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Las Vegas Review (28/Jan/1992) - Lifetime's 'Notorious' is a pale imitation



Lifetime's 'Notorious' is a pale imitation

The idea sounds notorious, all right. Director Colin Bucksey has fashioned a 1992 updating of Alfred Hitchcock's 1946 classic, "Notorious."

Takes guts, right? You must at least admire the nerve of the fellow.

And that's all you'll find admirable about Bucksey's remake of "Notorious," which cable's Lifetime will premiere at 9 tonight. "Atrocious" would have been a more apt one-word title for Douglas Lloyd McIntosh's dreary reworking of writer Ben Hecht's story and screenplay.

You could just toss this off as another example of Hollywood impertinence. Or you might consider Lifetime's dull disaster as an act of sublime foolishness.

Can you imagine inviting comparison with Hitchcock, a director whose technical mastery of the camera earned him the designation of genius? Can you conceive of trying the trick without the expertise of Hecht, the versatile author who wrote or co-wrote such films as "The Front Page," "Wuthering Heights," "Gunga Din," "Gone With the Wind," "Nothing Sacred" and "Spellbound"?

Oh, you might want to add that Hitchcock and Hecht were blessed with three of Hollywood's brightest stars: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains. The stunning result was a movie that ranks with Hitch's best ("Rear Window," "Rebecca," "North by Northwest," "Psycho").

But more than an act of impertinence or foolishness, Lifetime's "Notorious" is an exercise in futility. We don't need a new "Notorious."

There is no reason for a remake. Almost 46 years after its release, the old "Notorious" seems crisp as ever.

McIntosh compounds this problem by following Hecht's script with almost scene-by-scene faithfulness. By copying the structure of such a well-known film with such exactness, the adapter has eliminated any sense of surprise or urgency.

No surprise means no suspense, and no suspense means no reason to invest two hours in a movie that bills itself as a suspense thriller.

The only trick left is for Bucksey to reinterpret the story in a visual style inventive enough to justify a remake. The director clearly wasn't up to that challenge, so Lifetime's "Notorious" crashes back on nothing but window dressing.

The only changes are some bolder love scenes, references to the collapse of the Berlin Wall, modern fashions and a switch of location from South America to Paris. Otherwise, it's a moment-by-moment perfect match with the original.

John Shea ("Missing") inherits the role of Devlin, a CIA agent asked to recruit Alicia Velorus (Jenny Robertson), the daughter of a convicted spy. Alicia, unlike her father, is loyal to the United States, and her assignment is to romance the elusive international villain, Alex Sebastian (Jean-Pierre Cassel).

Another minor alteration is that the character of Alex's mother has been changed to a sister (played by Marisa Berenson). These adjustments, however, are mere cosmetic touches _ nothing substantial.

And bolder doesn't mean sexier when it comes to romance. Grant and Bergman said it all with a minimum of words and actions. Yet their scenes crackled with sexual tension.

Lifetime's "Notorious" creaks where Hitchcock's film crackled. Shea and Robertson try to recapture with grasping and gasping what Grant and Bergman accomplished with just quick glances and grins.

It is a pale imitation of the terse verbal sparring Hecht concocted for Grant and Bergman. Shea and Robertson seem to be playing out a drab parody of Hitchcock's stylish thriller.

During the pivotal party scene, Shea asks Robertson how she got the key to the wine cellar. "Without a hitch," she responds.

That's right. It's painfully obvious that this remake was done without a Hitch in charge.