Monday, September 02, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Spellbound (1945)

I was inspired by this month's TCM series, "Sundays With Hitch," to revisit SPELLBOUND (1945) for the first time in a decade.

Hitchcock's SPELLBOUND is perhaps the best-known example of Hollywood's mid '40s fascination with psychoanalysis. A partial list of other "crime meets psychology" films of the mid '40s includes DANGER SIGNAL (1945), CONFLICT (1945), THE LOCKET (1946), SHOCK (1946), THE DARK MIRROR (1946), and DISHONORED LADY (1947).

SPELLBOUND stars Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck at their most glamorous, playing a pair of psychiatrists working at a mental institution. But Peck's character acts increasingly strangely, and Bergman begins to doubt his identity at the same time she is falling in love with him.

Circumstances unfold which suddenly make it seem very possible that Peck is a killer. Can Bergman use psychoanalysis to unravel the mysteries of Peck's background before the police catch up with them?

It was very interesting to circle back to this film after a number of years, as since that first viewing I've become so much more familiar with the work of several people who appeared in the film, including Regis Toomey and Norman Lloyd. (I've even had the pleasure of hearing Lloyd speak about Hitchcock on a few occasions!) I also learned more about composer Miklos Rozsa, who won a deserved Oscar for this film, when I wrote a short profile of him for The Dark Pages a while back.

While I enjoyed watching the film in a fresh context, my overall impression of the film hadn't changed in the intervening years. With so many other great films to Hitchcock's credit, SPELLBOUND isn't in the top rank of my favorite Hitchcock films, but of course there's a lot that's extremely good about the movie, starting with the lead actors and the score. The movie has a beautiful look, including the famous dream sequence created by Salvador Dali; it was filmed in crisp black and white by George Barnes. Every role is perfectly cast, including Rhonda Fleming in a small but flashy role as a disturbed young lady in the mental institution.

The main thing that makes SPELLBOUND a lesser Hitchcock film for me is that the film's preoccupation with psychological themes ultimately becomes a bit "one note" and tiresome, though the movie certainly gets points for creativity with the Dali dream sequence. The Ben Hecht screenplay, based on a novel by Francis Beeding, goes on a bit too long with scene after scene trying to draw out the memories of amnesiac Peck. Ironically Hitchcock himself originally had worked on a screenplay from the novel, which he said rambled; Hecht's final version is a bit rambly too.

To the movie's credit, it does pull all the complicated story threads together in a way which makes sense, but it takes a wee bit too long getting there, and I was ready for things to wrap up several minutes before the movie's 111-minute running time came to an end. Other than that quibble, it's Grade A Hitchcock, a beautifully made film with many intriguing aspects.

The supporting cast includes Michael Chekhov (seen recently in IN OUR TIME), Leo G. Carroll, Steven Geray, Bill Goodwin, Wallace Ford, Art Baker, Paul Harvey, and Irving Bacon.

I watched SPELLBOUND on a DVD from the Criterion Collection.

It's also available on a newer single-title DVD or as part of the Hitchcock Premiere Collection. The DVD can be rented from Netflix or ClassicFlix.

SPELLBOUND also had a release on VHS.

SPELLBOUND was shown yesterday on Turner Classic Movies and is likely to be shown there again in the future.

May 2018 Update: I had the wonderful opportunity to see this film on the big screen in a beautiful 35mm nitrate print at the TCM Classic Film Festival.


Blogger Waves of Gray said...

I haven't watched Spellbound in a good decade (or maybe two) but I recall not being as impressed with the film as I was with the other Hitchcock contributions of the decade. Of course, that impression is fairly relative when considering Bergman, Peck, and Hitchcock and their career achievements, so although this particular film wasn't exactly a favorite of mine, it was far from unwatchable. But what actually was WORTH watching was the Dali sequence, and that would probably be the only motivation for me to see it again.

2:23 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

I thought Rhonda Fleming particularly effective in her relatively small part.

7:58 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Waves of Gray, that's pretty much my thoughts -- it's a good movie and would be among the best work of some filmmakers, but for Hitchcock I consider SPELLBOUND to be high mid-range. :)

Barrylane, Rhonda Fleming was such fun in this. I've seen a video of an interview with her with a story along the lines that she was young and when she was told she was playing a nymphomaniac, she had to look up or ask what that was!

Best wishes,

9:16 PM  

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