dir. alfred hitchcock
A beautifully crafted Hitchcockian mystery, Spellbound showcases two of the finest actors of the twentieth century as they explore the fragility of identity and memory.
Ingrid Bergman stars as Dr. Constance Peterson, a resident psychologist at a mental institution, who becomes intwined in a mystery following the appointment of a new man charged with leading the institution, portrayed by the unnervingly handsome Gregory Peck.
Let’s get a couple issues out of the way right off the bat. First, the film is layered with explicit misogynistic undertones, no doubt common for a woman in Peterson’s field, but nonetheless repeated again and again. She is constantly seen as frantic and blind, particularly as her feelings for Peck grow (“We both know that the mind of a woman in love is operating on the lowest level of the intellect!”) which frankly gets old pretty quickly. It is no secret that Hitchcock wasn’t the biggest advocate for women, but nonetheless; gah.
Next, from a technical standpoint, the film is grossly inconsistent in tone, particularly when it comes to the use of Miklós Rózsa’s score. The score itself is masterful on its own (he won an Academy Award for it), but its use in the film does more harm than good. That isn’t to say the score alone is to blame; many scenes take drastic shifts in tone on their own, and whether it’s the fault of the script, the editing, or the directing may be hard to identify, but nonetheless.
“Will you love me just as much when I’m normal?”
“Oh, I’ll be insane about you.”
Despite these lazy faults, the film is still a fantastic mystery. The story is intriguing throughout, and the cinematography is fantastic and pure Hitchcock. Here we find the first instance of the “Hitchcock zoom”, as well as classic Hitchcock framing and POV shots (particularly the one in the film’s climax). Present too are the bantering side characters Hitchcock perfected–little glimpses into perfectly rounded, though otherwise unimportant characters.
The film should also be remembered for Hitchcock moving out of his comfort zone. Here he employs Salvador Dali to create a dream sequence (though the degree to which Hitchcock was actually involved in this is up for debate), as well as the use of psychoanalysis as a major plot point.
Criterion Spine #136