What happens when a paranoid amnesiac replaces an esteemed psychologist as the head of a mental hospital? This is the question from which the drama of Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound flows. The film, released in 1945, was one of the first pictures in Hollywood to depict the process of psychoanalysis and it has since been an influence in the creation of such movies as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Memento, and maybe even Hitchcock’s own masterpiece, Psycho. Despite inspiring some well-known titles, Spellbound has not become fully recognized as a great film. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that it is not one. Its major weakness is that it tries to keep hold of the audience’s attention too long while refusing to deliver but one tiny bit of information at a time. Not only can this make the actors look silly (despite turning in excellent performances), but it also wears down the effectiveness of Hitchcock’s signature moments of suspense. This was the only problem that I ran into during the entire experience and if it could have been avoided, then I believe that the film might have been as good as the director’s Notorious, which was made the very next year.
The things that are worth seeing in Spellbound are, thankfully, rewarding enough that we do end up without any moments to recall with fondness. The most memorable of these scenes is a short dream sequence imagined by the legendary surrealist, Salvador Dali. The addition of Dali into the film’s creative team was not only a wise move for commercial reasons, but it also provided a glimpse of a collaboration between two great artists. Another notable scene occurs towards the end of the picture when the audience is put behind the gun of a killer. We are then surprised to briefly see a burst of bright red as a shot is fired. There are other moments when Hitchcock’s genius appears undeniably present, but there are many scenes that do not contain anything of the such. Those that are not interested in the director’s talents may instead be entertained in seeing those of the movie’s leading stars. Ingrid Bergman displays complete versatility here, convincingly playing an emotionless asylum psychiatrist who falls in love with her most intriguing patient. The other great performance is that of a young Gregory Peck in the difficult role of a paranoid amnesiac.
Hitchcock’s storyline here does stand as one of the more unique plots to be used in his career, and it is not one that his fans should miss out on. Though I doubt that it will become your favorite movie by the Master of Suspense, I can say that it is a nice vacation from the many adventures that he has brought us involving espionage. This is good, solid entertainment that contains some scattered moments that Hitch fans will love, but it would not be until a decade later that he would make his greatest masterpieces.