Much about “Notorious” (1946) is unforgettable, which is why the film ranks as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best, recognized by Time and Entertainment Weekly as among 100 of the greatest films of all time: Alexander Sebastian’s (Claude Rains) Oedipal complex; the fusion of the domestic and the erotic that has never before or since been done to such clever effect as T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant) and Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) intersperse kisses with a dinner discussion on chicken; the suspense the possession of a key can breed. The singular moment that stands out for me, however, is subtle in its impact, like the faint scent of sugar that wafts from a bakery. It occurs on the plane ride from Los Angeles to Rio de Janeiro. Huberman has the window seat. When Devlin informs her of the view on the opposite side of the plane, she leans across him for a peak, providing him and us the vision of that flawless profile, and right there, in the awe in his eyes as he steadies his gaze on her, we see the exact second the man falls in love. Fade out.
“Notorious” is a romance wrapped up as a thriller. Alicia Huberman has agreed to work as an undercover agent for the Americans. Her mission: to seduce Nazi in hiding, Alexander Sebastian, into proposing marriage so that, through his trust and affection, she can expose a smuggling ring that involves uranium ore. In other words, for the sake of patriotism, she sleeps with the enemy. The Mata Hari ingredient always makes for a spicy story – feminine guile impairs masculine resolve – although the real bait in “Notorious” that ensnares a new breed of audiences every decade is the dog and cat partnership between Devlin and Huberman. He wants her. She wants him. He is wary on account of her reputation as a lady of lax morals. She interprets his suavity as a ploy for her to accept the assignment. So the two feign cold and loathing towards each other. We know they’re going to get past the façade, pecking and necking as doves do before the credits roll. The question is how, and until then, we savor the tease. Herein is another example of how through cinema we vicariously fulfill our own unfulfilled yearning.
Those of you who have been following my blog are well aware of my history of amorous affairs that could have led to emotional rewards. You’ve read how factors that range from idealization (http://www.rafsy.com/films-1960s-1990s/the-law-of-desire-lunacy-and-obsession/) to objectification (http://www.rafsy.com/films-2000s-present/two-lovers-so-close-and-yet-so-far/), from circumstance (http://www.rafsy.com/films-2000s-present/45-years-two-strangers-one-bed/) to recreational substances (http://www.rafsy.com/films-2000s-present/hello-my-name-is-doris-in-defiance-of-age/) have served as an impasse to an embrace of the heart. What else could there be? The object denounced as the “root of all evil,” of course: money.
Devlin enters Huberman’s life as a matter of duty. He’s a cop, and his superiors have called upon him to crash a party where the lady is hostess so that he could operate his charisma on her while she is under the spell of liquor. Given her father’s indictment as a criminal of war, she would be the perfect ally for Uncle Sam; the opposite camp would never suspect her of espionage. As for Devlin, the man is simply doing his job. So it was with Brad. Brad was a rent man, not just any rent man, but one who for years before our first encounter had dominated my video screen with situations of himself in male bonding action. He lived in Chicago, while I lived in San Francisco. I found his information on the internet and contacted him in the winter of 2007. Fantasy became reality when months later Brad responded that he planned to travel to my part of the country. What happened next spawned an erotic story:
He isn’t tall, but he’s larger than life. He isn’t ripped, but he’s brawny. Like a thoroughbred fighter, Brad is beefy in all the right places: robust thighs, meaty abs, and hands that can break my neck with the force of a nutcracker. His left arm bears a skull and dueling swords tattoo – an imprint of danger – and his head is striking to behold. In its grandness, his head brims with carnal secrets as ancient as sex itself. To glimpse at those secrets is to gaze into eyes the blue of Neptune. To experience those secrets is to feel a cock that inspires the awe… and fear… of a cop baton.
To say that I was in orbit is no hyperbole. Think of the gold medal that dangles before you, inches within your grasp, until the skater after you does a routine to Tchaikovsky’s “The Dying Swan” that puts you at silver or of the girl that could’ve been your bride had you reached the airport five minutes earlier to prevent her from boarding the airplane. Ever since I first saw Brad on video, that was the position I had been in, of coveting with such ardency that the sheer sight of him was a wallop in the loin. And then I got him. I figured that since I cash in on his DVD’s, I might as well shell out the extra bucks for the real deal. The weight of despondency lifted. I was soaring.
A couple of years after that fateful night, Brad moved with his boyfriend to San Francisco. Although the two remained committed, they continued with their occupation in the pleasure industry, and I became a regular, as often as monthly. Brad was true to his stallion persona, both physically and attitude-wise. Whatever money is supposed to be, it begot no evil for Brad and me. We may have fallen into a pit of profanities, pushed our bodies to exhaustion, and devolved to the level of swines in a pigsty, but everything we did was consensual and done with implicit trust. Once the nasty was over, Brad was a different person entirely, shy and polite.
A fact about Brad: in high school, he was inept in sports. This he professed to me when I asked him to reveal something private of himself. What courage. I don’t know of any other man who would dare to expose himself as challenged in an arena where his masculinity is measured on a scoreboard for all to survey. I also learned that to subsidize college, where he had been studying business, Brad had a stint as a forest ranger, and near the end of our monthly sessions, he was working towards a physical therapist degree. The human in Brad really surfaced during moments in which scarcely a word passed between us. Lying on sweat-drenched sheets, his bulk of a frame propped up by the headboard, he was just a nice guy… sweet, actually… all caresses and strokes.
Nonetheless, the money had constructed a wall between Brad and me. Chemistry can’t be faked, and I don’t doubt his compliments, which ran the gamut from my physique to my performance. The anatomical manifestation of sexual arousal, the grunts, the exclamations of enhanced sensory stimulation… none of this could have been bought. And yet…
Any time outside the bedroom that I chance upon Brad, I try to glimpse at emotions that lurk beneath his image. At the gym or in the Castro, at a bar or on the subway, I give him a hug and plant a peck on his cheek. Brad smiles, eyes aglow and all teeth. He hugs me back. He pats my behind. In a voice that’s both gruff and endearing, he says, “Good to see ya.”
He might mean it. He might not. Maybe I’ll never know.
In “Notorious,” T.R. Devlin and Alicia Huberman have closure, and it makes us cheer. If our own affairs could be blithely packaged and tied in a bow, then how simple life would be, as tranquil as sleep. We wouldn’t know determination or risk or gratitude. Life would be boring. So I see this is the way it is meant to be between Brad and me. Our meetings ended because he married his boyfriend and retired from the wild scene. That was about two years ago. Just last month, in response to my erotic piece, he sent me an e-mail: “That’s an awesome story about me. Thanks.” His kudos is enough for me to go by. Someday, gray and arthritic, I will put on one of Brad’s DVD’s, and witnessing him resurrected in the prime of his virility, I will be thankful that for a moment in my past, the feast sizzling anew onscreen before me had indulged my palate.