Spellbound (1945)

When I posted my review of Charade a couple of weeks back, I ended up being reminded of this film. Firstly, because Charade is referred to as ‘the best Hitchcock film Hitchcock didn’t direct’. Secondly, because in the comments, a couple of readers mentioned a film in a similar vein, the Gregory Peck-starrer, Arabesque. My mind did a quick jump ahead, and came up with this: Hitchcock + Peck = Spellbound.

And, as if fate itself had decreed it, I realised just as I was beginning to write this review, that today – August 29 – is the birth anniversary (and, oddly, death anniversary, too) of Spellbound’s leading lady, the lovely Ingrid Bergman. This was the day she was born in 1915, and this was the day she died, in 1982. Happy birthday, Ms Bergman – and RIP.

Spellbound is often regarded as one of Hitchcock’s least impressive films (he is said to have not liked it either). For me, though, this film has a special appeal, because it was one of the first Hitchcock films I ever watched. I must’ve been about 10 when I saw this, and though decades have passed since then, every time I see dark lines on a white background, I automatically think of Spellbound.

The story begins in Green Manors, an institution for psychoanalysis. This is where people with emotional problems are observed, analysed, and helped to overcome their inner demons.
One of these is Mr Garmes (Norman Lloyd), who’s convinced that he murdered his brother. Mr Garmes’s psychoanalyst, Dr Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) has diagnosed this as a case of a guilt complex, and has been trying to explain it to Mr Garmes.

Within the first few minutes of the film, we learn more about Constance. As a colleague describes her (behind her back): “Constance Petersen, the human glacier, the custodian of truth.” This colleague, Dr Fleurot (John Emery) has reason enough to be both aware and bitter: he has been trying to woo, without any success, the lady in question.

Constance is really not interested – not in Dr Fleurot, not in romance, not in anything but her work.

Green Manors itself is on the brink of an important event: its head, Dr Murchison (Leo G Carroll) is retiring, and his replacement, the renowned Dr Anthony Edwardes, will be arriving soon. From a brief conversation between Dr Murchison and Constance, we discover that Dr Murchison:
(a) has been at Green Manors for the past 20 years;
(b) recently suffered a nervous breakdown because of overwork; and
(c) this episode is the reason for him being asked to retire.

He is not at all happy about leaving Green Manors.

However, the inevitable must happen. Dr Edwardes (Gregory Peck) arrives, and when he meets Constance, there is instant chemistry between them. Her male colleagues are disdainful (Fleurot is, unsurprisingly, irritated that Constance seems to be so starry-eyed in the presence of Dr Edwardes).
At dinner that night, with all the doctors dining at the same round table, the conversation is proceeding fairly normally…

…until Constance, describing the shape of a new swimming pool to be built at Green Manors, ‘draws’ it on the tablecloth with the tines of her fork.

The effect, on Dr Edwardes, of this completely innocuous act is very strange: he looks very distressed, and snaps rather rudely at Constance, making a remark about the linen supplier to Green Manors having to bear with such brutality.
Constance is taken aback. Surely that was unwarranted?

The next day, while Constance is at work, she receives a brief note from Dr Edwardes, summoning her to his room:

Mr Garmes is pouring out his woes to Dr Edwardes and complaining that Constance does not understand him. Constance sets about calming him down and trying to reason with him. He does recover [conveniently quickly, it seems], and is sent back to his room.
Constance is still with Dr Edwardes when he receives a phone call from an unknown woman who introduces herself as Mrs Cramer. Constance, who can’t help overhearing Dr Edwardes’s half of the conversation, hears him say curtly, “Yes, yes. But I’m very busy, and I don’t know you!”

This is soon forgotten, because Dr Edwardes invites Constance to spend the rest of the day out with him, going on a long walk. She agrees, and they go out. And, as anyone who’d seen these two together would expect, fall in love over the course of the afternoon.

Constance, on her return to Green Manors, is ribbed ruthlessly by her male colleagues, especially a sarcastic Fleurot. She doesn’t allow it to irk her, though, and tosses off any suggestion that this is true love. She asserts she’s devoted only to her work.
Whom is Constance deluding?

Not herself, at any rate. That night, tossing and turning and unable to sleep, she finally gets out of bed and goes upstairs to the library (passing Dr Edwardes’s room on the way – she notes the light shining through the bottom of the door). Constance goes on to the library and pulls out her favourite work by Edwardes (‘Labyrinth of the Guilt Complex’) – he is, after all, a well-respected academician, with several books to his name.

