Spellbound appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though the movie looked fairly good based on its age, it didn’t stand out as one of the best transfers I’ve seen from Criterion.
Sharpness seemed decent but a little inconsistent. Most of the movie remained reasonably crisp and detailed, but softness intruded at times. Some of this appeared to result from Hitchcock’s photographic techniques - he always loved the soft-focus, especially for his leading ladies - but not all of the examples seemed to come from that tendency. Overall, the picture stayed accurate for the most part, but some fuzziness occurred. A few instances of jagged edges and moiré effects showed up, and I also saw a little edge enhancement at times.
Print flaws seemed pretty insubstantial given the age of the material. Light grain appeared throughout the film, and I also noticed a few instances of marks and specks. The grain appeared most intrusive, but it remained fairly modest. Black levels came across as a little flat at times, but they generally appeared fairly deep and dense. Shadow detail was slightly murky on occasion, but low-light situations also seemed reasonably clear and accurate. Contrast tended to be a little on the gray side. Again, Spellbound presented a fairly positive image, but it didn’t match up with stronger efforts like the Criterion release of Rebecca.
Overall, the monaural soundtrack of Spellbound seemed decent for its era. Dialogue sounded clear and relatively warm. I never experienced any trouble understanding it, and I noticed no concerns related to edginess. Effects came across as thin but reasonably accurate, and I discerned no issues caused by distortion; those elements lacked much depth but they seemed acceptably full considering their age. Music also appeared somewhat too bright, but it was acceptably clear and distinct. I noticed some light background noise throughout the film. This never appeared excessive, but it created a few distractions. Ultimately, Spellbound presented a relatively good but unspectacular soundtrack.
Spellbound continues the string of Hitchcock special editions from Criterion. Though not as packed as Rebecca, we find a nice package of extras. First we get an audio commentary from Hitchcock scholar Marian Keane, who also provided a track for Notorious. She offers a running, screen-specific piece that focuses almost exclusively on interpretation of the film.
Keane discusses the meaning behind various facets of the film, including different cinematographic techniques. For the first half of the flick, she keeps up the pace well, but the track occasionally sags during its second part. Keane’s interpretation seems compelling at times, but I must admit I miss the more balanced approach heard in Leonard Leff’s commentary for Rebecca. He went into interpretation to some degree, but he balanced this with a lot of production elements as well. Keane concentrates 99 percent of her chat on the way she reads the film, and this seems somewhat dry after a while. Her viewpoint is interesting, though I don’t always agree with her, but the track lacks the spark I’d like.
After this we find a collection of Production Correspondence. “Summary of Beeding’s The House of Dr. Edwardes” (23 screens), “Treatments” (21 screens split into seven different subtopics), “Analysts” (21), “Dr. May E. Romm, Psychiatric Advisor” (24), “Foreword” (27 screens split into five subtopics), “Production Code” (18), “Audience Feedback” (12). All these text documents seem interesting, but I particularly like the “Romm” section, as she offered her attempts to make Spellbound accurate within the psychoanalytical realm. The many changes enforced by the “Production Code” also seem fascinating.
The Stills Gallery divides into four smaller domains: “Promotion” (26 images), “Publicity” (43 screens), “Behind-the-Scenes” (105), and “Set Stills” (53). All of the sections include some text as well. The most interesting notes appear during “Publicity”, which incorporates a few actor biographies.
In the oddly titled A Nightmare Ordered By Telephone, we learn more about the Spellbound dream sequence designed by Salvador Dali. This piece covers 177 screens of text, photos and art, and it also shows us the entire 160-second clip from the film as well as two short snippets of Dali’s work in 1929’s Un Chien Andalou. This section nicely covers the genesis and execution of Spellbound’s most unusual sequence.
When we move to The Theremin, we get information about that musical instrument. “Interview with Miklos Rozsa” offers a 1974 conversation with film historian Rudy Behlmer. The audio-only piece lasts 28 minutes and 22 seconds as Rozsa chats about his career, particularly as it related to his use of the theremin. The interview offers some entertaining and useful notes. “The Fishko Files: The Theremin” provides more audio, as we hear a piece created for radio station WNYC. It lasts seven minutes and offers a nice history of the instrument. Finally, “From the Ether: Theremin Resources” includes three screens that tell us where to find more information about the instrument.
In addition to the film’s theatrical trailer, the DVD includes one more audio piece within The Lux Radio Theatre Presents Spellbound. A text “Introduction” quickly discusses the participants and the program, while “The Players” simply lists cast credits. The show itself lasts 59 minutes and 50 seconds and stars Joseph Cotten and Valli in the lead roles. Of course, it condenses the story to a great degree, but it offers an interesting though melodramatic rendition of the tale.
Finally, the DVD package includes an 18-page booklet. This piece contains an excellent production history by Leonard Leff, while Lesley Brill also offers a short but interesting text called “Love and Psychoanalysis”. The rest of the booklet provides film and DVD credits, chapter listings, and some notes about the transfer and the movie’s music. Criterion produce the best booklets in the business, and this one matches up with their usual standard.
Unfortunately, I didn’t think that Spellbound provided one of Alfred Hitchcock’s stronger works. Though the movie had its moments, I felt that it seemed silly and indulgent overall. The DVD offered good but unspectacular picture and audio as well as a fairly strong collection of extras. Hitchcock fans will feel pleased with the Criterion release of Spellbound, but less stalwart partisans will probably want to check out some of his other works instead.