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(Film only review)
The mystery of the subconscious, the meaning of dreams, the power of regression, the potential of hypnosis these are all subjects which are still actively debated and are a rich source of material in fiction. The roots of many of these can be traced back to the turn of the twentieth century in the work and theories of Sigmund Freud. He played a big part in popularising and developing our knowledge in these areas and founded the psychoanalytic school of psychiatry. He is still best remembered for his somewhat controversial theories dealing with the unconscious mind and the defence mechanism of repression. These theories take you into a dark mysterious world just beyond our everyday comprehension and just the kind of world that an innovative director such as Hitchcock was bound to examine.
'Spellbound' was made in 1945 only a few years after Freud's death and at a time when his theories were gaining in favour and also causing more controversy than ever. At the heart of the film are the theories of psychoanalysis as a female psychiatrist played by Ingrid Bergman tries to uncover the true identity of an amnesic patient played by Gregory Peck who could also be guilty of murder. The real hero of the piece is 'psychotherapy' itself who embodied by the Bergman character has to solve the mystery before it's too late. Of course with two such charismatic leads romance is also not far away.
By casting Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck in the leading roles Hitchcock is using the talents of two of the most iconic figures in cinema. Ingrid Bergman is in her acting prime following her career defining role in 'Casablanca' (1942) a few years earlier. Gregory Peck was still an up and coming actor at time but fresh from an academy award nomination for his role in 'The Keys of the Kingdom' (1944). He was to become one of Hollywood's most loved leading men. Peck plays the slightly vulnerable everyman character very well and even if there doubt over the possibly dark past of his character he still manages to come across as sympathetic. Bergman is one of those actresses that the camera really did fall in love with and she seems to have the same effect on her leading men. The screen chemistry between the two is certainly evident and while not being in the Bergman Bogart league it is still great.
Hitchcock has always relished the use of special effects and camera trickery in order to create the right atmosphere in his films and 'Spellbound' is no exception. He knew that Freud's ideas of the subconscious and the meaning of dreams had not only made an impact on science but that many of his theories were the basis for the work many artists especially the Dadaist and surrealist movements of the 20's and 30's. The most populist exponent of surrealism at the time was Salvador Dali so it was obviously and a big coup for Hitchcock to enlist the great artist to design the sets representing the dream sequences in the film. These are probably the most memorable parts of the film and one of the most memorable film sequences in movies in general. We see the classic Dali motifs, the faceless men the melting clocks a world of light and shadow and logic defying proportions.
Hitchcock was nominated for a best director for 'Spellbound' but did not win; ironically the film did win an Oscar for the music by Miklós Rózsa, which Hitchcock reputedly disliked. The music is quite distinctive although it is not as well known as some of Hitchcock's later scores such as those usually penned by Bernard Hermmann of 'Psycho' fame. It is suitably moody and powerful to match the dramatic themes of the film. The music also makes use of the Theremin, one of the first and still the strangest of electronic instruments. The Theremin produces a very eerie dreamlike sound which was perfect for the subject matter.
Not every aspect of the film works nor has it dated well. The premise that Psychoanalysis could restore a person's memory or sanity in such a limited time span is frankly ridiculous. But we must remember what an impact Freud's theories were having at this time and how inevitably they would be misrepresented in popular fiction. In fact the whole premise of the film, the amnesia and the central mystery is slightly absurd but it doesn't really matter. If you manage to suspend disbelief on these details Hitchcock does build up the tension in his inimitable way and also creates enough doubt over the guilt or innocence of the central character as to keep the viewer genuinely intrigued as to the outcome.
Cast and technical bits
Ingrid Bergman ... Dr. Constance Petersen
Gregory Peck ... John Ballantine
Michael Chekhov ... Dr. Alexander Brulov
Leo G. Carroll ... Dr. Murchison
Rhonda Fleming ... Mary Carmichael
John Emery ... Dr. Fleurot
Runtime: 111min, UK certificate PG
Spellbound is available to buy from Amazon for £4.47 (inc p+p) at the time of writing this review.
