Part of the reason that Alicia has a "notorious" reputation is her drinking problem. She is quite the fan of alcohol. When we first meet her she is liquor-loving party girl who throws a few two many drinks back after a stressful day of seeing her father given a prison sentence. Liquor bottles cover her apartment. Then again, when she wakes up, a central prop in the shot is a tall glass of Alka-Seltzer in water that Devlin has put on her bedside table. Imagery associated with drinking is almost constant in the film. Devlin leaves a bottle of champagne at Prescott's office that he meant to bring over to Alicia's apartment. Where is the uranium being covertly hidden? In wine bottles in a wine cellar at Sebastian's. Finally, Alicia’s main drinking problem has nothing to do with booze and everything to do with the poison she unwittingly drinks in small amounts in her morning coffee, delivered with regularity by Sebastian and Madame Sebastian.
Shadows and Light
Notorious is, by all accounts, a film noir, and as such it bears certain visual touches common to the genre. One way that Hitchcock employs the visual language of noir is in his use of the interplay between bright and dark, shadows and light. The first image we get of Cary Grant’s FBI agent is a shadowy silhouette. We see only other people's response to him, and he remains silent and obscured. This creates a sense of tension and also foreshadows his moral ambiguity.
Later, when Devlin plays Alicia the recorded conversation between her and her father, she is startled to listen to it and she is shot in the shadows. She stands and walks toward the room as the record continues, lit by bars of light. By the end of the recording, she is in full light. This use of light mirrors the thematic content of what is going on. Alicia is walking out of the darkness and into the light, from self-destruction towards patriotic duty.
Alicia spends most of the film in a state of torment because she can’t see where she stands with Devlin and because she feels figuratively in the dark. This psychic state is further represented by various points at which the camera takes Alicia's perspective. When she drives the car drunkenly, her hair obstructs her ability to see the road. When she wakes up with a hangover, we again take her perspective, as the camera shows Devlin as upside down to reflect that Alicia is lying down with her head tilted back. As she rolls over, the camera spins. Finally, when she realizes that Sebastian and his mother are on to her and have been poisoning her with the coffee, she attempts to leave the room, but becomes unable to move. We again see things from her perspective, a kind of tripped-out, hazy blurring of edges occurs, and Alicia looks with horror at the stony-faced Nazi mother-son duo, who simply stare at her. Alicia's impaired perception and blurred vision, both when she herself is responsible for this condition and when it is imposed on her, is often featured in the visual vocabulary of the film.
The first time Alicia sees Sebastian’s mother is when she is descending down the ornate staircase before the dinner party—the first time Alicia has gone inside Sebastian's house. Indeed, the upper floor itself comes to represent Alicia's entrapment inside the house, as later she is locked by Sebastian and his mother in a telephone-less room, left to die. Hitchcock uses height and the different levels of the house to highlight the drama of the narrative. The film's end makes climactically dramatic use of the staircase, as Devlin descends it carrying Alicia to his car as Mathis and the other Nazis watch suspiciously from below. In this moment, the staircase is meant to represent Alicia's liberation from captivity, her way out of her horrifying prison.
Notorious Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Notorious is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.