Spellbound (Blu-ray Review)

“The secret recesses of the mind are explored with brilliant and terrifying effect” (New York Herald Tribune) in this fascinating psychological thriller from Alfred Hitchcock. Featuring powerful performances from Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck, this masterpiece of mystery, romance and suspense boasts an Academy Award winning score by Miklos Rozsa and a haunting dream sequence by Salvador Dalí.  Dr. Constance Peterson (Bergman) is a dedicated psychiatrist who puts all her passion into her work — until she falls in love with Dr. Edwardes (Peck). Unfortunately, it soon becomes clear that Edwardes is an impostor — an amnesiac — who may or may not be a cold-blooded murderer. Pursued by the police, Constance must decide whether to turn in her mysterious lover…or risk her life by trying to unlock the dark secrets in his mind.


Every Hitchcock film has a focus, whether or not it’s greed, fear, anger, or in this case psychoanalysis.  The movie’s produced David O. Selznick wanted to make a film that showcased the positive aspects of psychoanalysis because it had helped him.  There’s even a message at the start of the film advocating psychoanalysis and its benefits and Selznick even hired his own therapist to serve as the film’s technical adviser.

Ingrid Bergman stars as Dr. Constance Petersen, a psychoanalyst at the Green Manors mental hospital whose icy demeanor is a subject of humor for the rest of the staff there.  Constance is perceived to be passionless which her co-workers believe hinders her work as a psychoanalyst since she doesn’t understand love or how strong emotions can affect people.  Constance disagrees and thinks the whole concept of love is silly.  Her boss, the director of the hospital Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll) is about to be forcibly retired due to a past mistakes that occurred because of nervous exhaustion.  Once he returns from his vacation, he is to train his replacement, a younger doctor by the name of Anthony Edwardes.

When Dr. Edwardes (Gregory Peck) shows up he seems more interested in the lovely Dr. Petersen than his job and he convinces her to to go on a long walk with him where they get to know each other, much to the amusement of the rest of the staff.  When they all join together to eat dinner and when Constance tries to explain how she thought the shape of a future pool should look like by drawing outlines on the tablecloth, she notices Edwardes react strongly to the lines on the linen.  He even smooths them out with his knife which only Constance notices.  Her observations of him make her more worried and suspicious when she learns that the Edwardes that showed up is an impostor because his handwriting doesn’t match an inscription left in one of the original’s books.  When she confronts him he quickly acknowledges that he killed the real Edwardes, but Constance doesn’t believe him because she believes he is suffering from amnesia and a  guilt complex and that he isn’t capable of murder.

When Edwardes sneaks out in the middle of the night, he leaves a note for Constance telling her that he’s traveling to the Empire State Hotel in New York City.  Once it becomes public knowledge that Edwardes is a fake, Murchison calls in the police to investigate.  Constance follows Edwardes to New York where she convinces him that she can help cure him with her training.  Now on the run from the police, the two journey to to Rochester to meet Constance’s former mentor, Dr. Brulov (Michael Checkhov) to see if he can help them cure the amnesia.

From there on, the movie delves into Edwardes surreal dreams (designed by Salvador Dali) where he sees images that he can’t connect to real life including eyes on curtains, blank playing cards, a man with no face, a man falling off a building, a man hiding behind a chimney who drops a wheel, and a pair of wings chasing after him.  When Constance sees Edwardes react to sled tracks in the snow, she deduces that it is actually a pair of ski tracks that’s triggering his reactions.  By putting all of the pieces together from Edwardes dream, they figure out that that he was at a ski lodge with the real Dr. Edwardes and they travel there to to finish unraveling the mystery by re-enacting what happened.  The danger of that is if the fake Edwardes is the real killer, it would mean that Constance might be killed.

For me, this film has good and bad elements.  First off the positive aspects would include the cast and some very nice shots (including one with an open razor) that remind you that Hitchcock is the film’s director.  The negatives for me include some laughably bad shots including one with Constance and Edwardes kissing with a series of superimposed doors opening to symbolize her guard finally dropping, and a bunch of rear projection shots that look terrible.  The worst offender is the scene of Constance and Edwardes skiing in front of a rear projection screen that had to look bad even back in 1945.  You can’t fake skiing like that with only a fan to move your hair about and expect audiences to buy it.  What makes the sequence even worse, is that it occurs during the film’s climax since we know he will either kill Constance or remember what really happened.

