Pros:Entertaining, mostly suspenseful movie. Bergman and Peck.
Cons:Some overly dramatic moments. Slower pace at times.
The Bottom Line: Spellbound has a few issues, but it is still well worth watching. Fans of Hitchcock's movies should give it a chance.
I can't remember when I first saw a Hitchcock movie, but I have been enjoying them for many years. There are still several of his movies that I haven't seen, though I have added some of them to my DVD collection and I have been watching them in recent months. I just watched Spellbound for the first time.
The staff at a mental hospital is waiting for the new director to arrive. Dr. Murchison is being forced to retire by the board of the hospital. Dr. Constance Peterson is sad to see Dr. Murchison leave, and she isn't in a hurry to welcome Dr. Anthony Edwards, the new director. The staff is surprised by how young Dr. Edwards is when he arrives and there is an immediate attraction between him and Constance. They spend some time together and quickly develop feelings for each other, but complications are also present with how Anthony freaks out at times. After an incident causes him to pass out, Constance is watching over him while he sleeps when she discovers that he isn't really Anthony. When he wakes up, they talk and he admits that he can't remember who he is. He only knows the initials J. B. and he believes that he killed the real Dr. Edwards. Constance doesn't believe he is a killer and she decides she is going to help him, even it if means going after him and avoiding the police.
Spellbound begins by sharing an explanation for psychoanalysis. That does set up the expectation that psychoanalysis is going to play an important part in the movie. Several of the characters, including one of the main characters, work at a mental hospital and the other main character requires therapy and psychoanalysis. The movie does talk about different things like dream analysis. It does seem like the things tied to psychoanalysis are explained in a more simple manner. Evidently this movie is one of the first to deal with psychoanalysis.
It is fairly early in Spellbound when it comes out that J. B. isn't really Dr. Edwards. It takes a long time after that before his real identity is discovered and his memory is filled in. Several scenes deal with Constance working with him, trying to unlock his memory. The things going on with J. B. and few little bits and pieces he starts to remember do add some mystery to what is going on. That aspect of the plot is interesting, though several of those scenes do move a bit slower, which may bother some viewers. That movie does have a somewhat slower pace overall, though I didn't feel that it was so slow that things became boring. Tension and suspense do build up throughout much of the movie so there is a decent amount of suspense.
A little bit of time is taken at the beginning of Spellbound to introduce the characters and set up the situations. After that, most of the movie is focused on Constance deciding to help J. B. and then doing everything she can to achieve that goal. Even with all the psychoanalysis stuff included, the plot isn't that complicated but it really isn't simple either. At times it seems like the psychoanalysis stuff is basically just filler to make it seem like things are more complicated than they really are. The plot could have been a bit stronger, but it still makes for an interesting and entertaining movie. Some of the scenes do seem to be a bit more dramatic than is needed. At times the score turns very creepy sounding even when nothing creepy is happening.
Spellbound includes a somewhat weird dream sequence that was designed by artist Salvador Dali. I don't know much about Dali or his art, but I could tell that many of the images in the dream sequence fit Dali's style. The sequence is interesting, though I had no clue what the images were supposed to mean. The dream is interpreted at one point and some of the explanations make sense to me while others don't. I have no idea if that analysis is based on any sort of fact on real dream analysis or not. The dream sequence was originally intended to be much longer, but Selznick cut it. I think some sort of special effects were used during the dream sequence, though I don't know what type. The sequence looks good and works well. At one point, Constance and J. B. are skiing and the close ups in that sequence don't look as good. It looks like the actors were place in front of a screen that had footage playing on it.
Most of the Hitchcock movies that I have seen have had at least a little bit of romance in them, which the romance playing bigger parts in various movies. The relationship that develops between Constance and J. B. is very important to the overall plot since that causes her to do most of what she does. When they first meet, there is an attraction between them. After spending just a small amount of time together, they grow even closer and both mention love. Because of her feelings, Constance follows J. B. and is determined to uncover his memory and prove that he isn't a killer. The two of them are shown alone in a few different bedrooms though not much happens. Most of the time, Constance is watching over him as he sleeps or trying to get him to remember something. The relationship is rather mild even though it provides a reason for much of what Constance does.
Constance is introduced within the first few minutes of Spellbound as a staff member at the mental hospital. She seems to be the only woman doctor and while she is respected by her male co-workers, they all seem to feel that she is cold and unfeeling, needing to experience romance to get in touch with her own feelings to be more effective at her job. Constance starts to act differently after meeting Dr. Edwards. She is still focused on being a good therapist, but she is also feeling more emotions. I think Ingrid Bergman did well with the part.
Dr. Murchison has been in charge at the mental hospital for a while. A recent personal issue has caused him to be forced into retirement, something he seems to accept. He is only in a few scenes, but Leo G. Carroll does fine with the part. Dr. Fleurot is another doctor at the mental hospital who gives Constance advice on certain things. It does seem like he is interested in more than a working relationship with her, though that never goes anywhere. John Emery is fine in the part. The other staff members that turn up are barely shown and aren't important to what is going on. Only a few patients are shown.
Dr. Anthony Edwards has a reputation in the world of psychoanalysis though none of the staff at the hospital have met him before he arrives. He is younger than expected and acts oddly a few times before collapsing. It doesn't take long for Constance to figure out that he isn't Dr. Edwards. He does admit things at that point, including that he has no idea who he is. He only has the initials J and B to go by and he thinks he killed the real Dr. Edwards. The character is more complex than the others thanks to the issues he is working through. Gregory Peck does a good job with the part. Dr. Brulov becomes involved in what is going on when Constance goes to him for help. He is older and one of her former teachers. He frequently seems to be clueless about what is going on, though he notices more. Michael Chekhov does well with the part.
Ingrid Bergman - Dr. Constance Peterson
Leo G. Carroll - Dr. Murchison
Michael Chekhov - Dr. Brulov
John Emery - Dr. Fleurot
Gregory Peck - Dr. Anthony Edwards/J. B.
Alfred Hitchcock - Director
Spellbound has been released on DVD a few different times. I'm not sure if the different versions have different extras or not. My copy is the version that was released as part of The Alfred Hitchcock Premier Collection with some of his other earlier movies. I'm not sure if the picture has been restored, but it looks very good throughout the movie. There is a commentary with two film historians that I haven't listened to.
Dreaming with Scissors: Hitchcock, Surrealism and Salvador Dali Featurette is focused on the dream sequence. Different people talk about the scene and how Selznick cut much of it during the editing process. Some information about Dail is shared during the featurette as well. I did enjoy the featurette. Guilt by Association: Psychoanalyzing Spellbound Featurette is focused on discussing the psychoanalysis elements used in the movie. The issues that many military men were facing after the end of World War II is brought up as is the fact that Selznick is going through therapy at the time as well. The featurette is very interesting.
A Cinderella Story: Rhonda Fleming Featurette has the actress talking about how she was discovered and quickly given a contract. She talks about things connected to her career and the charity work she has done later in her life. I honestly hadn't heard of her before. The other extras include a radio play from 1948 directed by Hitchcock, an interview with Hitchcock done by Peter Bogdanovich, a still gallery, and the original theatrical trailer.
Spellbound is another very entertaining Hitchcock movie. Some things do seem a bit overly dramatic, but the plot works overall. Fans of Hitchcock's movies or of the cast should give this one a chance.
Hitchcock Movie Reviews
The Birds ~ Lifeboat ~ The Lodger ~ North by Northwest ~ Psycho ~ Rear Window ~ Rebecca ~ Rope ~ Sabotage ~ Vertigo ~
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