Alfred Hitchcock called this film, “just another manhunt wrapped up in pseudo-psychoanalysis.” While that sums it up pretty well, adding in fun details like a murder-mystery, a love story to cloud judgement and a Salvador Dali inspired dream sequence sets Spellbound apart from Hitchcock’s other manhunt or psychoanalysis inspired films.
At Green Meadows mental institute, Dr. Edwards has just arrived to replace Dr. Murchinson (Leo G. Carroll). Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) falls in love with the charming new arrival, but realizes inconsistencies in his present self and what she has read about him professionally. She is the first to realize that this man, only known as JB (Gregory Peck), is an impostor suffering from paranoia and amnesia. Constance takes it upon herself to treat him and attempt to outrun the authorities looking to charge him with the murder of the real Dr. Edwards.
Along the way, Constance and JB seek refuge in the house of her old mentor, Dr. Alexander Brulov (Michael Chekhov). By this point in the story, Alex is the only person with a level head on his shoulders able to see the situation without getting personally involved. He’s a quick thinking man, welcoming his old pupil with a fathering attitude, but sees through her lies and keeps the situation under control. What I loved most about Alex is his ability to see the bitter truth and tell Constance that her judgement is clouded by her affections for JB. “We both know that the mind of a woman in love is operating on the lowest level of the intellect,” he tells her. Viewers who have been swept up in the love story have been brought back to Earth by Alex, who holds some important elements in understanding JB’s condition. It’s this ability to be kind, charismatic and clear up the lovey-dovey nonsense that will only hinder their progress, that earned Michael Chekhov a supporting actor nomination.
One of the most unforgettable parts of the film is the dream sequence. At Alex’s request, JB describes a dream he just awoke from, in an attempt to analyze it and see if they can uncover any clues to his true identity. The images inspired from Dali’s work are stirring, surreal and very creepy. There are curtains of eyes being cut with giant scissors, a card game won with blank cards and a man with no face dropping an odd shaped wheel. Alex attempts to put these strange pieces of information together, but it isn’t until the end we find their true meaning.
Spellbound is one of the many Hitchcock movies every film fan should see. It was one of the first films to deal with psychoanalysis, a theme Hitchcock would later work with often and the Dali dream sequence was ground breaking in film art direction. With a stars like Bergman and Peck fueling a stirring plot with surprises until the very end, Spellbound is a film any classic film lover needs to see.
“Women make the best psychoanalysts until they fall in love. After that they make the best patients.”