Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Ben Hecht
Coming off a very good run of films in the marathon, Spellbound has a lot to live up to, but lucky for us it’s the collaboration of Hitchcock, Peck and Bergman which makes this an easy hurdle to clear. What makes Hitchcock so great at what he does is his ability to handle a strong ensemble, but somehow make the psychological suspense the star of the show instead of the performances. That’s not to say the likes of Peck and Bergman don’t enhance the experience of a Hitchcock film, they most certainly do, but with any film by the master, the attraction is the thriller. Come for the racked nerves, stay for the great performances.
In this version of the Hitchcock suspense, Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) works as a psychologist at the remote Green Manors in Vermont. The clinic is happy to receive a new, renowned Dr. Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck), who specializes in guilt complex. But soon we learn that Edwardes may not be who he seems, as the man posing as the famed doctor reveals to Dr. Petersen that he is suffering from amnesia, and fears he may have killed the real Edwardes. Convinced by his kind nature, Dr. Petersen doesn’t believe it, aiding the man now on the run as he rushes to find out who he is and how the real Edwardes died.
What I’ve come to appreciate so much about Hitchcock is his ability to tell relatively small stories like this one, with fairly limited settings and apparent cheap budgets. Living in the 21st century it’s easy to look at the behemoth blockbusters today and then look back and find these older films to be “quaint”. I’m not looking to get into the argument with current day viewers who just seemed to not like watching black and white movies, but there is something so charming to return to “smaller” films and see how the craft of storytelling is really utilize to create tremendous entertainment, excitement, and tension as opposed to current day tropes of CGI and explosions to attract viewers. With Spellbound, we see how Hitchcock can harness all those elements to great effect in a much smaller story and setting.
It’s such a simple story, and one we’ve seen Hitchcock explore before, the “wrong man”. But I think the curveball of amnesia, and the addition of Bergman’s character, a female doctor (how progressive!) gives the trope a new perspective. I always seem to react somewhat negatively to the thrown in romances of these Hitchcock movies. They don’t derail the movies, but seem unnecessary. Here it’s mostly the same, but without the connect between Peck and Bergman, the story has no legs to stand on. Peck and Bergman both deliver great performances in the lead roles which helps sell everything.
The resolution/twist at the end of the film is a satisfying ending, but as with the rest of the film, it definitely feels smaller. I think that’s about the worst thing I can say about the film, that it feels small. Not really a valid criticism, but it’s honestly what kept me back from loving it a little more. It feels familiar, it feels small, we’ve seen this type of film before from Hitchcock and there’s not enough signature or different to separate it from the pack, but Hitchcock’s pack is very strong, and the craft of the film is likewise very strong. What an odd phenomenon to come across a very good film that, when compared to the others in the marathon, just falls a little short of the rest. When the bottom of the deck is this strong, it’s scary to think about what the top might look like.