“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.”
Got all that? Yeah, it may sound quaint in today’s more sophisticated, complicated world, but somehow I find Dr. Romm’s foreword (which has also been attributed to screenwriter Ben Hecht) endearingly earnest. In fact, Spellbound’s more dated aspects, like its approach to psychotherapy, intrigues me when I think of how these things have changed over time.
The lovely, luminous, gentle-voiced Ingrid Bergman plays Dr. Constance Petersen, the youngest member of the crackpot, er, crack team of psychoanalysts at Green Manors, a posh psychiatric institution. Constance brims with book smarts, but her people smarts still need fine-tuning. Dr. Fleurot (John Emory), who’s a bit of a scholarly wolf in shrink’s clothing, is always trying to pitch woo at Constance, but she’s just not that into him. He says, “You approach all your problems with an ice pack on your head….I’m trying to convince you that your lack of human and emotional experience is bad for you as a doctor...and fatal for you as a woman.” Constance wryly replies, “I’ve heard that argument from a number of amorous psychiatrists who all wanted to make a better doctor of me.”
|Doctor on Call-Me-Anytime!|
|If you could see Constance’s feet now, you’d see bobby sox on her feet! *swoon!*|
|Those who scratch the tablecloth do not get fruit cup!|
|With a few more jokes and scientific types, we’d have Ball of Fire!|
|Uh-oh! Someone’s got some ‘splainin’ to do!|
|Love opens doors for Constance|
|Aww, J.B. sleeps so cute! (Faint #1)|
When she hits NYC, Constance gets some unexpected but welcome help from the house detective (Bill Goodwin, who was also the announcer for The Burns and Allen Show on both CBS and NBC), who pegs Constance as a gal in trouble, “a schoolteacher or librarian.” I love the way the hotel dick comes so close and yet so far in his assessment of her as he helps her in his amateur “psychologist” capacity without revealing her mission! Oh, and what would a Hitchcock movie be without one of the director’s famous cameos? It’s in this very scene, about 37 minutes into the movie; you’ll see Hitch walking out of an elevator at the Empire State Hotel, wearing a fedora, carrying a violin case and smoking a cigarette. If you can’t wait that long, go back to the beginning of this blog post and click here for the trailer.
|Ground floor, Hitchcock cameo, everybody off!|
Pesky tourist Wallace Ford puts the “Pitts” in “Pittsburgh”!
|Danger between the lines!|
One perk to J.B.’s fainting spells; he’s got the lovely and devoted Constance to catch him!
|Yikes! Talk about unwanted publicity!|
|“You like close shaves, don’t you?”|
|From the folks who brought you the Fisticam: The Dairycam!|
|But Alex, this is a good boy...this is a nice boy...this is a mother's angel! (Faint #3)|
|Next time J.B. comes over, we’re giving him the plastic cups! (4th and Final Faint!)|
It takes lots of convincing, but the next day, Constance and Alex are able to get J.B. on the fast track toward helping him find out who he is and what happened to Dr. Edwardes. One more fainting spell and a look out the window on this snowy day, and our intrepid heroes realize the lines that freaked out J.B. were skiing tracks in the snow! That’s where the dream sequence comes in:
Sled tracks on a snowy day gives our heroes the major clue they need: Dr. Edwardes had been into sports, saying it was a boon to the treatment of mental disorders. That’s why the dark lines in the white snow freaked out J.B. so severely. Using the notes from J.B.’s dream, they figure out that J.B. and Dr. E. went to Gabriel Valley for what turned out to be their ill-fated therapy vacation. Constance and J.B. go there to recreate the events leading to Dr. Edwardes’ death. The couple opts for downhill skiing, and the tension is almost unbearable as J.B. starts to remember the horrible thing he was trying to forget: the accidental death of his little brother as young J.B. tried to yell warnings to him. The point of impact where the poor kid is impaled lasts only seconds, but it still breaks my heart and chills me to the bone every time I see Spellbound. But the evil spell is broken as J.B. grabs Constance and saves her from flying off the cliff in the proverbial nick of time. Now they can forget the past and forge a future together as husband and wife, as well as Doctor and Doctor Ballantine (the “J” is for “John”). Nice day for a white wedding….