Despite this not being one of Hitchcock's best films it still has enough about it to still be a very enjoyable thriller. There are some great central performances and Oscar winning musical score and one of the strangest and most remember surrealist sequences in film history. In the end even a slightly below par Hitchcock film is still better than most of the rest ahs to offer.
Spellbound is another Alfred Hitchcock film that is superb, but wasn't enough to propell him into huge American films. But the script was good enough to attract stars Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman to act in it, and it was good enough to be produced by David O Selznick again. The result is another brooding psychological thriller form Hitchcock, that boasts some stunning dream sequences designed and directed by Salvador Dali and some first rate acting.
Dr Peterson (Bergman) is a psychiatrist at the Green Manors Mental Hospital. She is dedicated to her work, and comes across as very detached and emotionless to other doctors (who are all male - Hitchcock making one of his social statements). The hospital's director, Dr Murchison (Leo G. Carrol, who was a Hitchcock regular) is being forced into retirement. His replacment is Dr Edwards (Gregory Peck), who is much younger and arrives within the first few minutes of the film.
At first, everything seems okay, and Dr Edwards seems to slip into the role of Director very well. However, bizarre things start to happen, including his fear of parallel lines and style of writing, leading Dr Peterson to suspect that there is something very wrong with Dr Edwards. She beings to quietly investigate him, but also finds herself falling for him.
Naturally, nothing is as it seems and soon she and Dr Peterson have to go on the run from the police. They are chased down, leading to a thrilling climax and a fabulous Hitchcock twist.
This is one of Hitchcock's better efforts. But as with most of his early work (pre-Rope in 1948), it is brooding and takes time building up suspense. But when it kicks off, like all his films, it does fly. Both Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman are brilliant, and compliment each other very well. Hitchcock's direction is superb as always. But it is Salvador Dali's spellbinding dream sequences that steal this. Well worth watching indeed.
I'll confess. I'm really not experienced in the Hitchcock field. In fact, I probably couldn't name more than 2 or 3 of his films that I have actually watched. Okay, okay, stop gasping, I know he's supposed to be the director or directors, but I've just never dabbled. At the beginning of the year, my mother-in-law popped The Lady Vanishes on while we were up staying with them, and I have to say, I really enjoyed it!
Fast forward to last week, and we're having a clear out. I came across a ridiculous mound of various CDs and DVDs and, if you read my status on here (as of 2/4/09), I've set myself the target of reading and hopefully reviewing all of the DVDs I found. The first that caught my eye was Spellbound, another Hitchcock film, and, as I had so enjoyed the intricacies and characters Hitchcock gave us with The Lady Vanishes, I thought I might like this one.
As it turns out, I was right. This may be a far cry from the usual Hitchcock names that roll off the tongue, such as Psycho, The Birds or Rear Window, but what it gives us is a clever and ground-breaking dip into the cinematic exploration of psychoanalysis. Spellbound is described by Hitchcock as being 'just another manhunt story wrapped in pseudo-psychology' but it is so much more than that. Don't let the opening fool you, as it did me, with the first minute or so given away to a brief explanation of exploring psychoanalysis, highlighting this virtues in curing mental illness and reverting the disturbed human mind to reason. I groaned, wondering what I was letting myself in for, and indeed was not impressed by the first 5 or 10 of the film, either.
These are spent with some elaborate conversations taking place between various bit-part characters, who feature at the beginning and at the end of the film, but not a great deal in between. They converse in a mental hospital in Vermont, exchanging psycho-babble for a few minutes, before revealing that the director of the hospital, Dr Murchison (Leo Carroll) is being replaced, forced into early retirement, by Dr Edwardes (Gregory Peck). This is, of course, Hitchcock's way of setting the scene and informing us, the viewers, of exactly what to expect. However, around the 15 minute mark, things do start to speed up a bit and get more interesting with the injection of Gregory Peck, and the instant chemistry that he and Ingrid Bergman (as Dr Peterson) find, making the film that much easier to watch.
