Spellbound (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
January 28, 2012 by Dennis Amith
“Spellbound” is a psychological mystery thriller featuring a unique romance story! Featuring a wonderful performance by Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck and Michael Chekhov. This Alfred Hitchcock film is recommended!
FILM RELEASE: 1945
DURATION: 118 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1 Black and White, English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio, Subtitles: English SDH
COMPANY:MGM/20th Century fox
RATED: Not Rated
RELEASE DATE: January 24, 2012
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Based on the story “The Song of the Dragon” by John Taintor Foote
Produced by Alfred Hitchcock
Music by Roy Webb
Cinematography by Ted Tetzlaff
Edited by Theron Warth
Art Direction by Carroll Clark, Albert S. D’Agostino
Set Decoration by Claude E. Carpenter, Darrell Silvera
Cary Grant as Devlin
Ingrid Bergman as Alicia Huberman
Claude Rains as Alexander Sebastian
Louis Calhern as Paul Prescott
Leopoldine Konstantin as Mme. Sebastian
Reinhold Schunzel as Dr. Anderson
Moroni Olsen as Walter Beardsley
Ivan Triesault as Eric Mathis
As Alfred Hitchcock’s classic psychothriller opens, the staff of a posh mental asylum eagerly awaits the arrival of the new director. When the man in question shows up, it turns out to be handsome psychiatrist John Ballantine (Gregory Peck). But something’s wrong, here: Ballantine seems much too young for so important a position; his answers to the staff’s questions are vague and detached; and he seems unusually distressed by the parallel marks, left by a fork, on a white tablecloth. Dr. Constance Peterson (Ingrid Bergman) comes to the conclusion that Ballantine is not the new director, but a profoundly disturbed amnesiac–and, possibly, the murderer of the real director. But is she correct in her inferences? Scriptwriters Angus MacPhail and Ben Hecht soon add to this the complication that Constance begins to fall in love with John. Director Hitchcock tapped surrealist artist Salvador Dali to design the visually arresting dream sequences in the film.
With the success of “Rebecca”, British filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock would once again return to making a film in America under his contract with producer David O. Selznick.
But because of “Rebecca” and Selznick’s tight control of being 100% faithful to the book and Hitchcock known to be creative and do things his own way, needless to say, the relationship between both men had soured. But under his seven-year contractual obligation which Hitchcock signed with Selznick, another movie had to be made and this time, Selznick wanted to pursue a film about his positive experience with psychoanalysis. A film that would be known as “Spellbound”.
With Selznick, this would be a personal film because psychoanalysis helped him deal with his brother, Myron’s death (his brother was an extreme alcoholic in which Selznick tried to help him). The death of Myron would also impact his mother and thus, Selznick was suffering from deep depression because of it and thus psychoanalysis was important in David’s recuperation.
But for Alfred Hitchcock, the book that was to receive a film adaptation was Hilary Saint George Saunders and John Palmer’s 1927 novel “The House of Dr. Edwardes”. A film that was adapted by Angus MacPhail and Ben Hecht, but also a film that would lead to Hitchcock and Ben Hecht to work personally together, especially during the research process of psychoanalysis for “Spellbound”.
And while Selznick was always adamant towards 100% faithfulness to the novel, because of his current situation, despite Ben Hecht being a writer and somewhat of a watchdog for Selznick, the working relationship between Hecht and Hitchcock would be positive especially with no supervision. But eventually, Selznick known to interfere did so in the end and thus, “Spellbound” although directed by Alfred Hitchock, would once again be a Selznick film.
In the original novel, the concept of “The House of Dr. Edwardes” was about a madman taking over an insane asylum, but Hitchock wanted to add suspense and Hecht would humanize the characters and build a love story around two doctors. The film would also bring in surrealist artist Salvador Dali to help conceive the scenes with mental delusion and also Mikloz Rivera (who is known for pioneering the use of the theremin) for the orchestral score.
The film would star Ingrid Bergman (“Casablanca”, “Notorious”, “Autumn Sonata”) and Gregory Peck (“Roman Holiday”, “The Guns of Navarone”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”) and would be nominated for six Academy Awards and would win an award for “Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture”.
“Spellbound” begins with Dr. Constance Petersen (played by Ingrid Bergman) who is a psychoanalyst at mental hospital known as “Green Manors” in Vermont and helping various patients. The male doctors look at her as emotionless and with the (forced) retirement of the hospital’s director, Dr. Murchison (played by Leo G. Carroll), who has been suffering from nervous exhaustion, Green Manors has hired a new replacement, a younger doctor named Dr. Anthony Edwardes (played by Gregory Peck).
And immediately, it becomes love at first sight between Dr. Constance Petersen and Dr. Anthony Edwardes.
The two begin to have a romantic tryst, trying to keep it private among their colleagues and one night, while the two were sharing a romantic time together, Dr. Edwardes sees a pattern of parallel lines on her robe and suddenly he begins to lose it. Needless to say, Dr. Petersen becomes alarmed but also concerned.
Seeing those parallel lines has opened up something within Dr. Edwardes and he is unable to get his bearings to do any work. Dr. Petersen who has fallen in love with him, decides to try to help him discover why he has this phobia towards parallel lines. When the two go out to dinner with each other, even the tines on a fork or patterns on a blanket start to alarm him even more that he begins to lose it.
