The chief doctor (Leo G. Carroll) of Green Manors Mental Asylum has been forced to step down. His replacement, the young Dr. Edwardes (Gregory Peck) is not all what he seems. Dr. Constance Peterson (Ingrid Bergman) cannot help but fall in love with him, despite realising he is not the real Dr. Edwardes, but an amnesiac imposter who may be guilty of murder.
Spellbound? No, not really. One of the best premises of a Hitchcock film so far is ruined by a melodramatic, laborious and unfocused plot, full of psychobabble and not enough psycho. As always, the romance is the real story, but as so with Secret Agent, it suffocates the rest. None of the cast standout, except for Michael Chekov as Alex, and Ingrid Bergman is a favourite actress of mine, yet here she’s saddled with a boring character in an oddly anti-women story; several times the dialogue makes a point of saying how women are basically useless once they’re in a relationship.
Turning into a road trip, like The 39 Steps again, was surely unnecessary. Paranoia within a mental asylum should be perfect for suspense (see Vincent Price in Shock), but they run about the countryside instead. Lacking the touches of humour you can normally rely on, it’s mind-numbingly predictable, and lazy, judging by a horrible montage sequence leap-frogging months. It plods along to the inevitable conclusion, but the last act does pick-up when you know who is behind it all. Hitchcock does like the viewer to be complicit usually, so maybe that’s why it felt smoother.
Visually Hitchcock does little to give the film an identity, except for a final shot within Green Manors which was complicated, audacious and quite brilliant, especially for its time. It’s a plot point that has become a cliché, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it done like that! That, and the incredible Salvador Dali dream sequence lift the film above average. Sadly for every decent moment there’s a dodgy one as well. Hitch always liked back-projection which tends to date his films in some cases and this contains the worst I’ve seen.
Selznick was producer and I don’t know how involved he was, but this reeks of Oscar-baiting as it brushes the nastier aspects of the story to one side to concentrate on the love story. The score is torture until the last act. It plays the same melody over and over again! Similar to the same theme used across many Fox Film Noir pictures.
It’s definitely a case of ticking boxes to make an identikit film that will appeal to awards. Rebecca could also be so accused, but at least that had a story that relished this sort of thing. Spellbound should have been a straightforward shocker and I can only assume Hitchcock was not the driving force and was perhaps letting Selznick ease him back in after his return to America.
The DVD is a clumsy release, but there’s some great material on Hitchcock, so it can be recommended for that at least.