Or is it? When the police catch up with them, they confirm that Dr. Edwardes’ body is where our heroes deduced it would be, all right—but they didn’t figure on finding the cause of death was a bullet! After a montage of Constance desperately trying to convince the jury that John is innocent,to no avail, our heartbroken heroine returns to Green Manors. Ah, but the film and the surprises aren’t over just yet:
The screenplay by Ben Hecht and Angus MacPhail is loosely based on Francis Beeding’s 1927 novel The House of Dr. Edwardes; indeed, the opening credits specifically say “Suggested by Francis Beeding’s novel The House of Dr. Edwardes.” I’ve read in various sources that the original novel was a lot more gimmicky and Gothic-y. Hitchcock had no qualms about retooling a novel to serve his movie’s needs, so he, Hecht, and MacPhail improved upon it. But there’s one writer few can improve upon: William Shakespeare, whose lines from Julius Caesar open Spellbound with a most appropriate quote: “The fault…is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”
Spellbound was released in theaters in 1945, when World War 2 ended and soldiers were coming home suffering from shell shock, nightmares, and “battle fatigue” (or as we know it today, PTSD: post-traumatic stress disorder), so it was inevitable that Spellbound would strike a chord with moviegoers at that time (and even now, really, since war is unfortunately still with us). It also struck a chord with its producer, David O. Selznick, since he was undergoing psychoanalysis on account of his own family tragedy: Selznick’s brother Myron, a top Hollywood agent, had died after many years of alcoholism. On top of that, Selznick’s marriage broke up, so he wound up in therapy with psychoanalyst/psychiatrist Dr. May Romm. Interestingly, in 1944, the year before Spellbound was released, life during wartime was the subject of another acclaimed Selznick drama, Since You Went Away (which I must confess is known here at Team Bartilucci H.Q. as one of the most depressing movies ever made! But I digress….)
Miklós Rózsa is one of my favorite composers, and it’s no wonder that he won an Oscar for his glorious Spellbound score! It sets the film’s tone in every way, its theremin weaving foreboding throughout the emotion-packed, lushly romantic orchestrations. Ironically, according to Wikipedia, Selznick originally wanted a musical score from future Hitchcock composer Bernard Herrmann, another favorite of mine! But Herrmann wasn’t available, so Rózsa got the gig. Indeed, Spellbound also received five other Oscar nominations, not only for Chekhov’s supporting performance (James Dunn won for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn), but also for George Barnes’ gorgeous black-and-white cinematography (The Picture of Dorian Gray won); Jack Cosgrove’s special photographic effects (the Oscar went to another of my favorite movies, the Danny Kaye comedy Wonder Man); Hitchcock’s direction; and a Best Picture nomination for Selznick International (though I can't complain about The Lost Weekend winning the prize). Also, Ingrid Bergman won a New York Film Critics Circle Award for her performance. It’s also worth noting that Rhonda Fleming, only 22 at the time, made quite an impressive debut in the small but memorable role of Green Manors patient Mary Carmichael, whose flirty manner and beauty disguises a vicious hatred of men. Team Bartilucci favorite Dave Willock of the animated Hanna-Barbera series Wacky Races and Robert Aldrich films such as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte played the bellboy who recognized Constance in New York. Vinnie recognized Willock’s voice; he's got an ear for such things, bless him. Many folks reading this may also remember Willock from another Team B. fave, It's in the Bag.
|If a honeymoon on a train was good enough for Mr. & Mrs. Thornhill, it's good enough for Dr. and Dr. Ballantine!|
|Sweet mystery of life, at last I've found you....|