She then goes to his room, knocks, and when asked to enter, tells Dr Edwardes that she’d like to discuss the book with him. It’s a flimsy excuse; Dr Edwardes sees through it, and there’s a mutual confession of love. He kisses her, pulls her into his arms – and suddenly, looking down at the thin dark stripes on her white dressing gown, goes dizzy and clutches his head.

Before Constance can quite figure out what’s happening, the phone rings. Dr Edwardes answers it, and is told – by a staff member of Green Manors – that Mr Garmes has run amok and has slit his own throat. He’s now in the surgery, and could Dr Edwardes please come quickly?
Suddenly, everything is happening at top speed. Dr Edwardes and Constance rush down into the surgery, where Garmes is on the operating table, surrounded by doctors and nurses…

…and Dr Edwardes blanks out and faints.

Constance sits by his bedside once he’s taken up to his room. And while she’s watching over him, Constance remembers something that she had noticed.
The library book – Edwardes’s Labyrinth of the Guilt Complex – is one of a special edition, of which all copies had been signed by the author. Constance opens the book, and compares the signature on the flyleaf with the signature of Anthony Edwardes on the note he had sent her the previous day.

This man – the one she has fallen in love with – is not Dr Anthony Edwardes. Then who is he? And where is Dr Edwardes? If this man has presented himself at Green Manors, pretending to be Anthony Edwardes, there can be only one explanation for it: that Dr Edwardes himself is no longer alive to be at Green Manors. Does that mean this man – Constance doesn’t even know his name – is the murderer of Dr Edwardes?

The plot moves swiftly forward, because soon everybody except Constance and the man she loves believe that he is a murderer. Even Constance’s very supportive former mentor, Dr Brulov (Michael Chekhov), is doubtful. Soon, Constance and her beloved are on the run [a classic Hitchcock trope?], trying to prove that he is innocent. A hard task, since the man himself has not the slightest recollection of who he is.

What I liked about this film:

The lead pair. Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman are two of my favourite stars, and seeing them together is a bonus. Plus, they both look fabulous in this film; good enough to help detract from the moments of [very] slightly hammy acting.

The dream sequence. Even among those who deride Spellbound, this memorable 2-minute scene, in which Gregory Peck’s character narrates a dream, is considered brilliant. And rightly so; Salvador Dali, who designed it, uses stunningly surreal imagery – sharp angles, faceless characters, crisp black and white, a ‘melting wheel’ (which is so typical of Dali, isn’t it?). The dream sequence was supposed to have been 20 minutes long, but had to be cut down to what it is now; and it still manages to be fantastic.

What I didn’t like:

Let me begin by saying that I know almost nothing about psychoanalysis, and very little about psychology itself.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I’ll say that the one thing I did not like about Spellbound is the way it seems to oversimplify psychology. For example, can a single dream be dissected so easily to yield such precise and irrefutable clues? Everything else, too – beginning with the male protagonist’s distress when he sees dark lines on white – falls into place a little too easily. The film, by the way, did have a technical adviser for psychology: May E Romm, MD [am I the only one who sees that name as an anagram of ‘Am memory’?].

Still, all said and done, this is a good, entertaining Hitch film, with all the suspense, the swift pace, the chills, and the cliff-hangers (literally) you’d expect of a Hitchcock. Not in the same league as Rear Window or North by North-West, but it certainly did leave me spellbound.

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44 thoughts on “Spellbound (1945)

  1. i don’t need any more reason to watch this. Gregory Peck and Bergman’s pairing’s more than enough incentive!!! Drooling at Peck forever I am :)

  2. Thank you for reminding me of this movie. When I saw the title, I knew I’ve seen this movie, but could not for the life of me remember the story…just that Gregory Peck was in it. As I read though your review and came to the dinner sequence and the fork marks on the cloth…lo behold, I remembered everything, including the dream sequence ! I think this was the first Gregory Peck movie that I watched and have been an ardent fan ever since :)

    I did not know that Ingrid Bergman shared her birth date with the date she died….really odd, like you said and sad in a way. I always found her a very good actress and liked her in all her movies…my favorites being Casablanca, Notorious and Gaslight.

    Happy Birthday, Indrid and thank you, DO for another wonderful post & review.

    • Thank you, AV! Glad you liked this post. That ‘fork drawing on the tablecloth’ is really one of those ‘stick-in-your-memory’ scenes, isn’t it? About 20 years elapsed between my first viewing of Spellbound and my second viewing of it, but that one scene, in particular, stayed in my mind. I must admit that, unlike you, I didn’t remember the dream sequence, though.

