Notorious Summary and Analysis of Part 5: Poisoned Coffee


The following morning, Alicia and Sebastian eat breakfast. Sebastian urges her to drink her coffee before it gets cold. When Alicia asks him what he is doing that day, the camera slowly pans to her coffee cup, visually suggesting that her beverage has been poisoned. She picks up the coffee cup and takes a sip, as the camera pans over to Madame Sebastian sewing nearby. The scene shifts to Alicia in Prescott’s office looking slightly weary and lightheaded. When Prescott asks her if anything is wrong, she assures him that she is just sensitive to the light and he closes the blinds slightly. In the now darkened room, Prescott congratulates Alicia on her work infiltrating Sebastian’s home, telling her that the sand found in the wine bottle at the party was uranium ore. “Your job from now on will be to help us find out where that sand comes from,” he says, detailing that they need to discover the location of the uranium deposits.

Prescott then informs Alicia that Devlin will no longer be her contact, as he has been transferred to Spain. Alicia looks disturbed by this news as Prescott tells her that Devlin asked for the transfer, that he felt as though the job had gotten stale in Rio. Prescott then informs Alicia that Devlin won’t be leaving for a little while, so in the meantime she ought to report to him. Alicia excuses herself, but before she leaves, Prescott tells her to “go easy on that sun.” The scene shifts to an empty coffee cup. We see Alicia and Sebastian walking away from the mansion when suddenly Alicia stops, dizzy and stricken with pain. When Sebastian acts concerned, she assures him that she will be alright and they continue to walk.

We see Alicia walking woozily towards a bench where Devlin is sitting reading a newspaper. He looks up from the paper at Alicia who sits down and apologizes for being late. When Devlin asks her if there has been any trouble about the night they broke into the wine cellar, she shakes her head and looks faint, her eyelids drooping. “You don’t look so hot,” he notes, and asks if she’s sick. She tells him it’s only a hangover, and he notes that she’s back to her hard drinking ways. Alicia makes oblique remarks about the fact that Rio is such a “dull town,” hinting at the fact that he is leaving soon, and Devlin tells her to stop drinking so much. She hands him a scarf that he lent to her in Miami and says her goodbyes. Devlin is puzzled and insists that she sit down because she still seems drunk. “Where are you going?” he asks, and she tells him she’s going home, then leaves.

Back at the Sebastian mansion, Dr. Anderson notes that Alicia doesn’t seem to be in good health. She tells him that she doesn’t like doctors, as Madame Sebastian brings over another cup of coffee for her. When Dr. Anderson asks her when she first felt ill, she cannot remember, and Sebastian chimes in that she ought to go on a little cruise somewhere, instead of a hospital. When Alicia says she doesn’t like boats, Dr. Anderson recommends the mountains, and says that he is going there next week. Sebastian looks concerned and suggests that Alicia ought not to go to the mountains as she takes a sip of coffee. When Alicia asks Dr. Anderson more about where he is going, intrigued by his offer, Sebastian becomes agitated, abruptly offering Anderson some more brandy. Alicia notices Sebastian’s change of tone suspiciously, and looks all the more suspicious when Dr. Anderson reaches for his coffee cup and Sebastian and his mother urge him not to drink. As ominous music plays, Alicia looks over at the coffee cup, realizing that it is what is making her feel so bad.

She stands and tries to excuse herself, but becomes woozier and woozier. As she walks towards the door and leaves, she can hear Dr. Anderson expressing his concern for Alicia’s condition. In the foyer, Alicia struggles not to faint, before finally passing out on the ground. Dr. Anderson, Madame Sebastian, Sebastian, and Joseph the butler run to her aid and bring her up the stairs. As they reach the top of the stairs, Alicia becomes distraught at the sight of Sebastian. As they lay her down on the bed, Madame Sebastian assures Dr. Anderson that they will call a doctor themselves, and Sebastian orders Joseph to remove the telephone from the room, insisting that Alicia “must have absolute quiet.” Alicia looks around in horror.