But when Dr. Petersen discovers a note by the real Dr. Edwardes and the man she thinks is Dr. Edwardes, she notices they are not the same. Could this man, a man that she is in love with, be an impostor? If so, what has happened to the real Dr. Edwardes?
“Spellbound” is presented in 1080p High Definition (full screen 1:33:1, black and white). It’s important to note that “Spellbound” was intentionally shot to be a little soft, but still the Blu-ray release of “Spellbound” looks very good when it comes to detail and clarity. Sure, the Criterion Collection release was definitely a much older release with stronger black levels and more grain, but there is still a fine layer of grain presented in this film. The patterns on Dr. Edwardes suit can be seen quite clearly.
There are a few scratches but for the most part, for those who wonder if there is a big difference between the Criterion Collection release and this Blu-ray release, I will say this. A lot of the films that were released by Criterion Collection in 1999 and 2000 were redone. The digital transfer back then was inferior as it is compared to the hardware used now, so comparing the two…sure there are going to be differences. While Blu-ray version is much better and in HD, those who owned the original release will still want to hang onto those as they are among the few Criterion Collection titles that are being sought by collectors.
But as for fans of “Spellbound”, there is no denying that the film looks very good on Blu-ray. It looks much cleaner and has much better clarity and detail. The contrast is also well-done and while a bit soft, once again, that was intentional (even producer David O. Selznick had choice words towards the films overall look).
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Spellbound” is presented in English monaural DTS-HD Master Audio (via a 2.0 mix). The dialogue and music is crystal clear but compared to “Rebecca” and “Notorious” which didn’t suffer from any audio issues, there is some hiss that can be heard for a very short time. But aside from that moment at the beginning of the overture, I didn’t hear any clicks, hiss or pops during my viewing of the film.
Subtitles are presented in English SDH.
“Spellbound” comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary by Thomas Schatz and Charles Ramirez Berg – Film historians Thomas Schatz and Charles Ramirez Berg discuss “Spellbound”.
- Running with Scissors: Hitchcock, Surrealism and Salvador Dali – (21:25) A featurette looking at the pairing of Hitchcock and surrealist Salvador Dali and the challenges that came to be, due to the rising costs and how long Dali’s scene was going to be. But also focusing on how Dali wanted to make it in Hollywood.
- Guilt by Association: Psychoanalyzing Spellbound – (19:39) A featurette that is about how “Spellbound” was the first film to deal with psychoanalysis. A very in-depth featurette.
- A Cinderella Story: Rhonda Fleming – (10:10) A short featurette on Rhonda Fleming (known as the “Queen of Technicolor”), who made her film debut in “Spellbound”.
- 1948 Radio Play of “Spellbound” Directed by Alfred Hitchcock – (59:47) A radio play starring Joseph Cotton and Valli.
- Hitchcock Audio Interviews – Featuring audio interviews with Alfred Hitchcock by Peter Bogdanovich (15:22).
- Theatrical Trailer – (2:07) The original theatrical trailer for “Spellbound”.
“Spellbound” was the first film to feature psychoanalysis, it was also known as the film to give Alfred Hitchcock a little more freedom from his producer David O. Selznick.
The film was indeed groundbreaking for its time because of the news in America of how psychoanalysis was helping soldiers who had suffered from the trauma and oversensitivity of battle during World War II. And while, “Spellbound” is not my favorite Hitchcock film, what I enjoyed about the film is how it managed to incorporate mystery and suspense, a romantic drama, surrealism through dreamlike sequences and also the cat and mouse storyline as the two doctors try to elude authorities.
There are so many plot elements introduced in “Spellbound”, that one really can’t get bored with it. Sure, some may feel the “psychoanalysis” techniques are outdated but I have always looked at this film as being unique because it utilized psychoanalysis to pry deep into his consciousness slowly throughout the film until that big reveal of why Dr. Edwardes/John Ballantyne had a problem with parallel lines. But most importantly, I would assume that the conversations about the film help increase public awareness towards psychoanalysis and I’m sure for producer David O. Selznick, who praised psychoanalysis for helping him deal with the death of his brother, that he was pleased by the overall result.
For me, what also made me enjoy the film is the performances. The casting of Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck were well-done. The chemistry between both talents was strong, and there is also third person that also gave a great performance and that was actor Michael Chekhov who played Dr. Alexander Brulov, the teacher of Dr. Petersen. “Spellbound” would also feature the debut of actress Rhonda Fleming, who would later become known as the “Queen of Technicolor”.
As for the Blu-ray release, similar to the other two Alfred Hitchcock Blu-ray releases (“Rebecca” and “Notorious”), MGM gives viewers a lot of special features. Commentaries, featurettes and as mentioned, “Spellbound” looks very good on Blu-ray considering that the film was intentionally made to look soft. But still, it is definitely worth the upgrade for those who owned the previous DVD release of “Spellbound” as the clarity and detail of this film on Blu-ray is quite evident.
Overall, “Spellbound” is an Alfred Hitchcock film that I enjoyed, but it’s clearly another film in which Hitchcock was able to get away with a more creative choices compared to “Rebecca” but it was nonetheless, a David O. Selznick film. The relationship between producer and director was almost to the point of mistrust and while this film was enjoyable, until Hitchcock was free from Selznick, then we started to see his creativity at 100% and we saw how much more evident that would be in his upcoming film “Notorious”.
But still, I found “Spellbound” to be a psychological mystery film, but also a romance film featuring a unique kind of love story not seen in cinema today.
“Spellbound” is recommended!
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