The Feminine Gaze in Notorious and The Paradine Case

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Devlin (Cary Grant) falls in love with Alicia Hooberman (Ingrid Bergman) in Notorious.
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The Feminine Gaze in Notorious

The camera in Notorious luxuriates in Ingrid Bergman's beauty. She plays Alicia Hooberman, the daughter of an American Nazi. At her father's sentencing, the reporters wait to question her, but she gives them only her glamorous silence. At the party scene that follows, Alicia performs for her guests, particularly for a man seated with his back to us. Alicia publicly displays her beauty and sexuality. Though this film may begin with a monolithic male gaze, this gaze quickly breaks down as Alicia's true personality emerges.

Alicia performs for the party guests while Devlin watches.
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After the other guests at the party have left or passed out, it is revealed that the gazing man in the chair is Devlin (Cary Grant). Though Grant's looks are still important to the camera, we'd don't find the glamorous establishing shots of Grant in Suspicion or of Peck in Spellbound. Though Alicia may glance at Devlin in these first scenes, it is generally to establish that he is looking at her. When he asks if she'll need a coat for their midnight drive, she replies, "You'll do." For Alicia, men are to be used and despised. Devlin ties a kerchief around her bare midriff, prefiguring his own prudishness as well as his plans to co-opt her body for his work.

Devlin wraps a handkerchief around Alicia's bare midriff.
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When it is revealed that he is a federal agent, Devlin in return reveals that there is more to Alicia's character than her outward amorality: he plays a recording of her patriotic disgust at her father's involvement with the Nazis. Significantly, her hidden character can only be revealed through sound, not sight. Devlin asks her to spy (to acquire through looking): because she is the daughter of a convicted Nazi operative, the agency believes that Alicia can gain "access" to Nazi activities in Rio de Janeiro. Confronted with her own self-disgust and her desire to be punished, Alicia agrees.

A turning point for Alicia occurs in the next scene, in flight to Rio. When Alicia learns of her father's death, Alicia stops "performing" and reveals her true self and the motivations that have guided her past "party girl" behavior:

"When he told me a few years ago what he was, everything went to pot. I didn't care what happened to me. Now I remember how nice he once was, how nice we both were. It's a very curious feeling, a feeling as if something had happened to me, not to him. You see I don't have to hate him anymore--or myself."

The Alicia seen in the cafe in Rio (the scene following the above speech) is no longer performing for Devlin or the camera. She is not drinking or making new conquests: she is happy.

While Alicia is drawn to him, Devlin resists looking at her.
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In this scene, she is drawn to Devlin, who has become a glittering, beautiful statue, revealing no emotions, who resists seeing Alicia's transformation. Throughout the rest of the film, he resists looking at her. When he must look at her directly, it is with cold, unseeing eyes--he always perceives her as the woman he met in Miami, though the camera's view of her has become more sympathetic and dimensional. The point-of-view of the camera was originally aligned with Devlin as he watched Alicia; however, beginning with the in-flight scene, a feminine point-of-view is present, desirously watching Devlin, even when Alicia is looking away. Instead of a primary male spectator sympathizing with Devlin, the film privileges an all-seeing, all-understanding female spectator, who is aligned with Alicia.

But Alicia is not allowed to stop "performing." For her assignment, Alicia must seduce a former flame, Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains). Devlin feebly protests to his superiors, but because he cannot be sure of her reformation, of her love for him, Devlin agrees to ask her. Soon afterwards, Devlin abandons a bottle of champagne (obviously a phallic image) that he had purchased for a romantic dinner with Alicia. Back at her apartment, he expects her to "perform" for him, to refuse the assignment with no words of faith from him. Because she doubts her ability to make him see the true Alicia, the Alicia that loves him, she submits to his image of her as a tramp, masochistically paying penance for her past.

Though she agrees to "perform" for the agency, the camera continues to see Alicia as a dimensional subject. In addition to glamorous shots in her role as a spy, the camera consistently captures Alicia intimately revealing her true self and her pain--masculine and feminine spectators now alternate in watching Alicia.

While horseback riding, Devlin and Alicia encounter Alex Sebastian.
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The "Mata Hari" role she plays may not be the Alicia of the cafe, but it is also not the "party girl" she played in Miami. There is a reticent quality about her projected beauty and a tender respect for Alex, unlike the devourer of men that she was in Miami. As her intelligence contact, Devlin is implicated in the creation of the image that she projects to seduce Alex. When Alex does not recognize her at first (Alicia wears a hat that hides her face), Devlin kicks her horse to force Alex to rescue her. While Alicia has masochistically submitted to her assignment, Devlin is both a sadist and masochist, desiring to punish Alicia and himself for his undeclared love of a "tramp." Even though Alicia is at her most beautiful during her seduction and marriage to Alex, Devlin refuses to look at her, stoically suffering, stonily beautiful himself.