      Have you seen The Inn of the Sixth Happiness? It’s one of Ingrid Bergman’s later films, and very good too – one of my favourite of her films. I’m not especially fond of Notorious or Casablanca (yes, yes! I know I’m an iconoclast!), but Gaslight is superb too. And Murder on the Orient Express… she was such a fine actress.

      • No, I haven’t seen The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. Will try to catch it sometime soon. I know what you mean by not being too fond of Notorious and Casablanca…what I wanted to say was that I loved her performances in those movies. She really was a fine actress…and yes, how could I have forgotten Murder on the Orient Express. She was fantastic in it.

  3. Spellbound was my first Hitchcock film too!
    Saw it when I was twelve or so! Loved it though I didn’t understand much of it at that time. What with psychoanalysis and what not? But I was spellbound!
    The man on the run Hitchcock! Wonderful! I am always amazed how Hitchcock always used the same motive without being repetitive.
    Peck and Bergman make a good couple!
    Just nothing to be not liked in this film. Everything complex though basically simple, at times too simple! ;-)
    Pure nostalgia!

    • I wonder if we both watched the same telecast of Spellbound, Harvey? ;-) I remember I saw this on one of those late-night (10.20, I think) slots when Doordarshan used to show English films back in the mid-80s. I agree; I didn’t understand all of it either back then, but it was enough to make me love the film.

      Hitchcock, even when he’s not at his best. is so good.

      Re: the man on the run – have you seen Saboteur? Same trope there. Also Young and Innocent… but, as you say, Hitchcock managed to get away with it. The English Nasir Hussain, huh? ;-)

      • That is it! Late-night English films!
        That makes me smile! I was so grateful to DD for those films!
        ROTFL at The English Nasir Husain!
        Yeah, I have seen Saboteur. The people he meets during the run, all from the margins of the society. The film itself was okay, but the way he has shown the lives of the ‘other’ people is so lovely! It touched me a lot!

        • DD did show some great films back then. I remember being particularly happy whenever elections came around, because they’d do retrospectives – I saw a lot of Guru Dutt films once. :-)

          It’s been a few years since I saw Saboteur, so I don’t recall much about the ‘other people’ in the film. But yes, it didn’t strike me as among Hitchcock’s more memorable works.

          • Late night Doordarshan telecast? :) That’s when I first watched Spellbound too! Thank heavens for Bhaskar Ghosh! He made sure that we saw quite a few good films, even if he was forced to telecast them late at night.

            • And even if he did telecast them late at night, we watched them all… I remember seeing some great films back then. Not just Hollywood, but also quite a few other foreign films. There was this Chinese film about a group of little children who are all orphans… I remember me and Mummy and my sister sitting and crying softly through most of that film!

  4. Thank you DO for another review of Hitch cock. The pairing of handsome Peck and beatiful Bergman is enough to watch the movie. As ardent fan of Peck enjoyed his movies all through. rape of mocking bird,Roman holiday ,moby dick,Arbeseque ,cape fear,guns of navaron,Mecann’s gold,omen made him immortal .

    • Thank you, Epstein!

      And I’m glad we share a love for Peck – I think he was a superb actor, though I must confess that of the films you’ve listed, there are quite a few (including Moby Dick, Omen, Arabesque and Roman Holiday – yes, even the last-named) that I haven’t seen. So much catching up to do, so little time…

  5. I’m sure I havn’t seen that one – I would’ve remembered the Dali dream sequence! Probably because as you say it isn’t considered a very impressive Hitchcock movie… But Indrid Bergman looks superb (thanks to the crisp B&W no doubt) and the psycoanalytical context sounds just too good to be true – gives the impression that at least one might beat the master at his own game for once!

    • Bergman was absolutely gorgeous here, Yves! (incidentally, even other than that crisp black and white highlighting her beauty… it also shows up in the overall excellent cinematography of the film. Some fabulous angles, some very memorable shots).

      Interestingly, just two years after Spellbound, the Robert Taylor-Audrey Totter film High Wall was released, which has a somewhat similar psychological thriller angle. It centres around a man (Taylor) who is accused of having murdered his wife – and believes he did.

  6. Wonderful review and screen shots of a young Gregory Peck! Now this is a movie I hadn’t heard of until today, and I am so envious of all of you who managed to watch this on DD, so I am going to look for it on Youtube. A young Gregory Peck, the intriguing Ingrid Bergman, who cares about the load of clothes overflowing in the hamper? That is where I am headed. Btw, just so you are prepared, you are solely responsible for my neglecting my chores today, and also for the pleasure I get today!
    Madhu, you haven’t seen Roman Holiday? That is a treat not to be missed, and it made my visit to Rome so memorable. The breakfast room in the hotel had huge posters of the movie!