My other issue is with the film’s psychoanalysis plot device which not only seems dated (it may have been fresh to 1945 audiences) but it’s so literal that anyone without the proper training could probably figure it out.  In fact, every part of Edwardes dream is a separate clue which when added up together, tell the story of what happened which really wouldn’t have happened.  Putting those complaints aside, the movie will be remembered for the surreal dream sequence which was really odd and for the wonderful cast.  Ingrid Bergman does a nice job with a somewhat silly role.  As a woman who doesn’t believe in love who falls in love on sight, it’s a tough role to bring off.  The film’s sexist script also has one of her colleagues kiss her to see if it gets a reaction with no repercussions from her or his boss.  Try that today and you will discover a different experience.  The fact that she just brushes it off as proof that she is immune to passion and therefore superior, just makes it worse.  I’m a big fan of Gregory Peck and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look so young, as this is one of his earliest movies.  He has a difficult role too as the amnesiac man who may or may not be a killer.  Leo G. Carroll is also good as Dr. Murchison while Michael Checkov brings a lot of humor to the movie as the feisty Dr. Brulov.  Spellbound is a decent movie but it’s dated approach and attitudes towards women will limit its appeal to a wide a modern audience.


Spellbound’s 1080p (1.37:1) transfer isn’t one of the better ones as it struggles against looking overly soft and diffused.  I think Hitchcock deliberately made it look this way to make the movie appear more dream-like, but whatever the reason, the film’s transfer doesn’t fare too well compared to the other recent Hitchcock Blu-ray releases.  There’s some sharpness to be found intermittently, but overall this transfer looks soft.  The black levels aren’t that strong and the contrast could have been better.  Overuse of DNR isn’t an issue here, as there is quite a bit of grain present throughout the movie.  There aren’t too many scratches or evidence of print damage visible, so it looks like it was cleaned up but not to the level that fans of the film desire, but it is better than the previous DVD release.


So far, out of the three recent Hitchcock movies that I’ve watched to review (Notorious, Rebecca, and this one), this movie has the worst sound mix.  Like the others, this Blu-ray comes with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix, but where the others didn’t have the hiss that older films tend to have, this one does and it’s very noticeable.  Musical cues sound slightly distorted (especially during the opening Overture) which is a shame since this score won Miklos Rozsa an Academy Award for Best Score.  The film’s dialogue isn’t crisp but it is easy to hear and understand.  Overall, this is an okay mix but I think it could have been a lot better, especially after seeing the other Hitchcock movies from that era on Blu-ray.

Special Features  

There’s some pretty good extras on here but they are in standard definition.

  • Commentary with Film Historians Thomas Schatz and Charles Ramirez Berg – This is a uncoordinated but informative discussion about the movie.  The two seem to be trying to top each other so be prepared for them talking over one another but they do have some interesting info about the making of the film.
  • Running With Scissors: Hitchcock, Surrealism and Salvador Dali– A look at how Salvador Dali came to be a part of the film.  With both Selznick and Hitchcock looking to bring in a marquee name to help sell the movie, Dali added the surreal dream sequence that was eventually deemed too long and poorly shot by Selznick who cut twenty minutes from it and hired someone else to re-shoot it.  The original footage that was cut is now lost but there are still pictures still available to see what was done.
  • Guilt By Association: Psychoanalyzing Spellbound – A look at how the film was the first movie to really address psychoanalysis and how World War II affected its returning soldiers who suffered from post traumatic stress.
  • A Cinderella Story: Rhonda Fleming – Ms. Fleming talks about getting discovered and shooting her first movie and how nice Ingrid Bergman was to her and her husband as well as her charitable causes she supports.
  • 1948 Radio Version of Spellbound Directed by Alfred Hitchcock – An hour long radio program of the movie starring Joseph Cotten and Valli.
  • Peter Bogdanovich Interviews Alfred Hitchcock – I always love this part of the extras because you get to hear from the master himself.
  • Original Theatrical Trailer

Final Thoughts  

This isn’t Hitchcock’s finest work, but it does have some great sequences including the razor scene I mentioned earlier and the final shot of a closeup of a gun following a target that ends with something I’ve never seen on film before.  It’s shots like that that make Hitchcock still relevant today it provides enough of a reason that I  recommend it.

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