The Cinema Behind Star Wars : Notorious

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Back in Season Two of The Clone Wars, there was a fantastic episode named “Senate Spy.” It told a story of intrigue among Senators when the Jedi Council asks Padmé to spy on a fellow senator (and former lover) who is working with the Separatists. To spy on him, she’ll need to rekindle their relationship. And they assign Anakin as her liaison.

If the story sounds familiar, it’s because it shares the same rough story as Alfred Hitchcock’s 1946 masterpiece, Notorious, starring Cary Grant (as Devlin, the liaison) and Ingrid Bergman (as Alicia, the reluctant spy). While this movie might have some relationship themes that are over the heads of younger viewers, it is a spy film dripping in tension, and the team on The Clone Wars paid homage to all the best parts of it.

What makes this sort of story so particularly engaging in the context of The Clone Wars is Anakin and his jealousy issues. This series has plotted a nuanced course to bring us slowly toward Anakin’s descent to the dark side, and jealousy is a natural emotion with which to exploit and manipulate him. As Anakin, Matt Lanter always brings a subtlety to the darker tones of the character, and putting him in Cary Grant’s role from the film is a perfect fit. In Hitchcock’s version, Devlin is a more-than-capable spy, but is also a love sick idiot, hurt by the depths Alicia has to go to remain undercover with the Nazis.

To Padmé, the Separatists are every bit as evil and lethal as the Nazis. And though Cat Taber as Padmé doesn’t get to cut loose with the level of mistrust and vulnerability of Ingrid Bergman because of the sort of character Padmé is, she manages to give Padmé that performance-within-a-performance like a master.

Aside from story and character highlights, the episode homages enough iconic imagery and visual flourishes from one of my favorite films to put a smile on my face as wide as Beggar’s Canyon. Perhaps the biggest set piece and most expensive shot from Notorious involved a staircase, a key, and a sweeping crane shot. Alicia has stolen a key to the cellar from the bad guys, and is hiding it from everyone at a well-attended party. The camera starts on the second level of the room, sweeps down through the party, and ends on a close-up of the key in her hand. It was breathtaking, and the cinematography in this episode of The Clone Wars is no less grandiose. At one point, with the key in her hand, the man Alicia is spying on tries to kiss her, but she instead leaps to him, throwing her arms around his neck so as not to give away the key. It’s a very tense scene, and no less tense when it’s repeated on The Clone Wars with Padmé and a datacard, while Anakin lurks in the shadows beyond.

Without spoiling too much, one of the most satisfying portions of the film involves the ending. Both Alicia and Padmé are poisoned and need their protector to save the day and somehow give the evil-doers their comeuppance. Anakin and Devlin do it in their own way, but the pacing and final resolution is so satisfying that you can’t help but cheer. Though they both end similarly, seeing it done the Hitchcock way next to the Lucas way, with the iris out, should be catnip to any serious fan of film.

Perhaps the most stunning thing about “Senate Spy,” however, is how well it compresses a story to under 30 minutes that took Hitchcock almost two hours to tell. It is a testament to the filmmaking abilities of the team on The Clone Wars.

For any cinephile, I can’t recommend enough watching Hitchcock’s Notorious back-to-back with “Senate Spy.” Both the movie’s and the Star Wars take on the themes and story brought me much joy. And isn’t making us happy what Star Wars is all about?

(A note for parents: Though Notorious has some adult themes in it, they are masked by the technique and dialogue of safe, 1940s filmmaking. I don’t think the film is inappropriate for kids, per se, as my 10-year-old and I watched it together and he liked it fine; but children might find it a bit boring, at least until they’re a little older.)

Bryan Young is an author, a filmmaker, journalist, and the editor in chief of BigShinyRobot.com!

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