Sunday, January 9, 2011


Title: Spellbound
Year: 1945
Studio: A Selznick International Picture
Screenplay: Ben Hecht (Screenplay) & Angus MacPhail (Adaptation)
Source Material: From Francis Beeding's novel The House of Dr Edwardes
Running Time: 106 minutes
A black & white picture

Sunday 9th January, 6:30am
I am a little distracted as I type this as I am multi-tasking and trying to eat some lovely burnt toast with strawberry jam (I love burnt toast!) It's my second breakfast as I had some muesli at 5:00am when I awoke after a stressful night of complex dreams. Ironic, really, considering this morning's viewing.
Due to the nightmares, I was in a rather grumpy mood during the first half - hating the fact I had to make notes as I watched - but eventually I perked up and felt much more chipper by the end of the movie. Maybe this is due to the most pleasing aesthetics... Dali's dream sequence? Hitchcock's direction? Or Peck and Bergman being two of the most attractive people ever to grace the silver screen? Or maybe all of the above.

Dr Constance Peterson - Ingrid Bergman
John Ballantine - Gregory Peck
Dr Alex Brulov - Michael Chekhov
Dr Murchison - Leo G Carroll
Mary Carmichael - Rhonda Fleming
Dr Fleurot - John Emery
Mr Garmes - Norman Lloyd
Hotel Detective - Bill Godwin
Dr Graft - Steven Geray
Harry - Donald Curtis
Drunk Hotel Patron - Wallace Ford
Lt Cooley - Art Baker
Sgt Gillespie - Regis Toomey
Dr Hanish - Paul Harvey

The film opens with a quote from William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar:

The fault... is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

Then we have a brief essay to read:

Our story deals with psychoanalysis, the method by which modern science treats the emotional problems of the sane.
The analyst seeks only to induce the patient to talk about his hidden problems, to open the locked doors of his mind.
Once the complexes that have been disturbing the patient are uncovered and interpreted, the illness and confusion disappear... and the devils of unreason are driven from the human soul.

Dr Constance Peterson works (and lives) at Green Manors, which is a home for the mentally ill. Her 'chief', Dr Murchison, is retiring due to his age and is being replaced by Dr Anthony Edwardes.
When he arrives, the other doctors are concerned about his youthful looks and Constance is uncharacteristically smitten from the first moment she lays eyes on him.
Over dinner, they discuss sports and the forthcoming swimming pool to be built within the grounds. It won't be a rectangular pool, more of an irregular shape - she attempts to draw the shape on the tablecloth with her fork - at this, Dr Edwardes loses his calm demeanor and rambles. Everyone thinks this is slightly peculiar.

The next day, Constance is treating one of her cases, Mr Garmes, a man who believes he killed his own father. Garmes is exhilarated by the letter opener Constance uses.
Edwardes enters and when Garmes leaves, he suggests he and Constance take the afternoon off and go for a leisurely walk - before they do, there is a phone call from a woman named Paula Kramer who does not recognise Edwardes' voice. They pass it off as a former patient causing trouble.

That night, Constance cannot sleep. She gets out of bed and heads upstairs to the library - she notices that Dr Edwardes' light is still on and once she has selected one of his books (a signed copy of Labyrinth of the Guilt Complex she hesitates outside of his door before entering. He is in his armchair reading. She apologises and says she was going to use subterfuge and pretend she was there to discuss his work. They both admit how they are feeling. She cannot understand how she could feel this after merely one day, but he says that love can blossom in a mere moment. They kiss passionately... until the dark lines on her dressing gown upset him, just as the fork lines on the linen tablecloth did.

There is a phone call. Mr Garmes has attacked Dr Fleurot and then tried to slice his own throat. Whilst in surgery, Dr Edwardes becomes confused and stresses out over the bright lights and faints.
Constance sits by his bed as he sleeps and she compares a note he had written to her with the signature in her signed book. The signatures do not match.
When he awakes, she questions him. He begins to regain some memories. He believes the real Dr Edwardes is dead - a form of amnesia has wiped out his memory and forced him to take the place of the real doctor. All he knows is that his initials are J.B. thanks to a cigarette case in his jacket pocket. She tells him she'll help him, but for now he must rest.

In the morning, he rises early and writes a note to Constance:

I cannot involve you in this for many reasons, one of them being that I love you.
For the time being I am going to the Empire State Hotel in New York.

He slips it under her door. When Constance awakes, she does not get to the note in time as the other doctors and a detective come to ask questions as they too have reached the same conclusions due to Ms Paula Kramer turning up and providing a photograph of the real Dr Edwardes.
Constance denies all knowledge of the predicament and manages to read the note once the doctors have all left her rooms.
She takes off to New York and uses the aid of the hotel's House Detective to locate 'J.B.' - it appears he has signed in under the pseudonym 'John Brown'.

When she finds him in his room she tells him; "I am here as your doctor only, it has nothing to do with love..." but then kisses him.

She talks to him and ascertains that he too must be a doctor as he has medical knowledge. He has a burn on his hand which has been treated with a skin graft - she asks him to remember how it happened, but he cannot recall.
The bellboy brings the newspapers but he recognises her from the article and photograph in the paper questioning her whereabouts.

