Spellbound

Released:  1945

Cast:  Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Michael Chekhov, Leo G. Carroll

Oscar Wins:  Best Original Score (Miklos Rozsa)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Picture, Best Director (Alfred Hitchcock), Best Supporting Actor (Michael Chekhov), Best Cinematography (George Barnes), Best Visual Effects (Jack Cosgrove)

SUMMARY:  Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) is a psychoanalyst at a residential treatment facility, called Green Manors, in Vermont.  She is the only female doctor on staff, and while she is well-respected, her colleagues perceive her as cold and unemotional.  The hospital is about to get a new director, as the current one, Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll), is being forced to retire after suffering a nervous breakdown (from which he has recovered).  His replacement is Dr. Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck), who has been hired even though Murchison has never met him in person.  On his very first night, Dr. Edwardes has a strange reaction to the site of lines on the white tablecloth, which Dr. Petersen notices.  However, she quickly falls for him, and he for her.  She becomes troubled, though, when she realizes that his signature does not match the one in an autographed copy of  Edwardes’s book.  When she confronts him, Edwardes reveals that he killed the real Dr. Edwardes, then took his place.  He is also suffering from amnesia, and does not know his real identity.  Despite this confession, Dr. Petersen believes that he did not kill Edwardes, but for some reason is suffering from a guilt complex.  The other doctors in the facility also realize that Edwardes is an impostor; before they can have him arrested, Edwardes flees the hospital.  He leaves a note for Dr. Petersen, telling her that he is leaving because he loves her. However, Dr. Petersen refuses to give up on her new “patient”, and tracks him to a hotel in New York.  She wants to use psychoanalysis to break through his amnesia and learn the truth, but is hampered by two major issues:  his extreme resistance to remembering, and their pursuit by the police.  She decides to take him to stay with her mentor, famed psychoanalyst Dr. Brulov (Michael Chekhov).  On the very first night of their visit, Edwardes exhibits disturbing behavior when he walks into Dr. Brulov’s study, seemingly in a trace and carrying a straight razor.  Brulov is not convinced that Edwardes isn’t really a murderer, but agrees to analyze him as a favor to Petersen.

In the morning, Edwardes tells Brulov and Petersen of a dream he had, which involved blank playing cards, a man falling off the top of a building, a man hiding behind a chimney while holding a wheel, and being chased by wings.  Adding this to his known fear of dark lines on white surfaces, Petersen and Brulov deduce that this man and the real Edwardes had been on a ski trip together, where the real Edwardes went over a cliff to his death.  They also figure out that the accident occurred in Gabriel Valley, so Petersen takes the mystery man there to encourage further memories.  The two ski down the mountain together, towards the same cliff where Edwardes died.  Just before they reach the edge, the man’s memory returns and he remembers what happened.  Edwardes did go over the cliff on their ski trip; he also remembers that as a child, he accidentally knocked his brother onto a spiked railing, which resulted in death.  The guilt over this accidental death haunted him, and led him to believe that he was also responsible for the death of Edwardes (the guilt complex), whose identity he assumed in order to soothe his subconscious (if Edwardes wasn’t dead, the man couldn’t have killed him).  The man also remembers that his real name is John Ballantyne.  All of this evidence clears things up with Green Manors, and Ballantyne and Petersen believe that they are free to be together.  However, the police arrive with the news that Edwardes’s body was found with a bullet in it.  Ballantyne is arrested, tried for murder, and sent to prison.  A devastated Petersen returns to Green Manors, where Murchison is again the director.  One evening, Murchison mentions that he only knew Edwardes slightly — and Petersen remembers that he had earlier claimed not to know the man at all.  She remembers Ballantyne’s dream, and realizes the man holding a wheel must have been Murchison with a revolver.  She confronts her boss, who admits to killing Edwardes while in the midst of his nervous breakdown.  He plans to shoot Petersen as well, but she convinces him that his murder of Edwardes had extenuating circumstances (his mental health):  if he murders her, he can’t claim the same thing.  Murchison allows her to leave, but then shoots himself.  With his name cleared, Ballantyne is released from prison.  He and Petersen quickly get married, and leave for their honeymoon from the same train station they used when traveling to Brulov’s house.

MY TAKE:  I really love Hitchcock movies.  They always have great tension and mystery, and there’s usually at least one good twist.  In this case (for me at least), it was the whole bullet-in-the-body thing.  Like Petersen, I didn’t believe that Edwardes was guilty of murder, so I wasn’t surprised when his memories cleared him.  However, I genuinely did not expect that bullet thing, and I suddenly found myself questioning what I had believed for the whole movie.  Basically, I felt the same way as Petersen.  This has got to be considered as a success for Hitchcock, to make the viewer feel the same way as a character.  I was extremely proud of myself when I noticed the discrepancies in Murchison’s story:  I remembered that he had claimed to have never met Edwardes, because it seemed really strange.  Later, when he claimed  to have met Edwardes briefly, I became suspicious.  I also remembered that he had gone on a vacation after having a nervous breakdown, and that he wasn’t very happy about being forced to retire.  I didn’t make the whole wheel-revolver connection, but I thought it was pretty clever.  I think part of what caused me internal conflict while watching this was my perception of Gregory Peck (who was only 29 when this film was released).  Pretty much everybody thinks of him as Atticus Finch, the greatest hero in movie history (according to AFI).  It’s really, really hard to think that Atticus could be guilty of murder or anything underhanded.  Hitchcock couldn’t have known that this would happen — To Kill a Mockingbird wasn’t released until 1962, nearly 20 years later — but it actually helped this movie.  It’s almost like Peck was playing against his future type.  I thought Bergman was pretty good, too, since she was playing a character who was not overly feminine (which is sort of against type for her, too).  Actually, I was impressed that a movie released in 1945 even had a female doctor, let alone one who was a head shrinker.  Apparently, studio head David Selznick had had good results with psychoanalysis, and his doctor was a female.  She actually consulted on the movie, where she apparently didn’t get along with Hitchcock.  Not much of a surprise, when you think about it:  at the time psychoanalysis was basically all Freudian, and if you know anything about Hitchcock’s personal life you can see how he was probably a hot mess.  Freud thought pretty much everything was sex-related, and Hitchcock certainly had some strange behaviors regarding that subject.  Makes for a terrific movie, though.

RATING:  Great.

 

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