Spellbound Blu-ray Review
While talking about Hitchcock movies recently with a friend, we were both surprised at the depth and breadth of his influence on modern cinema. Most people remember him for his seminal (but oft-debated) ventures into thrillers and horror films (see PSYCHO, VERTIGO, REAR WINDOW, and others). Some even remember him for the TWILIGHT ZONE-esque series ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, which ran in short-story serial form from 1955-1961. But what I find the most interesting are the films that he made that don’t contain any of those classic Hitchcock-ian elements and yet are so unmistakably his. SPELLBOUND (1945) is one of those movies; when you watch you can’t help but admire the skill with which the story is put together.
SPELLBOUND is the story of a young female psychiatrist, Dr. Constance Petersen (played with the casual grace that Ingrid Bergman brought to every role). Dr. Petersen works at Green Manors mental asylum and is, by all accounts, married to her work. With little time for personal pursuits, she has never really fallen in love with anyone (not to mention that she works exclusively with older men who she sees only as her colleagues). So when a young, charismatic Dr. Edwardes comes to replace the former head of the asylum it isn’t surprising that she quickly develops feelings for him.
Sadly, these star-crossed lovers have their work cut out for them. Soon Dr. Edwardes (Gregory Peck) starts to show signs that he may be lying. This is furthered when they find out that Dr. Edwardes is missing, and this is not Dr. Edwardes at all, but instead a paranoid amnesiac imposter. It sounds like a line out of a terrible soap opera, but in this world that Hitchcock built it is smooth and believable. What’s more, even though Dr. Petersen realizes that he is likely the man who killed the real Dr. Edwardes, she is so in love that she protects him at great danger to herself.
Like most great Hitchcock films (and most great suspense films in general) the movie is a slow build that twists and turns throughout, never fully unraveling the story until the waning moments. This movie would be nearly perfect Hitchcock if not for its ultimately staggering pace, which I think will turn off a lot of younger viewers who would enjoy the story. Additionally this film is starting to show its age. After the opening Overture, which does little other than introducing us to the score by Miklos Rozsa (and is very pretty), we are introduced to the world with some opening information stating that the goal of this type of psychiatry (psychoanalysis and abnormal psychology) is to work with someone to uncover a repressed memory.
This memory, once uncovered, unlocks the person and allows them to become ‘normal’ once again, instantly. We know a lot more about psychiatry and psychology now and this, in particular, bothered me. It may have been the prevailing belief at the time, but it still plays as a bit off to me. Other outdated moments include the terrible attitude of the male psychiatrists toward Dr. Petersen – believing that she isn’t making rational decisions because she’s a woman and is stuck thinking like one. Regardless, the movie covers so much ground that it remains a master class for aspiring filmmakers and writers alike. This is definitely a must-see if you are a Hitchcock fan and looking for something new.
Video: (1080p, 1.33:1 Fullframe) The picture is beautiful but a bit fuzzy. I believe this is primarily due to Hitchcock’s preference during the filming of SPELLBOUND, but it is a little distracting on an HD television.
Audio: (English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio) The audio bring SPELLBOUND to life, despite its age. The score is beautifully presented and the dialogue is phenomenal.
Commentary with Author and Film Professor Thomas Schatz & Film Professor Charles Ramirez Berg (01:58:09) An interesting commentary with two great historians giving some great information about the making of SPELLBOUND and the context with which the audience should be aware. Really enjoyed this one, and I would highly recommend it for people who love good, full commentaries.
Dreaming with Scissors: Hitchcock, Surrealism and Salvador Dali (20:21) This engaging featurette focuses on the reasons that Dali’s work was selected for the dream sequences in SPELLBOUND. Interestingly it is an example of form meeting function – Hitchcock wanted an original dream sequence; SPELLBOUND producers wanted free publicity. Both of these were met with Dali, who was a cultural icon at the time.
Guilt By Association: Psychoanalyzing SPELLBOUND (19:39) An interesting featurette about the cultural setting when the movie was released. SPELLBOUND was released as troops were starting to return from the war with many young men traumatized… SPELLBOUND simplifies this without dumbing it down and this quick featurette brings a lot of key points together.
A Cinderella Story: Rhonda Fleming (10:10) SPELLBOUND features a young woman (Rhonda Fleming) in her first speaking role. She went on to have roles in a 60+ films through the 50s, 60s, and 70s.
1948 Radio Play (59:47) Originally Aired March 8, 1948, this radio play didn’t star the original actors (instead Joseph Cotton and Italian actress Valli), but this one is still great fun. I continue to wish that these gave us something to see but SPELLBOUND doesn’t break any new ground here.
Hitchcock Audio Interview (15:22) This interview by Peter Bogdanovich is a great view into how Hitchcock viewed SPELLBOUND years later. He is mesmerizing, but this is a curious addition to the Blu-ray, again featuring nothing visual at all.
The Blu-ray also includes the Theatrical Trailer (02:07) to SPELLBOUND.