The next day, we see Devlin sitting on a bench, waiting for Alicia, but she is nowhere to be found. We see Alicia in bed, as Madame Sebastian sits nearby sewing. After the sun has gone down, Devlin continues to wait at the bench and paces. The scene shifts to Devlin visiting Prescott, and Prescott notes that Alicia hasn’t shown up to meet for five days. “That must be quite a binge she’s on,” says Prescott, but Devlin doesn’t think it has to do with alcohol. Devlin now thinks that Alicia wasn’t drunk when he saw her, but sick. Prescott doesn’t quite believe him, but Devlin tells him that he plans to visit Alicia in her sickbed. While Prescott doesn’t think that is a good idea—as they are trying to close up the case as soon as possible—Devlin insists that it will just be a social call and nothing bad will happen. Prescott agrees, but warns him not to take any chances.

We see Devlin pull his car up next to the Sebastian mansion in the evening. Joseph answers the door and Devlin asks if anyone is home. Joseph hesitates, telling Devlin that Sebastian is with business associates, and when Devlin asks to see Alicia, Joseph informs him that she is ill. The camera closes in on Devlin’s face as he asks how long she has been sick. Joseph tells her that it has been a week and goes to speak to Mr. Sebastian. Joseph informs Sebastian that Devlin is there, and Sebastian tells him he will be there in a minute. When Joseph leaves, the Nazis continue a meeting, Dr. Anderson telling them that a man was following him that morning.

Back in the foyer, Mr. Devlin waits for Sebastian, but spies someone upstairs go into Alicia’s room. He suddenly decides to climb the stairs and go wait outside Alicia’s room. He slowly opens the door and sees Alicia in her bed, still very ill. When Devlin asks her what’s wrong, she tells him she is glad that he came and he puts his lips close to her face to tell her that he couldn’t bear to wait any longer for her. “They’re poisoning me,” she tells him, “I couldn’t get away from them.” She tells him that Sebastian and his mother know that she is a spy. Devlin sits her up in bed and tells her that he wanted to leave Rio because he is so in love with her and cannot bear to see her married to Sebastian. The couple embraces and Alicia asks him why he didn’t tell her before. “I couldn’t see straight or think straight. I was a fat-headed guy, full of pain. It tore me up not having you,” he says. Devlin helps her put on her robe and Alicia tells him that they gave her pills to sleep and she’s worried she won’t be able to stay up. “Keep talking,” he tells her, kissing her and asking her where her coat is.

“They didn’t want the others to know about me,” Alicia tells him as he goes to get her coat from the closet. She tells him that Sebastian found out, but that he will not tell the other men in his cohort, because they would kill him if they knew. Alicia asks Devlin to tell her he loves her to keep her awake and he does. He helps her stand and tells her to talk so that she doesn’t fall asleep. She tells him that the sand comes from the Aimores Mountains as they inch towards the door. Suddenly, Alicia becomes afraid about the fact that Sebastian and his men are in the house. When they get into the hallway, Sebastian climbs the stairs towards them. “Brace up, here he comes,” Devlin tells Alicia.

When Sebastian asks what’s going on, Devlin tells him that he’s taking Alicia to the hospital to get the poison out of her. Sebastian feigns ignorance, which causes Devlin to threaten to tell the men downstairs. Suddenly, Madame Sebastian comes out of her room, realizing that Devlin knows what they’ve done. Soon after, Sebastian’s cohorts come out of the room and ask what is wrong. “You haven’t forgotten what they did to Emil, have you Sebastian?” Devlin asks as he brings Alicia downstairs. As Dr. Anderson and the men ask if they can help, Devlin tells them no, and Madame Sebastian tells them that they are taking her to the hospital. Sebastian is silent as Dr. Anderson says, “I’m glad she is going. You should not have waited so long, Alex.”

Mathis looks angrily at Sebastian, asking him to tell them what happened. Sebastian tells him that she collapsed and Devlin heard her scream and ran to her aid. Mathis walks gravely towards Madame Sebastian as Devlin and Sebastian escort Alicia to the car. Sebastian opens the door to Devlin’s car and Devlin and Alicia each get in. Devlin closes the door behind them, and Sebastian pleads with him to let him in the car, as his Nazi cohort is watching. Locking the car door, Devlin tells him, “That’s your headache,” and drives away, leaving Sebastian at Mathis’s mercy. One of the men approaches Mathis and informs him that there is no telephone in Alicia’s room to call the hospital. Mathis calls to Sebastian, beckoning him inside for a chat. Sebastian goes inside to his death.


