick out the cameo, mostly because he just appears right there, in plain view, in front of the stars. Gave me a good laugh. Appropriate that he’s ordering a drink, considering all the drinking going on in this movie.

James: Hitch wasn’t ordering a drink—he was slamming the one he had in his hand. Hahaha. I love Hitchcock.

Jason: Hitch’s original idea for his cameo was to be walking across the frame in the park scene, playing a deaf mute who’s communicating with a woman through sign language. Just as he’s about to exit frame, she slaps him because of something he says to her. That would have been hilarious but would have distracted from the primary action.

James: I thought that cameo idea was cut from a previous movie. Hmmmm . . .

Jason: I learned that from the DVD commentary.

James: What did you think of that Criterion transfer? I think it’s fabulous. I know we’re not really discussing the DVD itself, but man, some of those scenes are really crisp and clear. Amazing.

Jason: The transfer has astounding clarity. Even contrasting this effort with the Criterion Spellbound shows obvious improvements. That one looks overly grainy, but this one strikes just the right balance and seems very accurate. I’m impressed.

James: Amazing.

Jason: How about the film’s many rear-projection shots? A second-unit crew captured footage of Rio, and the main actors never left the Hollywood soundstage, just acted against the rear-projection. Part of me thinks it looks totally low-rent, but another part of me accepts it as a stylistic decision and just runs with it. You?

James: I didn’t have a problem with it at all in this one. Maybe it’s because it was done a little better, or perhaps it just wasn’t as noticeable? Actually, some of that rear-projection stuff is part of the classic films’ charm.