Ingrid Thursdays: Spellbound (1945)

The Film: Psychoanalysis is the prevalent theme of Alfred Spellbound PosterHitchcock’s Spellbound, a practice that was beginning to make its presence more known in the public spectrum in the mid-1940s. While the theme of mental illness is discussed freely in this film, it would have been considered taboo then to openly acknowledge its existence. More taboo would have been Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman, two sex icons of the era, making a film that tackled such themes. Yet under the precise direction of Alfred Hitchcock, this taboo theme was transformed into a suspenseful drama that used psychoanalysis as the foundation of the film without it ever proclaiming to be the panacea of mental solutions.

Ingrid Bergman stars as Dr. Constance Petersen, a psychoanalyst at a mental hospital, who is perceived as being a workaholic by her peers. This all changes when the new director of the Spellbound Ingrid Bergmanhospital, Dr. Anthony Edwards (Gregory Peck), arrives and, in classic Hitchcock style, she immediately becomes infatuated and falls in love with him. However, also in Hitchcockian style, Dr. Edwards isn’t who he claims to be and may also be a murderer, yet he doesn’t have any memories to answer either of these questions. It is up to Dr. Peterson and her knowledge of psychoanalysis to reclaim those memories and exonerate the man she loves from the crimes he believes he has committed.

While Spellbound follows the typical formula a Hitchcock film embodies, this film stands out differently from the other romance-thrillers Dali Dream SequenceHitchcock was known for making. Since psychoanalysis is the theme of this film, he used that as an opportunity to incorporate farcical elements, such as a dream sequence, into the film. For the dream sequence, he used surrealist painter Salvador Dali to conceive and create it, to which the claim can be made that Spellbound is the only Hitchcock film that has a visually dazzling set of scenes that adds a multitude of dimension to the characters and plotline. Hitchcock also enhanced the suspense of the film by incorporating point-of-view camera angles. In Spellbound Point of View Shotsuch scenes, seeing from the vantage of certain characters provided moments of uncertainty, thus reminding the viewer that the human mind is incomprehensible and truly understanding one’s sanity comes from expelling those repressed emotions from within. For that, Hitchcock’s direction of Spellbound is brilliant filmmaking and his Academy Award nomination for it was well deserved.

The Performance: The leading ladies of Hitchcock films have always possessed two main emotions: love and fear. Ingrid Bergman conveys both of these emotions without fail, and while this works within the Hitchcock canon, it also conforms her Spellbound Peck and Bergmanperformance with all the other leading lady performances of Hitchcock’s films. That doesn’t go to say Bergman’s acting isn’t exemplary, yet she doesn’t offer anything that differentiates herself. Yet within the confines of the Spellbound film, Bergman is a powerful presence in the film and dominates each of her scenes with a mixture of authority and compassion. However, the one flaw of her performance is in that she never manages to truly convince viewers that she is believable as a doctor, especially with the introduction of Michael Chekhov’s character, whose magnificent performance was used to explain and utilize psychoanalysis within the film. Bergman’s acting in Spellbound seems to be more grounded in the category of “concerned lover” opposed to portraying herself as the objective, workaholic doctor she is perceived to be at the beginning of the film. Yet the argument can be made that this is not the fault of Bergman and more on the screenwriter and Hitchcock’s expectation of how her acting should appear on camera. Hitchcock desired for his leading ladies to be rich in power, but he also expected them to be rich in their femininity too.

Performance Rankings:
Autumn Sonata: 5/5
Gaslight: 5/5
Murder on the Orient Express: 5/5
Casablanca: 5/5
Anastasia: 5/5
Cactus Flower: 5/5
A Woman Called Golda: 4.5/5
Notorious: 4/5
Spellbound: 3.5/5
For Whom the Bell Tolls: 3.5/5
Joan of Arc: 3/5
The Bells of St. Mary’s: 3/5

Film Rankings:
Casablanca: 5/5
Autumn Sonata: 5/5
Murder on the Orient Express: 5/5
Gaslight: 5/5
Cactus Flower: 5/5
Notorious: 4/5
A Woman Called Golda: 4/5
Anastasia: 4/5
For Whom the Bell Tolls: 4/5
Spellbound: 3.5/5
The Bells of St. Mary’s: 2.5/5
Joan of Arc: 2/5

Links for other Ingrid Thursdays can be found here:
A Woman Called Golda
Autumn Sonata
Joan of Arc
Murder on the Orient Express
Cactus Flower
For Whom the Bell Tolls
The Bells of St. Mary’s


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