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In this 1946 film from celebrated director Alfred Hitchcock, Ingrid Bergman plays Alicia Huberman, the daughter of a man imprisoned for being a Nazi collaborator.  The CIA, specifically a man named Devlin (Cary Grant) recruit her to go to Rio, where a group of her father’s Nazi friends have relocated.  Devlin wants her to infiltrate and report on the group, by getting close to one of them – a man named Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains) – but the mission becomes muddled when Alice and Devlin fall for each other.

I find Hitchcock films to be a bit hit-and-miss, but I realised today that my favourite Hitchcock movies all starred Cary Grant.  I’m still trying to work out if that is coincidence or not.  In any event, I did not enjoy Notorious as much as North by Northwest or To Catch a Thief, but nonetheless, this was still a good film (actually better than I expected).

Ingrid Bergman is just beautiful as Alicia, and it is not surprising at all that two men fall in love with her.  Alicia is a girl who drinks too much and has had more than her fair share of male companions (in the original script she was a prostitute), but she still manages to garners sympathy, and I was hoping that she would make it through the film safely!  Bergman and Grant have great chemistry together, as seen in their other collaboration, Indiscreet (an altogether more light-hearted film), and they are both on top form here.  They also share a very sensual kiss, which was cleverly filmed in order to get around the Hayes Code, which stipulated that on-screen kisses must not last longer than three seconds.  In keeping with the code, the actors break off from their kiss every three seconds, and then kiss again!  The end effect is very sexy, which ironically is probably what the Hayes Code was trying to avoid.

The story moves along nicely, and there are no real dry or boring patches, although it is very obviously a Hitchcock film, with all his trademarks in place (such as gimmicky camera angles, which I believe can date a film somewhat).  The suitably ambiguous ending is satisfying, and while I would not rush to watch this film again, it was certainly worth seeing.  I would recommend it to fans of Grant, Bergman or Hitchcock.  The reliable Claude Rains is also worth watching as the conflicted Sebastian.

Year of release: 1946

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Producer: Alfred Hitchcock

Writers: John Taintor Foote (story ‘The Song of the Dragon;), Ben Hecht, Alfred Hitchcock, Clifford Odets

Main cast: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains, Leopoldine Konstantin

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This book is the first one to feature one of le Carre’s recurring characters, British Intelligence Agent George Smiley (a subsequent Smiley book was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which was made into a very popular tv series in 1979, and more recently a film starring Gary Oldman – as Smiley – and Colin Firth).

After a brief introduction to Smiley – a small, morose, and probably rather uncharismatic man – the story gets underway.  Smiley is sent to interview Samuel Fennan, a Foreign Office civil servant, who is suspected of being a spy.  The interview is informal, and Smiley is confident that Fennan is innocent.  He reassures Fennan, but later that night, Fennan is found dead, having apparently committed suicide.

Smiley suspects that Fennan was murdered, and investigates with the help of Inspector Mendel, about to retire from the Metropolitan Police, and Peter Guillam, one of Smiley’s own colleagues.

The investigation uncovers deception and espionage – and Smiley soon realises that his own life is in danger.

I liked this book a lot.  It’s short (less than 200 pages), but packs a lot of story in.  The storyline itself is not over-complicated, but there are enough twists and turns to keep it interesting and exciting.  The writing itself flows beautifully, and made me want to keep reading.

The book is also the perfect introduction to George Smiley, and I definitely want to read further books in the series.  Despite Smiley being in some ways an unremarkable character, rather than a typical handsome hero, he was a very interesting character, and entirely believable.  He is a decent but flawed man, and his emotions during the investigation were well portrayed.  I ended up liking him very much.

Overall, this was an exciting and hugely enjoyable read, and I will definitely be reading more by le Carre.  Spy fiction has never been a favourite genre of mine, but I picked this book up on a whim – and it might just have converted me!

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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