A young psychiatrist Dr Edwardes (Gregory Peck) starts a new assignment as the head of a modern mental institution but his eccentric and rather erratic behaviour causes grave concerns for the cool but brilliant shrink, Dr Constance Peterson (Ingrid Bergman). Eventually she makes a discovery that leads her to believe that the doctor isn't the man he believes he is. His addled state arouses her sympathy, but if he is not the real Dr Edwardes, where is he and who is this man she finds herself falling in love with?
Review by Keith Lofthouse:
In 1945, at a time when the theories of Sigmund Freud were beginning to have a profound influence on the thinking of America, Alfred Hitchcock decided to make a serious picture about the mysteries of the mind. Although he later dismissed Spellbound as "just another manhunt wrapped up in pseudo-psychoanalysis," the film was the first to delve into the subject in any depth. Seen today, in the hindsight of the advances made in psychiatric therapy over the past six decades, the film seems naïve and its science superficial.
It isn't helped by a stiff and rather stilted Peck, in only his fourth film, as the newly appointed head of the Green Manors asylum who is soon revealed as an amnesia sufferer and not the person he thinks he is. What happened to the real Dr Edwardes and is his disturbed replacement his killer? Dr Constance Peterson, who has somehow fallen in love with Peck's pained expression and insulting outbursts ("If there's anything I hate it's a smug woman!") is determined to unravel the mystery and prove that the "dangerous madman" who now thinks his initials may be "J.B." is innocent of any wrong-doing.
Peck, who reveals his illness in bouts of periodic swooning and by clutching at a furrowed brow, oscillates between a dazed dementia and a cheery flirtatiousness that is never convincing. He is constantly trying to kiss the good doctor who, accused with no real justification of being frigid four times in the first reel, questions the ethics of her relationship with her new patient and tries unsuccessfully to resist his puckered lips. To be fair, Peck gets the worst of Ben Hecht's clunky dialogue: "You are much crazier than I…to do this for a creature without a name…to run off with a pair of initials." By way of contrast, a radiant Bergman works wonders. Lumbered with a script that demands "love at first sight," she fobs off the amorous advances of an office Lothario with sunshine in her eyes and warmth in her heart and is hardly the "human glacier" that is ascribed to her.
The film, which gets bogged down in pretentious psycho-babble and is finally thrown away in a cumbersome but hasty exposition, is best remembered for the unique collaboration between Hitchcock and avant-garde artist Salvadore Dali in a two minute dream scene (it was originally to run 22 minutes) which included such images as scissors, eyeballs, distant silhouettes and distorted wheels that Dr Peterson and her old mentor (Michael Chekhov) attempt to decipher. But while Dali's contributions dazzle the eye (William Cameron Menzies, of Things To Come, directed this sequence but didn't like the result and had his name removed from the credits) they make the film seem even more artificial. It can be reliably recorded that no-one has ever dreamed a dream quite like the one depicted here. In spite of all the Freudian mumbo-jumbo, Spellbound was a big hit, but in the reverse of Hitchcock's better films it has diminished in stature over the years. The Oscar-winning Miklos Rozsa score (which included an overture and "exit" music, heard in the Special Features) stoops to sickly romantic strings when Bergman-Peck first meet. Hitchcock himself thought that Rozsa's themes were "too schmaltzy" and they have seriously dated since, as has his use of the Theremin, an electronic instrument that emits a spooky sound and became synonymous with B grade horror movies and the Dr Who TV series.
The Oscar-nominated special effects, especially those of a wind-blown doctor and patient skiing at high speed, and a plaster hand pointing a gun at the camera, were marginal then and are laughable now. We see Hitchcock, in his ritual cameo, emerging from a crowded lift; we wait for the single flash of red (the firing of a gun) which distinguishes this black and white print from all others and note that "The Queen Of Technicolor", Rhonda Fleming, is wasted as a mental patient here, though scenes in which she is labelled a "sex menace" and a "tomcat" were cut. Spellbound is a must see for all students of Hitchcock, but in effect it is more an interesting curiosity than a film likely to cast any spells.
Published February 5, 2004
Email this article
BUY IT HERE
SPELLBOUND: DVD (PG)
CAST: Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Rhonda Fleming
DIRECTOR: Alfred Hitchcock
SCRIPT: Ben Hecht, Angus Macphail
RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes
PRESENTATION: 16:9 widescreen, black and white
SPECIAL FEATURES: Talent profiles, photo gallery, original orchestra movie themes; cinema trailer.
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: MRA
DVD RELEASE: February 4, 2004