Anatomy Of A Screen Kiss

When the lips of Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman met in Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946), they stayed locked together for such duration as to be called ‘the longest kiss in screen history.’ Speaking to Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock described the actors’ ill humor in executing the scene, and the unlikely source for its inspiration.

Francois Truffaut: As I remember it, the publicity blurbs described it as “the longest kiss in screen history.”

Alfred Hitchcock: As a matter of fact, the actors hated doing it. They felt terribly uncomfortable at the way in which they had to cling to each other. I said, “I don’t care how you feel; the only thing that matters is the way it’s going to look on the screen.”

F.T.: I imagine a reader will want to know why these two professionals were so ill at ease during this scene. To be specific, there was a close-up on their two faces together as they moved across the whole set. The problem for them was how to walk across, glued to each other in that way, while the only thing that concerned you was to show their two faces together on the screen.

A.H.: Exactly. I conceived that scene in terms of the participants’ desire not to interrupt the romantic moment. It was essential not to break up the mood, the dramatic atmosphere. Had they broken apart, all of the emotion would have been dissipated. And, of course, they had to be in action; they had to go over to the phone that was ringing and keep on embracing throughout the whole call and then they had to get over to the door. I felt it was indispensable that they should not separate and I also felt that the public, represented by the camera, was the third party to this embrace. The public was being given the great privilege of embracing Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman together. It was a kind of temporary ménage a trois.

The idea not to break up that romantic moment was inspired by the memory of something I witnessed in France several years earlier.

I was on a train going from Boulogne to Paris and Etaples. It was on a Sunday afternoon. As we were passing a large, red brick factory, I saw a young couple against the wall. The boy was urinating against the wall and the girl never let go of his arm. She’d look down at what he was doing, then look at the scenery around them, then back again at the boy. I felt this was true love at work.

F.T.: Ideally, two lovers should never separate.

A.H.: Quite. It was the memory of that incident that gave me the exact idea of the effect I was after with the kissing scene in Notorious.

Alfred Hitchcock, interviewed by Francois Truffaut, with Helen G. Scott translating, discusses the screen kiss between Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in his 1946 film, Notorious.

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