In the old days the star of a film was sometimes introduced by stealth. The camera would show a portion of his/her anatomy — a behind-the-head shot or an insert of his/her hands or a shot of walking shoes, say — but the face wouldn’t be revealed until 10 or 20 or even 30 seconds had elapsed. This told the audience, of course, that the person being concealed was at the very least a major costar, and most likely a romantic figure. And they wanted to know more.
Sean Connery was introduced this way at the beginning of Dr. No, his first 007 film. Ditto Farley Granger and Robert Walker in the opening seconds of Strangers On A Train. Vivien Leigh‘s face was partially obscured for four or five seconds during her first scene as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind.
But no one ever kept a star’s face from being shown as long as Alfred Hitchcock did during an early scene in Notorious. For a full 93 seconds he showed audiences only the back of Cary Grant‘s head. To prolong the who-is-this? effect he had costar Ingrid Bergman speak three lines to Grant, who was shown sitting down and drinking at a small party at Bergman’s home, and with Grant saying nothing in return, and not even gesturing in some way.
It’s still fascinating today. Bergman pours him a drink, sizes him up and asks if she knows him. Nothing. Then she says, “That’s okay, I like party-crashers.” And a woman dancing nearby says, “He’s not a crasher — I brought him.” And you’re thinking, “Okay, but who is he?” You’re also wondering why doesn’t he at least offer some mild little pleasantry when Bergman says, “You know something? I like you.” Does he smile or wink? No telling. All we see is the stillness and the shiny black hair. And yet it’s obvious he’s Mr. Cool. Finally the dangle ends after a minute and 33 seconds, and in the next scene the camera finally introduces that familiar cleft chin and the cow eyes and all the rest.
Here’s the clip. The back-of-the-head shot lasts from 3:06 to 4:39.
I’m mentioning this for two reasons. One, MGM Home Video is releasing a Notorious Bluray on 1.24.12. And two, stealth introductions like Grant’s in Notorious are over and done with. Ones that last a long time, I mean. Unless I’m forgetting something.