Rewind Review: Spellbound

Alfred Hitchcock’s film Spellbound is triumphant on many levels. Yet despite that it had disappeared from availability on DVD for a couple of years. As occasionally happens the Criterion Collection edition had gone out of print, but the film has now been rereleased by MGM’s Premiere Collection.

The film tells the tale of a man assumed to be Dr. Edwardes, played by Gregory Peck. It’s when it is discovered that the man is an impostor, and is wanted for questioning in Edwardes’s murder, that things really get rolling.

What sets this film apart is that its heavy use of psychoanalytic theory ultimately propels it into a different stratosphere in terms of film theory. The lynchpin of the mystery ends up being a dream had by Peck’s character. To find the killer the psychoanalysts must decode what the dream symbols mean and to create the film the cinematic, visual symbols needed to be chosen carefully especially the one the analysts fail to analyze.

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This film is also a rare treat because the famous dream sequence told a little after two-thirds of the film has passed was conceptualized by Salvador Dali and it is apparent: eyes, a melted wheel, the obtuse architecture of the houses. This rare blend of genius alone should be enough to get anyone to want to watch this film.

That’s not all though. In this film you also have Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman, the former who is always solid but is pretty convincing in this part playing a tortured amnesiac with a guilt complex and the latter another of Hitchcock’s elegant blond ladies who is likely his most underrated leading lady, in terms of her work with Hitchcock.

This film has a very solid foundation built upon on a wonderful screenplay which is full of the fascinating nuance both of the human psyche and of situation. A scene where Bergman and the House Detective speak casually while she is trying to wait for Peck incognito at a hotel in New York is quite brilliantly constructed as is the scene where Peck and Bergman arrive at a friend’s house seeking refuge and find the police there waiting for the same friend.

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The film also has an unexpected twist just when you think all is fine and dandy. The twist after resolution seemed to have been reached throws real peril back into the equation and makes you think maybe the happy ending is not destined in this story. Ultimately, I think the film is quite brilliant maybe not amongst Hitchcock’s best but certainly a cut or two above the rest in the genre. Despite his protestations in his interviews with Truffaut it is a terrific film even by his high standards.

9/10

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