They leave the hotel and head for the train station, trying to get J.B. to remember certain things, like where he and Dr Edwardes had been travelling to before. When local policemen become suspicious, they detour to Grand Central Station and head out to see her mentor, Dr Alex Brulov.
He is not there when they arrive, but there are two policemen waiting to ask him about Dr Edwardes' disappearance. Once they leave, Alex welcome the couple into his home. Constance tells him they are newlyweds but unbeknown to her, he sees right through it. In the night, J.B. has another episode when he is in the bathroom preparing to shave. He takes the switchblade razor in his hand and descends the stairs where Alex Brulov is up late working. Alex is on the ball and he puts some bromide in a glass of milk to help J.B. sleep.

At 7 o'clock in the morning, Constance comes downstairs where she finds Alex and J.B. asleep. Alex, once awake, explains how he knew everything and they both decide to figure out the truth.
Once J.B. is awake, he recites his dream which is full of bizarre imagery including curtains with eyes, faceless men and a gambling house with deformed cards. He sees a man fall off a sloping roof and a masked figure laughs behind a chimney and drops a wheel.
Whilst reciting these images from his dream, he loses control again when he spies children on their sleighs in the snow. At this point, Constance begins to piece it all together. The lines on the tablecloth, her robe etc are reminding him of tracks in the snow. J.B. recalls 'Gabriel Valley' and they decide to head out there.
Meanwhile, the police are closing in on their location.

At Gabriel Valley, Constance and J.B.are skiing, trying to help him recall his past.
Just before they reach a steep drop, he remembers! As a child, there was an accident in which he killed his brother. He was sliding down a stone banister alongside some outdoor steps. His brother was at sat at the bottom and didn't move in time. He was pushed onto the metal railings below and died.
With this recollection, John Ballantine remembers his name. He also remembers seeing Dr Edwardes plummet off the cliff.
Back at the ski lodge, they await for the police to arrive, having told them their story. However, once they arrive, the police say they found Dr Edwardes' body, but it had a bullet in it. They arrest John and he is convicted, sentenced and locked away.
Constance feels awful but she still does not believe John killed the doctor.
She goes over the dream again and pieces together some more clues...
She realises that it must be Dr Murchison who killed Dr Edwardes as the latter was the one 'stealing' his job away from him. She goes to see Murchison who is shocked by her tenacity but does not deny it. She says that the wheel in the dream was the revolver which he must have dropped at the scene of the crime, but he produces it and points it directly at her. He is willing to kill again.
Constance remains cool and explains how the first murder could be explained due to stressful circumstances but if he killed her now it would be cold blood.
She calmly leaves his office and he turns the gun on himself.

John is exonerated and he and Constance marry.


Great Lines

Dr Fleurot: (on hugging Constance) "It's like embracing a text book!"

Dr Alex Brulov gets some fantastic lines, even if they are appallingly misogynistic in that typical Freudian way:

Dr Brulov: "Women make the best psychoanalysts... 'til they fall in love. After that they make the best patients."

Dr Brulov: (interrupting Constance) "Do not complete the sentence with the usual female contradictions!"

and the classic:

Dr Brulov: "The mind of a woman in love is operating on the lowest level of intellect."

Personally, I would say this is true of men too.

Dr Murchison gets a perfectly chilling line when he is proposing to kill Constance:

"You forget in your imbecilic devotion to your patient that the punishment for two murders is the same as for one."

Clearly, he is a very desperate man...

How interesting that the opening passage (as seen above) begins with an educational statement about psychoanalysis but ends with spiritual metaphor. I find this odd!

This is a black and white film, but in a touch of pure genius, Hitch blasts us with a moment of startling red when the revolver goes off in 'our' face! Pure brilliance!

The brief moments of flashback to John's childhood when his brother is killed whilst playing is one of the most shocking scenes in a Hitchcock film up to this point. I first watched this film many years ago in my teens and that particular image has stuck with me ever since. It's brutal and heartbreaking.

The scene where John is in a sort of trance and is clutching the razor in his hand as Dr Brulov gets milk is beautifully filmed. The hand with the weapon, large in the foreground, is menacing on the screen as Alex potters into the kitchen. Then when we have a Point of View shot of John drinking the milk, which is effective and also foreshadows the P.O.V. shot in the final moments of the film, only this with white and the latter with red.

Of course, I should be beaten with a broken microwave if I didn't mention the Dali dream sequence. Apparently, a much longer sequence was planned but only a small portion was filmed and even a lot of that was left on the cutting room floor (oh, to be able to see that! - The footage, not the floor).
The scissors cutting the eyes, the masked proprietor, the misshapen wheel... are all stunning visuals, but for me, the most disturbing thing is the extra large playing cards. I have often had nightmares about objects being larger than they should be (Cripes, I can hear the muffles guffaws from here - you dirty minded people!)
Hitchcock and Dali have created a brilliant dream-scape which actually feels convincing in its 'realism' (as real as dreams can be). I would not be surprised if I heard Terry Gilliam was fond of this sequence too!

All this said, there is one moment in the film which is a little heavy-handed and that's when Constance and 'Dr Edwardes' first kiss and there is the imagery of the corridor of doors opening slowly. It's all a little obvious and startlingly humorous. I expect this is because in this modern day, these symbols have become cliched. Back in 1945 it would have been more of a curiosity.

My Verdict
Once one gets past the misogynous approach to Constance's character, it's a fascinating film with some wonderful visuals. 8/10

No comments:

Post a Comment