Having been clued in to Sebastian's plot, the viewer now sees it unfold in a horrific sequence of events. Alicia has no idea that Sebastian has discovered her identity as an American spy, and Sebastian and his mother have plotted a gradual regimen of poison to get her "out of the way." As we watch Alicia consume the fateful coffee, the audience knows that she is drinking poison, but she has no idea. Little hints slip out here and there, as when she feels faint in Prescott’s office, but otherwise she knows nothing. Hitchcock builds suspense by clueing the viewer in on something about which the character knows nothing.

Hitchcock heightens the suspense of this irony through the way that he uses camera angles and different shots. Immediately after Madame Sebastian and her son have the conversation about poisoning Alicia, we see her coffee cup the following morning, an explicit clue that they are poisoning the coffee. The camera keeps a tight close-up on the coffee cup, an everyday object the viewer knows only too well. The fact that the poison is completely invisible, not only to Alicia but also to us, makes the danger of her plight all the more terrifying. Later, when the scene shifts from Prescott’s office to the empty coffee cup on Sebastian’s veranda as Sebastian and Alicia walk away from the house, the viewer has the same response. The close-up of the cup, and the fact that it is completely empty, heightens the tension of the moment and we become worried for Alicia’s safety. Then again later, Madame Sebastian brings Alicia a cup of coffee and the camera swoops in to put it in close-up, a menacing sight especially given how drugged and ill Alicia seems.

When Alicia realizes what is being done to her, the horror is fully revealed, and the viewer is once again put in Alicia’s perspective. She looks over at the coffee cup as suspenseful music plays, when suddenly the camera zooms rapidly in on Madame Sebastian and then Sebastian. The moment of recognition is almost too much to bear and Alicia becomes terribly upset, abruptly rising from her chair with a moan and excusing herself. As she starts to leave, the sound begins to echo, the room goes dark, and the picture begins to move to show that the poison is impairing Alicia’s perceptions. The sight of the dour-faced Madame Sebastian and Alexander Sebastian standing perfectly still and pretending to be concerned for her is horrifying, and the viewer feels the claustrophobia of Alicia’s experience, the way that she is trapped by circumstances beyond her control. Even as she walks towards the door, their shadows are projected onto it, representing how trapped she is.

For all of its twists and turns, the film is ultimately a romance, a love story between Devlin and Alicia. It is not until the very end of the movie that the true romantic substance of their connection is spoken honestly, and this is after a number of dangerous pitfalls and hardships. The romantic connection between the two is what holds together the narrative at the end. Indeed, had the love shared between the two been revealed earlier in the movie, much of the intrigue and suspense of the plot might have been avoided and Alicia wouldn’t have ended in such a dire situation. Had Devlin forbidden her from marrying Sebastian and admitted his love earlier, she would not have fallen victim to Sebastian’s cold-hearted vindictiveness. Espionage and love are entangled in the film. Love, however, is the only thing that can save them when they must escape Sebastian’s house. “Say it again, it keeps me awake,” Alicia whispers, and Devlin whispers back, assuredly, “I love you.”

After a great deal of suspense and danger, the film ends on a hopeful and positive note, and the bad guy gets what is coming to him. Sebastian walks with Alicia and Devlin out to Devlin's car, hoping to get the suspicious Mathis off his trail and travel with them to the hospital. At the last moment, however, Devlin closes the door before Sebastian can get in and locks it, signaling that he is going to leave Sebastian there to face Mathis's wrath alone. In the passenger seat, Alicia smiles at the realization that not only has her lover come and saved her, declaring his affection for her, but he has also managed to enact revenge upon the man who had attempted to murder her. Devlin becomes a knight in shining armor, rescuing the princess Alicia from her secluded tower.