Monday, 6 August 2012

Spellbound (1945)

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1945 thriller deals with passion and intrigue in the sexy world of psychiatrists. What do you mean psychiatrists aren’t sexy? Ingrid Bergman’s one in this, and Gregory Peck is as well. Well, actually, he’s not, but for his first few minutes of screen time he does an excellent job of acting the way psychiatrists really do, taking a random half day off to go wandering about in the countryside and collapsing in a dead faint if he has to go near an operating theatre. 
      It all starts to go wrong when Ingrid draws a vagina on the tablecloth for him at teatime. Gregory gets all shaky and wobbly when she starts talking about swimming pools and before Bela Lugosi can leap in to say ‘Freud - you are avenged!’ Ingrid’s losing all control and coming to Gregory’s room at night. Unfortunately Gregory’s not quite in control of himself either, poor chap, and when he kisses her he starts to go all wobbly again. But it’s not her, it’s the dressing gown she’s wearing. “What’s wrong with it?” she asks. Anyone who has gone to medical school will know that the approved answer is “You’re still wearing it” and Gregory gives himself away by not coming up with the goods. It turns out he’s been impersonating Dr Edwardes, the new head of Green Manors, the institution in which all this is taking place, and, confused by Ingrid’s vagina, dressing gown, and with being in a Hitchcock movie in general, he promptly dashes off to a posh New York hotel in the hope of maybe working for Universal instead. “I always thought there was something unscientific about him,” says Leo G Carroll, probably because Gregory has been there a whole day and a half and has yet to produce one giant guinea pig, frog or tarantula capable of crushing a house which would guarantee him a job over at Universal in a few years' time. Leo’s another psychiatrist and ex-head of Green Manors because Gregory, or rather Doctor Edwardes, was intended to replace him. 
      Doctor Edwardes has, in fact, been murdered! Ingrid travels to New York where Gregory has been trying to remember who he is. She employs the tried and trusted psychoanalytic therapeutic techniques of forcing him to buy a railway ticket, exposing him to the very police who are searching for him, and rubbing herself up against him. A lot. Gregory’s terrified of black tracks on white lines. Dr Edwardes loved skiing. The two couldn’t be connected, could they? Oh yes they are, but we don’t get to find out about that until we’ve sat through a trippy Salvador Dali-designed dream sequence that really should have been in colour. There was a Dali exhibition on in London a few years ago & I was lucky enough to be able to see the painted backdrops used in this sequence and they really are a surrealistic delight to behold. A shame they weren’t preserved on the screen in all their glory. 
      Anyway, Gregory dreams all the answers in the kind of sequence that would keep Italian film directors in business way into the mid 1970s. The reason for his fear is also explained in the kind of flashback giallo lovers everywhere were to see again and again in the decades to come. I’m not going to give away any more of this as SPELLBOUND is definitely still worth watching for some great suspense sequences, some stylish camerawork and some absolutely beautiful and subtle noirish lighting, even if its treatment of the world of contemporary 1940s psychiatry is about as accurate as Robert Bloch’s depiction of that same world twenty years later. Twenty five years later of course, SPELLBOUND would have definitely been made in Italy. The title and poster would have approximated the French one shown above, with the villain swigging from a bottle J&B, Morricone doing the music instead of Rozsa, and Edwige Fenech in the Gregory Peck role. But who would have played Ingrid? Answers on a bloodstained postcard please...


  1. Good call. Not Ivan Rassimov, then? Just for a bit of intrigue...

  2. Some fifteen years ago, when I was going through my "I have to see every film ever made by the Great Masters, even if it's awful!" phase, I watched every Hitchcock film I could get my hands on, including this one. I liked it well enough. The fact that Dali designed the dream sequence is an interesting tidbit. Actually, they advertise that right on the back of the cassette in the version I bought.

    Video cassettes... Sheesh, that really was a long time ago, my Great Masters phase...