    • Hehehe. If I could neglect my chores to watch and review this film, Lalitha, you are perfectly within your rights to neglect your chores, too!

      I haven’t been able to summon up the courage to watch Roman Holiday because I’d heard that it had a sad end. :-( That’s the only reason I haven’t seen it – because I hate sad ends, especially when they come to people like Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.

      Oh, but this conversation is making me want to visit Rome again… what a wonderful city.

  7. By the way, when we visited Rome, I made sure that we visited the places I had seen in Roman Holiday. We sat on the Spanish steps, but didn’t eat ice-cream, and saw the Lion’s Head, but didn’t join the line! Oh well, those will be for next time!

    • You didn’t eat gelato?!! Oh, Lalitha. Oh, poor you! :-D

      My husband and I visited Rome in summer, and we made it a point to have gelato at least twice every day. By the end of our Rome trip, we’d been so utterly ‘gelatified’ that we’ve never been able to appreciate gelati anywhere else – not even in Venice.

      By the way, my Rome film is Three Coins in the Fountain – it made me so nostalgic! (Plus, it has the gorgeous Rossano Brazzi!)

  8. How did I miss this post? :( Especially since it is one of my favourite films, and has both Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman??) I have been in love with Gregory Peck for as long as I can remember – it first started with Duel in the Sun.

    Thanks for refreshing my memory of this film, Madhu – the dream sequence frightened me for a long time afterwards. I have never been able to revist this film actually.

    • Anu, I think Duel in the Sun was the first Peck flm I saw too! DD, late night.

      I think you’ll now find that the dream sequence is only somewhat unsettling, not actually frightening as it might have seemed to a younger you.

      • Anu, I think Duel in the Sun was the first Peck flm I saw too! DD, late night.

        DD, late night, it was for me, too. :) We aren’t quite losing our touch are we? :))

        I have always had a problem with these things – the Dali sequence, certain background music in certain films – they all affect me in ways even I cannot explain. I also stay away from horror movies for the same reason.

        • Ah, I understand re: the dream sequence. I didn’t find that unsettling, but I am certainly not a fan of horror films. The Innocents is about all I can handle – and even in that case, my imagination ran away with me and gave me the shivers.

          • :D – I was in the 5th when I fell madly in love with Gregory Peck in Duel in the Sun, I even memorised lines … thanks DD for all the wonderful shared memories.

            Like the movie for its period-ness and the balck-and white ambience and the lead pair. But also the hope that the over-simplification of psycho-analysis reflects of the time… all new discoveries lead to people believing in their ‘magic’ powers to solve, only when we learn more do we realise how small an effect each component may have that cumulatively have an effect.

            • Yes, I read somewhere that Spellbound was one of the first films to explore the theme of the psychological thriller – so you’re probably right when you say that the oversimplification of psychoanalysis reflects the times, when this was just being discovered as a possible story idea.

              Whatever it is, it’s a good movie. And Peck… mmm. :-)

  9. I have not seen this movie, and Gregory Peck & Ingrid Bergman & Alfred Hitchcock can never be underestimated. Will definitely see it, thanks for a great review !!!
    I notice that you have reviewed a few other Hitchcock movies, “The 39 Steps” & “Dial M For Murder”. Both are among my absolute favorites, but what is interesting is that they have a sum total of 11 comments, with Harvey supplying most of them. Putting on my Gabbar Singh accent — “Bahut BeInsaafi Hai Yeh”. Going there to rectify it ASAP.

    • You must watch Spellbound, Samir! It’s worth it – and yes, the combination of Peck, Bergman and Hitchcock is a winning one. They can never be really bad.

      Heh. Yes, I know about all those ‘lost’ Hitchcock reviews I’ve done. Most were done in the very early days of this blog, when I had very few readers. I think Greta, bollyviewer and good old Harvey were the only ones who actually read these!

  10. SPELLBOUND may be best known as the film that saw Alfred Hitchcock team up with Salavador Dali (Dali designed the dream sequences). But it also noteworthy as it was one of the first films to feature psychoanalysis so prominently.

  11. Spellbound is one of my favourite Hitchcock films. I enjoy watching the young Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman in it. However, I agree that the ‘theory’ behind the plot is rather shaky.

    • And that, despite the fact that they did have a consulting psycho-analyst listed in the credits! The problem also was, I think, that while the theory behind the plot was shaky, the very swift and convenient way in which everything was discovered was hard to swallow.

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