It's not long before we realise that Edwardes is not who he says he is, but a man with extreme amnesia. The film embarks on its real agenda, that of shrink Peterson using a variety of psychological means to jog the memory of Peck's character, whoever he may be. And this is where the confusion lies. We, as viewers, are as much in the dark as the characters in the film are, as we realise that something dreadful has happened to the real Edwardes, but the only person who knows what happened can't remember. Either that, or he's a very clever killer putting up false pretences in an attempt to appear insane.
As he flees, with Peterson in tow, the love blossoms as quickly as the police following them, and the race becomes rather frantic, with Peterson attempting to extract the truth before the police arrive and make an arrest. It is in this that we experience the true chemistry between Peck and Bergman. It is the first film I have seen Bergman in, and she is fantastic as the innocent Peterson, blinded by love and the desire to pair it with her professional expertise to save Peck's character. Peck himself is on top form, as ever, and gives a stirling performance as the amnesiac. Throughout the film, they match each other on screen, even in the cheesiest moments that you would expect from a 1945 film.
The supporting cast hardly feature, to be honest, with them all maintaining low key supportive roles in a very humble way, no doubt herded constantly by Hitchcock from day to day during filming. Perhaps this is the ideal moment to mention the curious director. He has a bit of a history for appearing in very small cameos in his films, and it rumoured to have stemmed from this film, where he emerges from a lift in the lobby of a hotel halfway throught the film. Whatever his reasoning for this, it is clear that he was very curious of the human psyche and its facets (or lack thereof!) and he explores it very deeply here, using often quite eccentric means throughout the film. There are moments when the score, from Miklos Rozsa, heightens as the amnesiac is analysed by Peterson, and this adds to a nervy mood I got from the film.
Coupled with the use of controversial artist Salvator Dali's art work in a dream sequence with some hidden meaning that correlates through to the events of the film, Hitchcock's film is very deep. Dali's work features a lot of large eyes painted on a backdrop, and although controversial at the time, seems very fitting and rather tame now. The depth of the human psyche is explored in a lot of detail throughout the film, and its intent was supposed to be to educate the general public and to promote the positive effects of psychoanalysis.
But I didn't want to think like this too much, and so I didn't. I managed to sit back and watch the film, trying to enjoy it. It is a bit hard going in places, particularly when it keeps slipping between a romance film and psychological thriller. The changes are quite rapid as well, as the amnesiac will find something triggers a part of his memory at random and without warning. At the same time, the camera zooms in, Peck's brow furrows, Bergman panics and the music gets louder and more dramatic. As these things combine more than once, there is enough to retain interest throughout, and just when you think something needs to happen, it does.
I shan't spoil it for you by giving anything else away, but what I will do is recommend you watch it, even through parts you believe to drag a little. However, when thinking of these parts that drag, we must imagine we, too, are in 1945, and that there is little or no precedent for psychoanalysis in films, and that the concept itself is not the most explored and public. Hence, elements of this field explored in the film are elaborated somewhat to ensure the viewer grasps the situation a bit more. Were this to be made of more recent times, no doubt a lot of this would be deemed unnecessary.
There is also more than meets the eye when you near the end, and Hitchcock gives us a little twist that relates to the nature of the film as well as the content of the plot. Another box tickled cleverly by the director.
The DVD copy I watched of this came free with a Sunday Newspaper. I am unsure which one, I'm sure it's pretty irrelevant. However, this means there are no DVD extras to comment upon, nor was there a price, as it was 'free' unless you count the cost of the paper itself! If this piques your interest, then Spellbound is available from amazon.co.uk for £5.48, or slightly cheaper for a second hand copy.
Spellbound is one of Hitchcocks most daring experiments and the 1st screen thriller to explore the dark arts of psychoanalysis. It stars Ingrid Bergman as Dr Constance Peterson and Gregory Peck as John Ballantine aka Dr Anthony Edwards. Describable as a film - noir mystery/ romance. Directed by Hitchcock in 1945, written by Hilary St George Sanders (novel) adapted by Angus Macphail, screenplay Ben Hecht. Music score by Miklos Rozsa.
