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Spellbound (1945)

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Score: 7/10

Genre: Mystery and Romantic Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 51 min.

Release Date: December 28th, 1945 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Alfred Hitchcock Actors: Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Michael Chekhov, Leo G. Carroll, Rhonda Fleming, John Emery, Norman Lloyd, Bill Goodwin

D

r. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) is a psychoanalyst, helping to cure the disease of impaired contact with reality. Many of her patients, like enraged man-hater Mary Carmichael (Rhonda Fleming), become physically violent when mentally probed on the therapy couch. Hoping to unlock the doors of the mind, to allow illness and confusion to disappear once the reasons behind disturbances are discovered, she works diligently studying her books and research – while simultaneously fending off harmless advances by fellow psychiatrist Dr. Fleurot (John Emery). As the retiring Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll) prepares to leave the Green Manors institution in Vermont, the staff awaits the arrival of replacement Dr. Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck), an accomplished author (having written the groundbreaking “Labyrinth of the Guilt Complex”) and scientist and a successor most worthy of taking the reins.

It’s love at first sight for Constance, who is both entranced and suspicious of Edwardes – who himself immediately exhibits some alarming eccentricities. Nonetheless, she takes a stroll with the professor through the countryside, letting down her guard to spend the afternoon picnicking. This is amusing to her colleagues, who have previously viewed her as frigid (a “human glacier”); with commonplace ‘40s sexism, Edwardes is therefore likened to Casanova. Petersen can’t help it and succumbs to emotions by which she assumed she’d never be trapped – especially over the course of a single day. Their momentary embrace is interrupted by word of patient Garmes (Norman Lloyd) attempting to kill Fleurot, and then cutting his own throat. When Edwardes himself has an episode in the surgery room, Constance begins to realize that this substitute is not who he says he is – and may in fact be a murderer.

The haunting melodies by Miklos Rozsa perfectly complement the puzzlingly cryptic happenings as identities are uncovered and deceptions elaborated. True to director Alfred Hitchcock’s form, nothing is as it seems, with the mystery continuing to become more complex as amnesia and paranoia work their way into the plot. The situations are stickier considering that Constance still has feelings for the man who not only hoodwinked the entire asylum, but also wooed her under false pretenses – and, of course, might be physically dangerous. Hitchcock also includes humor to break up the suspense, with the most obvious example entering the picture as Constance lets a house detective (Bill Goodwin) at the Empire State Hotel work his psychological guesswork on her, leading him along with fake clues. Later, when she’s hiding out at old friend Dr. Alex Brulov’s (Michael Chekhov) residence, nearly every line of dialogue is comical – frequently alluding to their newlywed cover story being free of complexes (with their honeymoon arrangements equally whimsical).

Like most of Hitchcock’s other works, the inclusion of a curious, little notion (here, the guilt complex) early on winds up being hugely significant – notably when Peck’s character suffers from that very condition and, brilliantly, at the conclusion when it’s transferred to Constance. Love must surely be blind, since Petersen’s insistence on helping her nameless beau borders on staggeringly irrational. As details surface and his identification approaches completion, the implications of schizophrenic, homicidal behaviors are frighteningly apparent (the theatrical poster art famously shows Peck holding a straight razor while embracing Bergman). “I couldn’t feel this way toward a man who was bad, or had committed murder,” insists the hypnotized, unreasonable woman. Just the same, Bergman and Peck are sensationally convincing as unlikely romancers in a feverish setting, though the psychoanalytic dialogue is laborious at times and the dream sequences, obviously based on designs by Salvador Dali, aren’t integrated smoothly into the film. But “Spellbound” still smartly paves the way for Bergman and Grant in the following year’s “Notorious,” a better paced, tauter thriller.

– Mike Massie

 



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