“The Maddest Love that ever possessed a woman”
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Michael Chekhov
Synopsis: A psychiatrist protects the identity of an amnesia patient accused of murder while attempting to recover his memory.
Ingrid Bergman (Casablanca, Anastasia) is Dr. Constance Petersen, a psychiatrist at the Green Manors psychiatric home for nymphomaniac misandrists (Rhonda Fleming — Pony Express, The Patsy) and slightly built men with guilt complexes (Norman Lloyd — Saboteur, A Walk in the Sun) who falls for Dr. Edwardes (Gregory Peck — Duel in the Sun, David and Bathsheba) the home’s new boss. What she doesn’t realise until she’s fallen too deep is that Edwardes is an impostor who might have murdered the genuine doctor before assuming his identity. Despite her misgivings, Petersen goes on the run with Edwardes in order to help him clear his name.
Goes on the run with….to help him clear his name. How many Hitchcock movies could that brief synopsis cover, I wonder? The trick is that Hitch kept finding ways to make that same plot seem fresh and interesting. Despite that, and although it enjoys an exalted reputation, Spellbound is actually one of the great man’s lesser movies — or at least one of the movies that has aged least well. Psychoanalysis is a bit like technology — it soon looks outdated on screen; and because it was a fairly new subject, the psychology employed to move Ben Hecht’s screenplay forward looks extremely simplistic — and a touch too convenient for the purposes of the plot at times. Twice, Petersen simply has to have the man who thinks he’s Edwardes simply retrace his actions in order to jog his memory and reveal some vital clue. At a stretch this might scatter the earth from some buried memory if she had him plunging a dagger into a dummy, for example, but it’s difficult to believe that recreating activities like queuing for a train ticket or skiing down a slope would push many buttons.
Neither Bergman nor Peck convince as highly-intelligent psychiatrists, although I suppose Peck doesn’t really have to. Bergman sometimes wears spectacles to indicate the serious intelligence of her character, but crusty old Dr Brulov (Michael Chekhov) probably accurately sums her up when observing that “the mind of a woman in love is operating on the lowest possible intellect.” (I can’t see that line making it into any future remakes, somehow). Chekhov provides one of Spellbound’s few high points, providing an antidote to Bergman and Peck’s rather dour couple. The two stars apparently enjoyed a brief affair during filming, but they bring little passion to their screen relationship.
Spellbound is chiefly remembered now for the dream sequence that was designed by Salvador Dali and directed by William Cameron Menzies. It’s certainly eye-catching, but it’s ironic that the best sequence in a Hitchcock movie wasn’t actually directed by the man himself. He did direct that laughably tacky moment in which we see a sequence of doors opening in succession as Bergman and Peck share their first kiss, though…
(Recorded 7th November 2014)