Spellbound (1945)

The Premise: Dr. Constance Peterson (Ingrid Bergman) is a studious and serious psychoanalyst at Green Manors, enduring the sexist, sniggering criticisms thrown at her by her male colleagues.  If I was a therapist, I might say they’re using her as a target for their omega-male anxiety as Green Manors is about to get a new boss.  The new man in charge is Dr. Anthony Edwards (Gregory Peck), and he immediately rocks Constance’s world.   But he’s so twitchy and nervous. Could he be hiding something? Oh, he is!  He’s not even Dr. Edwards! It’s up to Constance to find out who he really is, and whether he is actually a murderous psychopath.

Is It Good: It’s Alfred Hitchcock, so yes.   It’s definitely one of his clunkier films — its one of the three made under David O. Selznick, and of those three I think only Rebecca is truly a standout Hitchcock film.  Both Spellbound and The Parradine Case suffer from a similar repetition and slow pacing.  Both films make you want to shake some sense into Gregory Peck, which is rare, as he always seemed so sensible and good.

But Spellbound is definitely an enjoyable and thought-provoking film.  It’s thick with sexism.  Constance’s colleagues all but tell her that she needs to get laid, and have a good laugh at her expense when it appears she has.  (There’s a line about hot dogs that makes Hitchcock’s trains and fireworks seem subtle. But maybe that’s just my filthy brain.)  When she does let herself get emotionally (and possibly physically) involved with the faux Dr. Edwards, everyone tells her she can toss her career away. Even her former mentor tells her that “Women make the best analysts until they fall in love — then they make the best patients!”    Whether Hitchcock shares this view is up to the viewer. Constance meekly submits to the mockery, and often does seem to lose her clear and clinical judgment when faced with her patient’s strong jaw.  But she also knows how to use feminine stereotypes to her advantage, such as when faced with a hotel’s house detective.

Is It Worth A Look:  Absolutely.  Peck and Bergman are divine (as always).  There are some devices Hitchcock would later employ to even more vivid and stunning effect later in his career — an obsession and fear with a color that later pops up in Marnie, debilitating breakdowns that echo Vertigo, mistaken identity, and some killer point-of-view shots. (There’s one involving a wrought iron fence that has to rank high on Hitchcock’s list of gruesome moments.)

But the highlight is probably a dream sequence designed by Salvadore Dali himself.  It too is loaded with the artist’s trademarks.  Art enthusiasts will love it.

Random Anecdotes:  The Dali sequence was a major point of contention between Hitchcock and Selznick, and originally ran about 20 minutes.  Selznick chopped it up, though he realized it was a good marketing angle.   Actually, he reportedly chopped at much of the film because he had wanted a more happy portrait of therapy.   Hitchcock later dismissed the film altogether.