Psychoanalysis was still quite a cinematic novelty at the time (The movie is considered to be the 1st screen thriller to the dark arts of the subject), but this means that we have to put up with an awkward opening sequence, complete with "explanations" on the screen. These follow a rather dull introduction to the credits and cast backed by a tree in autumn wind and a quote from Shakespeare. The film quickly moves into the development of relationships between doctors and patients concerning character analysis at the asylum. About 40 minutes into the film Hitchcock appears in a cameo coming out of an elevator at the Empire hotel carrying a violin case and smoking a cigarette. The now amateurishly filmed skiing scene with unconvincing backdrops. Gregory Peck is the newly appointed director of a mental health asylum, but his behaviour pricks the suspicions of an icy Ingrid Bergman. Is he the troubled amnesiac, or a psychotic killer.
***THE CINEMATIC EXPERIENCE***
The legendary Salvador Dali designed dream sequence allegedly used very little of the great surrealists outlandish ideas, but even so it's striking and memorable. I also really enjoyed the inventive score by Miklos Rozsa, which utilized the eerie sound of the theremin, later used in the science fiction classic 'The Day The Earth Stood Still', and The Beach Boys psychedelic pop masterpiece 'Good Vibrations'. The alarming dream sequence, created by Salvador Dali, is now a legendary piece of film. It was originally supposed to run slightly longer. It included a scene in a ballroom with hanging pianos and still figures pretending to dance, filled with John Ballantine dancing with Dr. Peterson who turns into a statue. It was cut from the final film due to lack of time to appropriately build the set to scale (little people were used in the background to give the illusion of perception). Only part of it was filmed, and even less of it ended up in the release version. As a point of reference and a continuity error. The envelope which John Ballantine slips under the door of Dr. Peterson's room remains close the door and with its border parallel to the door bottom line. Later it appears a little distant from the door and skewed. The film is full of funny and interesting quotes and comments relevant to analysis 1 of my favourites is from Peck to Bergman whilst walking in the countryside Professor, youre suffering from mogo on the gogo.
Now the best thing about 'Spellbound' and what really makes it into a wonderfully entertaining mystery/romance is Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. Of course it had dated badly in some ways, but not enough to spoil a modern viewer's enjoyment. Spellbound' may not be Hitchcock's very best work, but I still highly recommended it. I can't see how anyone could not enjoy it. Dont spend too much on your copy there are plenty of inexpensive copies around.
When I think of Alfred Hitchcock, this isn't a film that springs to mind, but nevertheless I'm glad I had the opportunity to watch it. Hard to believe that it first came out 60 years ago! Once again, Hitchcock deals with psychological issues; although it seems that he doesn't have a huge amount of time for psychotherapy and the like, he is prepared to accept that it may work, and for the time, this must have been quite enlightening. As usual, the tension is maintained from the beginning through to the end; even my boyfriend, not usually keen on this sort of film, felt compelled to find out what happens.
Alfred Hitchcock, as director, deserves a quick mention for those of you that may not be familiar with his work. He was born in the East End of London and had a regular, religious upbringing. His interest in films began around 1915 and by 1920, he was a title designer for Lasky's film studios in London. He began to direct films after being called in when a director for whose films he was designing the titles fell ill and Hitchcock took his place. He eventually moved to Hollywood in 1940 and continued his career there. Films, for which he is most famous, include Psycho, Rear Window, To Catch a Thief and Strangers on a Train. His last film, called Family Plot, was made in 1976.
Dr Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) is a psychoanalyst in a home for those in need of psychoanalysis. She is known for her cold, icy temperament and lack of feelings towards her male colleagues. Then Dr Anthony Edwards (Gregory Peck) arrives to fill the position of director of the home; its current director being persuaded to retire to allow for new blood. However, his odd behaviour leads Petersen and her colleagues to believe that something is not quite as it should be. Petersen eventually discovers that Dr Edwards is actually John Ballantine, an amnesiac, who may or may not have been involved in the death of the real Dr Edwards.
