The producer is the legendary David O. Selznick, the director is Alfred Hitchcock, the writer is Ben Hecht, the score is by Miklos Rozsa, Salvador Dali designed the film’s key sequence, and the stars are Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. To say this was the A-Team of 1945 is an understatement, so what went so terribly wrong?
At the time, screenwriter Hecht was engaged in heavy psycho-analysis and understandably fascinated with the subject, and Hitchcock wanted to adapt the novel “The House of Dr. Edwardes.” Uber-producer Selznick had almost all of them all under contract, and the alchemy came together to create Hitchcock’s silliest film.
Though the film improves dramatically in the second half, nothing about “Spellbound,” the story of spinster psychiatrist (Bergman) and a possible murderer suffering amnesia (Peck) in love and on the run from the law, is in the least bit believable. And nothing is sillier than her trying to cure him using the latest Freudian techniques along the way.
Bergman plays Constance Petersen, a doctor at a Vermont mental hospital who fills her lonely life with work. When the story opens, the new director is due to arrive and does in the form of the impossibly young and handsome Dr. Anthony Edwardes (Peck). The attraction between Constance and Edward is immediate, and by the end of the day, they are hopelessly in love. There’s just one problem. Edwardes is an imposter who may have murdered the real Edwardes.
The lovers go on the lam, and in between close calls, he lies on many a couch as she tries to solve the mystery and unlock his amnesia through psychoanalysis. Pretending to be newlyweds, they eventually arrive at the home of Constance’s teacher and mentor, Dr. Brulov (Michael Chekhov). By this time we’re over an hour in, and while the movie improves some, it’s already too late. The contrivances, the melodrama, and Rozsa’s overwrought score have already done their damage. Not to mention that unforgivably absurd moment when a newly smitten Bergman looks far off into the horizon and says … “liverwurst.”
As a curiosity for film fans, the Blu-ray does have its benefits. The stars, especially the luminous Bergman who required little to no make-up, look gorgeous in high-definition, and the dream sequence designed by Dali (that the notorious meddler Selznick demanded re-shot more than once) is rightfully famous and a real show-stopper. There’s also a couple of fascinating documentaries that look at the making of the film.
But it’s just not a very good movie.
“Spellbound” is available at Amazon.