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Ingrid Bergman In The First Of Her Classic Hitchcock Roles
on July 5, 2004
The words "Directed by Alfred Hitchcock", in the opening credits always alerts me to the fact that I am possibly about to see something special up on the screen no matter what the genre. This legendary director put his stamp on a large number of classic films such as "Rebecca", "Notorious",and "Rear Window". With "Spellbound", Hitchcock made cinematic history by beginning his successful collaboration with favourite leading lady Ingrid Bergman that also produced the classic "Notorious", co starring Cary Grant. Ingrid Bergman here has a most challenging vehicle as a dedicated psychiatrist who through psychoanalysis attempts to uncover the dark secret life of an amnesia victim that possibly involves murder. Bergman here shows what total emersion into a character can do for the conviction of a story and the results are most satisfying in what was to become one of her many fondly remembered roles by fans and critics alike.
The action begins at Green Manors Psychiatric Sanitarium where there is a change occuring in the head personnel with the "retirement", of facility head Dr Murchison (Leo G. Carroll), after a bout of illness. His replacement a Dr. Anthony Edwardes is due to arrive shortly and in the meantime we are introduced to young psychiatrist Dr. Constance Peterson, (Ingrid Bergman), an all business enthusiast of psychoanalysis totally dedicated to her job. When Dr. Edwardes arrives however all is not well and not only does he appear to be far too young for such an important role but he has a number of "spells", where his own mental health is called into question. Constance finds herself experiencing an immediate attraction to this strange young man who before long she realises is not actually Dr. Edwardes but an amnesia sufferer who harbours a severe guilt complex about something unexplained that occured in his past. When complications start to arise and "JB", as he now calls himself is accused of the murder of the real Dr. Edwardes he quickly leaves the sanitarium and hides out in a New York Hotel. Convinced of his innocence Constance follows him to New York and together they try via psychoanalysis to get to the root of JB's problems and find out actually who he is. Pursued now by the police who also are also searching out Constance as an accessory, JB and Constance then travel to see her old University mentor Dr. Alex Brulov (Michael Chekhov). Alex discovers the truth about JB's real condition and feels that he might have been capable of murder all along. Constance is firm in her belief of his innocence however and after travelling to a ski resort JB starts to recall his past and what happened to cause him to loose his memory. It seems his severe guilt complex was over the accidental death of his young brother for which he has always blamed himself. It is revealed that Dr. Edwardes actually died on the ski slope which caused JB to assume the blame for his death. With a clearer picture now JB and Constance work to trace the real murderer. The police however apprehend JB leaving it up to Constance to prove his innocence. The clues lead Constance back to the Green Manors where Dr. Murchison has resumed his former position. A slip of his tongue where he states to Constance that he thought the real Dr. Edwardes was a horrid man when earlier he stated he had never met him alerts Constance to who the real murderer is and in a fateful confrontation the real truth and its tragic consequences all come out. The bright aspect of this conclusion of the situation is that "JB", learns his real name, "John Ballantine", and is freed of any suspicion in Dr. Edwardes' death. He and Constance also can then plan a future together now that he is cured of his earlier amnesia.
Despite the dated medical practices that make up the core of the action in "Spellbound", the uniformily fine acting performances by the cast make this film a memorable viewing experience. Ingrid Bergman was in the middle of her extraordinary run of critical and box office success as possibly the freshest performer in Hollywood at this time and she had her choice of a dazzling array of leading men eager to work with her. Gregory Peck only teamed with her the once and despite his relative inexperience with film at this time, despite being nominated for an Oscar for "Keys of the Kingdom", he already shows the mettle that would make him one of Hollywood's most enduring leading men. A favourite character actor of mine, Leo G. Carroll long associated with pedantic, fussy men in his film roles had one of his best roles here as Dr. Murchison who features prominently in the unexpected thrilling finale to "Spellbound". He teams particulary well with Ingrid Bergman and their nail biting climatic scene at the film's conclusion has become a classic. Hitchcock used a number of quite innovative practices to make "Spellbound", a creative and for the times quite thought provoking work of cinema. Boasting an Oscar winning musical score by Miklos Rozsa, the film is also justly famous for the elaborate dream sequence designed by the legendary Salvador Dali. Originally much longer and surreal than as it appears on screen now, it was cut in length due to Studio pressure so as to not "alienate", the average audience. Its rich expressionist symbolism however creates a marvellous illustration in showing Gregory Peck's characters search for the truth about his past. Also the famous colour gun shot at the gripping conclusion in an otherwise black and white production helps create another not expected element in the story.
Viewed today "Spellbound", might not be considered the best work in Alfred Hitchcock's acclaimed body of work however it provides interesting asides into the then fashionable world of psychanalysis and its benefits to those suffering guilt complexes and associated memory losses. Despite its dated elements that are very obvious with the passage of time and advances in medical practices "Spellbound", I feel justly takes its place as one of David O. Selznick's more thoughtful productions from this time and is still best remembered as one of the jewels in the crown of Ingrid Bergman's career in the early 1940's. Enjoy