Spellbound (1945 film)
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
- In Spellbound, Peck plays a neurotic, though heroic, soldier who thinks that he has murdered his therapist, a false conviction rooted in the fact that as a young boy he accidentally killed his brother (naturally, he has suppressed the memory of this event).
Spellbound (1945) is a psychological mystery thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It tells the story of the new head of a mental asylum who turns out not to be what he claims. The film stars Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Michael Chekhov and Leo G. Carroll. It is an adaptation by Angus MacPhail and Ben Hecht of the novel The House of Dr. Edwardes (1927) by Hilary Saint George Saunders and John Palmer (writing as "Francis Beeding").
The film opens with words on the screen announcing that its purpose is to highlight the virtues of psychoanalysis in banishing mental illness and restoring reason.
Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) is a psychoanalyst at a mental hospital. The other (male) doctors constantly accuse her of being too intellectual and not expressing her emotions. The new head of the hospital, Dr. Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck), arrives and turns out to be surprisingly young and good-looking. He and Constance fall in love. However, Edwardes has his own mental problems: whenever he sees a white object with black lines on it, he enters a state of intense stress.
When reading a signed copy of Edwardes's book on the guilt complex, Constance notices that the signature is different from that of the man who has arrived at the hospital. She realizes that Edwardes is an impostor. It transpires that the real Dr. Edwardes has been murdered, and the man who assumed his identity is the chief suspect. But Constance believes he is suffering from amnesia and could be exonerated if his repressed memories could be unearthed. When he escapes to New York City, she follows him.
Constance and the impostor (who now calls himself 'John Brown') try to cure his amnesia by unlocking his repressed memories. As part of this process, Brown recounts a dream that he had, featuring surreal imagery including a wall covered in eyes, a man being passed giant playing cards, and a skier falling over a cliff.
To try to stimulate his memory, Constance takes Brown on a skiing trip. As they ski toward a cliff (leaving dark lines on the white surface), Brown's memory suddenly returns: as a child, he slid down some stairs and accidentally knocked his brother onto a spiked fence, killing him. This traumatic incident had caused him to develop amnesia and a generalized guilt complex. He also remembers that his real name is John Ballantine.
Unfortunately, at this point Ballantine is arrested for the murder of Edwardes, over Constance's protests. However, when Constance reconsiders Ballantine's surreal dream, she realizes that it contains a coded message indicating that the real murderer was in fact Dr. Murchison at the mental hospital, who had used Ballantine's amnesia as his cover. Constance confronts Murchison with the truth, and he threatens to shoot her as well. However, when she points out that while the first murder carried extenuating circumstances of his own mental state, murdering her as well surely would result in the electric chair, the man chooses instead to kill himself. The lovers are reunited.
Spellbound caused major contention between Alfred Hitchcock and producer David O. Selznick. Hitchcock's contract with Selznick began in March 1939, but only resulted in three films for Selznick, Rebecca (1940) and The Paradine Case (1947) being the other two. Selznick ordered Hitchcock to make a movie based upon Selznick's own positive experience with psychoanalysis. Selznick even brought in his therapist, May Romm M.D., who was credited in the film as a technical advisor. Dr. Romm and Hitchcock clashed frequently.
Further contention was caused by the hiring of surrealist artist Salvador Dalí to conceive certain scenes of mental delusion. Selznick hated Dalí's ideas, and although much of his work was used, one dream sequence depicting Bergman turning into a statue of the Roman goddess Diana was cut. Ingrid Bergman is quoted in the Hitchcock biography The Dark Side of Genius (1983) by Donald Spoto that the Dalí sequence ran for almost 20 minutes before it was cut by Selznick. The cut footage apparently no longer exists, although some production stills have survived in the Selznick archives.
The film boasts an orchestral score by Miklós Rózsa notable for its pioneering use of the theremin, performed by Dr. Samuel Hoffmann. Selznick originally wanted Bernard Herrmann but when Herrmann became unavailable, Rózsa was hired. Rózsa's score went on to win the Academy Award.
Spellbound was filmed in black and white, except for one or two frames of bright red at the conclusion when a gun is fired into the camera. This red detail was deleted in 16mm and video formats, but was restored for the film's DVD release and airings on Turner Classic Movies.
Spellbound won the Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, and was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Michael Chekhov); Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; Best Director; Best Effects, Special Effects; and Best Picture.
Although a critical and box office success in its day, François Truffaut, in his series of interviews with Hitchcock, said that he was disappointed in the film despite being fascinated by the legendary dream sequence and the "doors-within-doors" kissing scene between Bergman and Peck. Hitchcock himself dismissed it later on as "Well, it's just another manhunt story wrapped in pseudo-psychology."
Hitchcock's cameo appearance is a signature occurrence in almost all of his films. In Spellbound, he can be seen coming out of an elevator at the Empire Hotel, carrying a violin case and smoking a cigarette, about 37 minutes into the film. The trailer for Spellbound's original theatrical release in America made a great deal of fuss over this cameo, showing the footage twice and even freeze-framing Hitchcock's brief appearance while a breathless narrator informs us that this ordinary-looking man is the film's director. Because of this trailer, Spellbound may have become the Hitchcock movie that trained audiences to look for the director somewhere within his own film.