When meeting Alicia at a race track, Devlin refuses to look at her.
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Devlin sadistically asks more and more from Alicia's dangerous performance. When she comes to the embassy to ask if she should accept Sebastian's marriage proposal, the intelligence chief is surprised: "Would you really do that much for us?" He defers to Devlin, who remains distant and above Alicia. Devlin asks her pointed questions, decides her fate, and then leaves the room without addressing her. He bullies her into stealing a key from her husband. When she manages to get the key, he asks her insinuatingly, "Did you get it off his chain?" Devlin continually pushes Alicia to perform degradingly, and then he punishes her for her successes. (It is her taking of the key that blows her cover and endangers her life.)

Alex Sebastian reinforces the masculine and the feminine gaze of the camera. As Alicia's targeted audience, she is at her most alluring for him. He is immediately captivated, seeing the image she projects, unsuspecting of her duplicity. But his gaze is less objectifying than Devlin's: Alex originally fell in love with Alicia years before, when she was still "nice," before Miami. Though deceived by Alicia, he may ironically see Alicia's worth clearer than Devlin.

Sebastian is also very aware of Devlin as a handsome object that holds an attraction for Alicia. Alex is continually watching them together. After their first meeting, he tells Alicia that she and Devlin "make a pretty couple." At the racetrack, he watches how she looks at him: "He's very handsome." Alex watches them throughout the party, walking in on their passionate embrace, meant by Devlin to camouflage their espionage. Alex is aware in his watching not only of Alicia's beauty but of Devlin's attractiveness to Alicia.

Devlin goes to Alicia at the Sebastian house.
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Throughout the rest of the film, it is the cool, distant figure of Devlin that spurs Alicia forward. She continually sacrifices herself to the statue-like Devlin in the hope that he will forgive her past. Devlin is deliberately unknowing, never revealing. "If you had only once said that you loved me," Alicia mourns. When Alicia tells him that he could have stopped her from accepting the Sebastian assignment, he coolly replies, "A man doesn't tell a women what to do. She tells herself." But Alicia wants a man who will tell her what to do, who will possess her; she wants a man who will act like a man. Though it would have been less suspicious for Alicia to go to the wine cellar alone, she prefers to have Devlin accompany her, claiming incompetence: "I wouldn't know what to look for." But it is his clumsiness that causes a wine bottle to fall from a shelf and leads to Alex discovering them together. When Alicia learns that Devlin is leaving Rio, removing himself from her sight, she loses her will to live, allowing him to think that she has a hangover instead of telling him that she is ill. She gives up trying to make him see her.

For Devlin to "see" Alicia, she must disappear, leaving him waiting for five days at their rendezvous point. Without his audience, he has no one to perform his heartlessness for. He finally realizes that she may be in danger. In a manly fashion, Devlin goes to the Sebastian house to rescue her. Alicia's marriage bed has become a sacrificial altar where she lies deathly ill. But the camera's focus is on Devlin, the handsome rescuer who tells Alicia he loves her: "I couldn't see straight or think straight. I was a fat-headed guy, full of pain. " His words of love, as well as his handsome image, revive her, not the notorious woman--but Alicia. In true heroic fashion, Devlin carries her out, sadistically leaving Alex to be killed by fellow Nazi agents. "You must take me. They're watching me," pleads Alex. "That's your headache," says Devlin.

Devlin leads the ill Alicia away from the Sebastian house.
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In Notorious, there is also an emergent female gaze that has more in common with the male gaze directed at Hollywood vamps such as Marlene Dietrich. The subject of the gaze (Alicia) is masochistically willing to suffer for the object (Devlin). Any relationship with the object is better than no relationship, and there is always the hope that if the subject suffers enough, s/he will be rewarded. But Alicia is different than the male masochists who worshipped Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus and Morocco. She understands Devlin's disdain for the new Alicia:

"You're sore because you've fallen for a little drunk you tamed in Miami and you don't like it. It makes you sick all over, doesn't it? People will laugh at you, the invincible Devlin, in love with someone who isn't worth even wasting the words on."

While lack of knowledge of the self and the object led to masochism in Dietrich's films, Alicia's masochistic behavior is built on her understanding of Devlin and herself. As her self-disgust at being the daughter of a traitor led her to play the role of a "party girl" in Miami, so her self-disgust at her past--as mirrored by Devlin--leads her to pay penance as "Mata Hari."

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