Ballantine and Petersen fall in love; but Ballantine is scared that he will drag her into a compromising position and so escapes, leaving Dr Petersen with the address of the hotel to which he is going. The police are called in, but Ballantine has already left. Dr Petersen follows him, convinced of his innocence and that he is suffering from a guilt complex because of something that happened to him in his childhood (very Freudian). They move to the home of Dr Petersen's former teacher, Dr Brulov, who finds out their secret and eventually promises to help Petersen work on Ballantine to try to find out what he has forgotten.
Together, they realise that Ballantine has an irrational fear of track-marks in the snow, and so Dr Petersen takes him to the ski area where he eventually remembers he went to with the real Dr Edwards. This jogs his memory to the extent that he remembers what happens. However, nothing is straight-forward and it is clear that Dr Petersen's help may not have been such a good thing after all.
This film is a great show-piece for Ingrid Bergman, who is rarely out of the picture as Dr Petersen. Although there is a romantic element to the film, this is much under-played - a pleasant change from some of Bergman's films, such as Casablanca. I also thought it was a pleasant change to have Ingrid Bergman's character as a woman, looking after a man, rather than the other way around. On the whole, she acts well and there is far less over-acting than other roles I have seen her in.
Gregory Peck looks incredibly young and hollow-cheeked in this role. He is believable as an amnesiac, but only just. There are occasions when he pulls faces and looks so shell-shocked that were it a film by another director, it would be a comedy. Somehow though, he does pull it off and I was hooked.
I watched a version of the DVD that came free with a weekend newspaper and therefore had no special effects; however, the version available on Amazon has the following:
Moving menus and chapter points
Obviously, I cannot comment on them.
The film is in black and white and has a classification of PG.
This film is not one of Hitchcock's best, but it is probably one of his most interesting. There is a strange dream sequence when Ballantine is describing his dreams to Dr Petersen and Brulov, involving eyes and playing cards - this was apparently designed by Salvador Dali, and for its time, must have been quite impressive. There is also a scene where someone is holding a gun first pointing at someone else and then at himself/herself, but all that is seen is the hand and the gun - apparently this was a specially modelled giant hand and gun for effect.
On the negative side, there are some ridiculous scenes of Petersen and Ballantine pretending to ski, which were so unlife-like, they were ridiculous. And the plot does nearly fall down because of the speed at which Ballantine recovers his memory - as far as I am aware, something like this would take years to solve. However, full marks to Hitchcock for making a film that admits that there may be something in this psychotherapy business - having had it myself, I do think it works, although I am aware that many people out there don't agree. The title, Spellbound, however, is somewhat unfortunate in that it has magical connotations and to my mind, psychotherapy is anything but and should not be portrayed as such.
On the whole though, a well-made, chilling film that kept me hooked until the end. And the fact that Bergman and Peck are so good to look at can only be a good thing. Recommended.
The DVD, including features, is available for £3.97 from Amazon! What a bargain.
Allegedly the first serious attempt to make a movie about psychoanalysis, this is probably doomed to be shown at psychology conferences for a laugh. The vision of dream analysis and therapy on show here is certainly not be taken seriously. Moreover, this second-rank Hitchcock movie has some of his worst artificial excesses, with Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman doing a spot of back-projected skiing (if you don't laugh, you deserve a prize). But accept that you're not watching something as good as 'Vertigo' and 'Spellbound' is enormous fun. Peck plays a psychologist who arrives at a remote asylum to replace the retiring Leo G. Carroll, and Bergman as a gorgeous psychoanalyst immediately falls for him. But wait! He turns out to be (in a lovely phrase I found on the IMDB) a paranoid amnesiac imposter, and it all goes pear-shaped. It's full of Hitchcockian bits of business like the point-of-view shot at the end where the villain shoots himself, and the wonderful dream sequences designed by Salvador Dali. It's all as mad as a sack of cats, but more than enough entertainment compared to most thrillers. Like 'To Catch a Thief' and 'The man who knew too much', it's trivial, but stylish and funny, and while Peck is weak, Bergman agonises with her usual class.