Spellbound (1945) Movie Review
The entire plot is one of Hitch's more absurd (adapted from the novel The House of Dr. Edwardes). Back in 1945, the idea of psychoanalysis was just coming ito its own. Freud's ideas had really taken off, and wouldn't you know it, the time was right to make a movie based on the notion.
Gregory Peck plays a psychotherapist named Anthony Edwardes -- that is, until he's revealed to be an amnesiac nut case named J.B. with a secret to hide. Eventually he goes on the run with (real) therapist Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman), accused of murder. A whirlwind road trip ensues with, of all things, an in-depth psychotherapy session, as Edwardes/J.B. explains a crazy dream (visualized by Salvador Dali), which is promptly psychoanalyzed, curing its patient.
Yeah, a little silly. Ingrid Bergman always tends to ham it up anyway, and her Nordic accent and mannerism turns her instantly into a female version of Freud. The "psychotherapy" in the movie is both ridiculously simplistic and overwrought, with Petersen certain of J.B.'s innocence. J.B., meanwhile, becomes fascinated with virtually every object around him, with each little detail setting off some repressed memory or another. Peck plays the character, as instructed by Hitchcock, with an utterly blank, lost, and slightly confused look which makes him more pathetic than sympathetic.
Nonetheless, Spellbound has moments of crowd-pleasing delight. The abbreviated Dali sequence (originally envisioned as a longer scene and pared back when it was shot) is spectacular -- the closest example of genuine art we have on celluloid. The score won an Oscar, and the ending is also fantastically cool. Though the film is shot in black and white, the film washes red for a split second as a gun fires, ending the movie. (Hitchcock would revisit this blink-and-you-missed it finale with Psycho's abrupt transformation of Norman Bates.) In the end, it's worth watching, though the plot tends to slip away over time while you remember only the highlights of the film. (And what would Freud say about that?)
Now released in a Criterion super-fancy edition DVD, there are as usual more extras than I can begin to count. The insert booklet outlines the making of the film (including David O. Selnick's own depression and eventual desire to make a movie about psychotherapy); it's a highlight of the set. Hitchcock scholar Marian Keane offers a feature-length commentary, and countless interviews and essays complete the collection. One essay devoted to the truth behind the legendry of the Dali dream sequence is particularly worthwhile.