#205 Spellbound

(1945, Alfred Hitchcock)

“Women make the best psychoanalysts until they fall in love, then they make the best patients”

Alfred Hitchcock has an awful lot of movies on this list, as we’ve previously established. Here’s one of his lesser known movies, made a whole decade before some of his more well-known works. Does it hold up to the standards of Psycho and The Birds or is it an old shame for Ol’ Alfred?

In Spellbound, Ingrid Bergman stars as Dr Constance Petersen, a psychiatrist at Green Manors psychiatric hospital. The staff are awaiting the arrival of a new director, Dr Edwardes, to replace Dr Murchison, who is retiring. However, when he arrives (played by Gregory Peck), he turns out to be much younger than expected. He also starts acting strangely, especially when exposed to dark lines on a white backdrop, and eventually faints. It’s then discovered that he’s an imposter and the real Dr Edwardes is missing, and this strange man becomes the key suspect in his disappearance. However, Dr Petersen becomes fascinated by him, and is determined to uncover the mysteries in his mind, even while they’re pursued by the police.

Spellbound is an unusual movie. It’s typical of Hitchcock’s work in a lot of ways, but feels much different in a lot of others. The mystery aspect and awkward romantic element definitely feel like Hitchcock, but the pacing feels a lot different, and I never enjoyed it as much as some of his other movies I’ve reviewed.

The first issue I had that was that the central concept seemed a little awkward to me. The fake Dr Edwardes manages to seduce Petersen before his fainting episode, and on this basis she is crazy for him and determined to fix him, and it just felt a little stilted. I think the main reason I couldn’t get into the film that well was because it hinges so much on a romantic storyline, and in my opinion, romantic plotlines were always Hitchcock’s weak points.

It’s the main reason I put Vertigo lower on my personal preference list for Hitchcock movies, and even then it was easy to get into the movie beyond the romantic angle. Here, it’s central to the action, which is frustrating because Bergman and Peck don’t have great chemistry. The two act fairly awkward around each other, so it never really feels like they fall for each other. The problem is, this influences every single one of Petersen’s actions after this point, and it just didn’t hold together that well as a result.

The plot has far too many issues too. One minute the fake Edwardes is an innocent man caught up in something bigger than him, the next he’s shown to definitely have a compulsion to kill based on a major mental disorder, and then suddenly he’s fine again. The plot also flip-flops on how easy it is for the police to find them. The hot pursuit also seems a little silly when in reality he’d most likely just be brought in for questioning and not necessarily found as immediately guilty as he’s made out to be.

That said, Spellbound does get other things right. For a start, it’s got the same technical impressiveness of a typical Hitchcock movie. The psychotic episodes of “Edwardes” are expertly done, and there’s a particularly creepy dream sequence (designed by Salvador Dali) partway through the film that reminded me of a lot of David Lynch’s work later on. The cinematography is universally great, and it all adds up to a very good-looking movie for its age.

Also, despite their awkwardness, Bergman and Peck do put in good performances. Bergman is excellent at subtle understated expressions, giving away more than her dialogue does, while Peck is very good at playing a confused and lost man. It’s a shame they struggle to work together very well, since their performances are otherwise great.

Spellbound is the worst of all the Hitchcock movies I’ve seen so far. Technically good, but with far too many plot inconsistencies and poor pacing to be truly enjoyable.

Starring Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Michael Chekhov, Leo G. Carroll & Rhonda Fleming
Written by Hilary Saint George Saunders (novel – The House Of Dr Edwardes) and Angus MacPhail & Ben Hecht
Produced by David O. Selznick
Music by Miklos Rosza
Cinematography by George Barnes
Edited by Hal C. Kern

Favourite Scene: The surreal Dali dream.
Scene That Bugged Me: “Edwardes” and Petersen kiss for the first time, and we immediately cut to a corridor full of opening doors. Yes, I get the symbolism. No, it’s still dumb.

Watch it if: You’re a Hitchcock completist
Avoid it if: You also don’t like Hitchcock focusing on romance

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Posted on August 2, 2013, in 1940s, Mystery, Romance and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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