Spellbound

(USA 1945)

“The Fault…is Not in Our Stars,
But in Ourselves…”

—William Shakespeare

I’ve read enough online rankings of Alfred Hitchcock’s films to know that Spellbound often ends up in his top 20 or 30—sometimes higher than that—thank you. While certainly impressive considering the number of films he directed (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Hitchcock_filmography), I found Spellbound lackluster, comparatively speaking.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it. In the grand scheme of all things cinema, Spellbound is a solid work—it’s just not a great Hitchcock film. Ingrid Bergman is psychoanalyst Constance Petersen, the only female doctor at Green Manors, a mental hospital in Vermont. Her male colleagues see her as detached and cold, which doesn’t bode well for her career—particularly for a woman in the 1940s.

The hospital’s director, Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll), is “retiring.” His replacement is young and handsome Dr. Anthony Edwardes (a young Gregory Peck), who catches Dr. Petersen off guard. Truth be told, she’s smitten—and who can blame her? Gregory Peck is gorgeous here. Anyway, Dr. Edwardes has a secret that becomes apparent: he’s not who he says he is. He’s actually John Ballantyne, a.k.a. John Brown, a dude with amnesia who says he killed the real Dr. Edwardes and assumed his identity. Dr. Petersen doesn’t believe him, and she sets out to find the real murderer—through psychoanalysis. It all leads to a fateful ski trip that comes full circle to Green Manors. Gasp!

Angus MacPhail and Ben Hecht based their screenplay on the 1928 novel The House of Dr. Edwardes by John Palmer and Hilary A. Saunders (as Francis Beeding). Clearly obsessed with Sigmund Freud, the story is clunky but cute and oddly entertaining even if it’s kind of stupid. Two things stick out in my mind about this film: one is Salvador Dalí’s cool dream sequence complete with random objects like big bleary eyes, scissors, a faceless figure, and wings; and that final scene where a gun is fired into the camera—I won’t ruin it, but it literally ends Spellbound with a bloody bang. Fucking awesome!

The nitrate print used for this screening was gorgeous, shimmering with rich blacks and luminescent whites. It impressed me. Miklòs Ròzsa’s grand, sweeping score is fierce—no wonder he won an Oscar for it (https://www.oscars.org/oscars/ceremonies/1946).

One extremely personal but annoying detail: the Siouxsie and the Banshees song “Spellbound” played in the back of my mind the entire time I watched this film. Yeah, I’m hearing voices, I guess…but it could be much worse (I’m talking to you, Paula Abdul).

With Michael Chekhov, Rhonda Fleming, John Emery, Steven Geray, Paul Harvey, Donald Curtis, Norman Lloyd, Bill Goodwin, Wallace Ford, Art Baker, Regis Toomey

Production: Selznick International Pictures, Vanguard Films

Distribution: United Artists

111 minutes
Not rated

(Dryden Theatre) B-

Nitrate Picture Show

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