While Spellbound deserves its place as a Hitchcock classic, it’s far from his best work. Adapted from the 1927 novel The House of Dr. Edwardes, by 1945 the idea of psychoanalysis was catching on, and Freud’s ideas had really taken off. As such, it was the perfect time to make a movie about psychotherapy.
Psychiatrists at the Green Manors asylum in Vermont are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Dr. Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck), who will take the place of the retiring Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll). Shortly after Dr. Edwardes arrives, he surprises everyone by forming a very close bond with the normally distant Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman). The plot soon thickens (this is Hitchcock, after all) when Constance soon realizes that the man who is claiming to be Anthony Edwardes is in fact not Edwardes, and, even worse, he may be a dangerous killer.
As it turns out, Edwardes is an amnesiac who assumed the identity of the good doctor only after the real one died. Now known as John, he must go on the lam. Constance, convinced of his innocence, uses a dream he told her about to try and figure out what really happened. This dream gives Hitchcock one of his more otherworldly MacGuffins—the thoughts in back of a man’s consciousness. Featuring eyeball and scissor motifs (reminiscent of Dali’s collaboration with Buñuel, Un Chien Andalou), it uses very creative sets and perspectives to capture what goes on in the sleeping mind. Anyone who knows the art of art of Dali, will see his style in the sets; melted shapes, giant faces, and an animated shadow chasing a small Gregory Peck represents the desire to run that’s present in so many dreams.
Meticulous in detail, Hitchcock and screenwriter Ben Hecht regularly checked in with prominent psychoanalysts for accuracy, and that’s no doubt the reason for the psychiatric terms sprinkled throughout the script. As one would expect, Ingrid Bergman turns in a fine performance, often communicating through simple eye movements. Bergman and Peck don’t have the same chemistry as she did with someone like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, but that’s hardly fair—the script isn’t nearly as compelling.
More than sixty years after its release, Spellbound seems a little corny and dated. Even so, this is a film well worth watching. The ending is cool—though shot in black and white, the film washes red for a split second as a gun fires, as the film closes. On top of that, Miklós Rózsa’s Oscar winning score is truly memorable stuff.
Presented in 1.37:1, this 1080p transfer hasn’t been fully restored, but it represents the best transfer on home video to date. Contrast is well balanced, and detail quality is solid and consistent. Black levels are surprisingly inky throughout. There is occasional strobing, and a couple of instances of dirt on the film, but none is to severe to bother the viewing experience.
The DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track is fine. While center focused, dialogue is always clear, and Rózsa’s score sounds great. There are several hisses and pops throughout, but I suspect that’s due to the films age more than the track itself.
English subtitles are available.
The following special features were previously available on the Premiere Collection edition of Spellbound on DVD:
- Commentary with Film Historians Thomas Schatz and Charles Ramirez Berg: Schatz and Berg, offer quite a bit of information on the film’s background and production. Though they talk over each other a lot. I hate that!
- Running With Scissors: Hitchcock, Surrealism and Salvador Dali (SD; 21:25) is an interesting look at the pairing between Dali and Hitchcock, including information on how it came to be, as well as how Selznick deemed the dream sequences unfit for exhibition and had them edited.
- Guilt By Association: Psychoanalyzing Spellbound (SD; 19:39) looks at the film’s historic place as the first mainstream film to deal with psychoanalysis.
- A Cinderella Story: Rhonda Fleming (SD; 10:10) is a short profile of the star.
- 1948 Radio Version of Spellbound Directed by Alfred Hitchcock (59:47) starring The Third Man‘s Joseph Cotten and Alida Valli.
- Peter Bogdanovich Interviews Alfred Hitchcock (15:22)
- Original Theatrical Trailer (SD; 2:07)
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