(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

Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict

(USA 2015)

If you were to pull out the chapters on modernism from an art history textbook and shuffle them together with Confidential magazine, the result no doubt would look a lot like Lisa Immordino Vreeman’s Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict. Guggenheim led a colorful life—literally and figuratively—filled with art, sex, and a fair amount of darkness.

With audio from a tape recorded interview—Guggenheim’s last—presumed lost until found in a basement during the making of this film, Guggenheim herself in her clipped, matter-of-fact way discusses her childhood, her time in Paris during the 1920s, her abusive marriage to Laurence Vail that ended in divorce after seven years, her relationship with her two children, her sex life, and her entry into the art world. She hung out with the likes of Jean Cocteau, Man Ray, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, and Gertrude Stein. She tricked with, inter alia, Marcel Duchamp, John Holms (not a porn star), Samuel Beckett, and Max Ernst (to whom she was married for a short time). She was among the first to show many artists, including Vasily Kandinsky, Mark Rothko, Robert de Niro, Sr. (father of the actor), Arshile Gorky, and Jackson Pollock, whose “discovery” she was most proud to claim.

For all her antics, though, Guggenheim’s life was not all fun and games. Her father went down with the Titanic when she was 13 years old. Vail “hit” her. Holms, who she said was the love of her life (despite the fact that he was married), died after a routine hand surgery. She had seven abortions. She wound up estranged from her son, Sinbad, and her daughter, Pagette, died under mysterious circumstances at age 40. To top it all off, she had a nose job that didn’t turn out right; she never fixed it because the experience was too physically painful.

Immordino Vreeman does an excellent job balancing Guggenheim’s considerable achievements with salacious details of her life, giving just enough to keep us tuned in. The gossip doesn’t overshadow the fact that Guggenheim, however flawed, was a fascinating woman way ahead of her time. Illuminating, fun, and never a dull moment, I enjoyed Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict very much.

(Music Box) B+