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CRITERION

MOVIE INFO
Director:
Alfred Hitchcock
Cast:
Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Michael Chekhov, Leo G. Carroll, John Emery, Steven Geray, Paul Harvey
Screenplay:
Angus MacPhail, based on the novel by Francis Beeding

Tagling:
The Maddest Love that ever possessed a woman
MPAA:
Not Rated.

Academy Awards:
Won for Best Score-Miklos Rozsa. Nominated for Best Picture; Best Director; Best Supporting Actor-Michael Chekhov, Best Cinematography; Best Special Effects.

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Standard 1.33:1
Audio:
English Digital Mono
Subtitles:
English
Not closed-captioned

Runtime: 118 min.
Price: $39.98
Release Date: 9/24/2002

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary With Hitchcock Scholar Marian Keane
• “A Nightmare Ordered By Telephone” Illustrated Essay
• 1973 Audio Interview with Composer Miklos Rozsa
• 1948 Lux Radio Theatre Adaptation
• “The Fishko Files” Radio Piece on the Theremin
• Production Correspondence
• Still Galleries
• Trailer
• Booklet


PURCHASE
DVD

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EQUIPMENT
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RELATED REVIEWS


Spellbound: Criterion Collection (1945)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

As I occasionally allude in my reviews, in my “real life” I work as a psychologist. This means I find myself particularly interested in movies that take a look at the profession, especially as a way to examine past theories. Psychology remains a fairly new field of study, and ideas change quickly; I’m sure that 50 years from now, many of the concepts we currently hold true will look silly. For proof of this, one need look no further than 1945’s Alfred Hitchcock thriller Spellbound.

This flick touts the wonders of psychoanalysis. In fact, a title card espouses those methods in this way: “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.” Though those concepts have generally fallen out of favor over the ensuing decades, back in that period, many held these concepts to be true.

Unfortunately, Spellbound concentrates too strongly on the wonders of psychoanalysis. The film promotes the glories of those methods to such a degree that it actively mars the story. This relegates Spellbound to the realm of second-rate Hitchcock, unfortunately. While the movie certainly features some good moments, its heavy concentration on an unrealistic depiction of psychotherapy harms it.

Spellbound initially takes place at the Green Manors psychiatric institute in Vermont. Longtime chief Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll) gets the boot due to age and a recent minor breakdown, and Dr. Anthony Edwardes will soon arrive to take his place. In the meantime, we meet Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman), an educated and competent psychiatrist who seems cold and detached from most people; she clearly doesn’t know much about the ways of love!

When Edwardes (Gregory Peck) arrives, this changes. He and Constance quickly develop a whirlwind romance, but things take a turn for the worse when we learn that matters aren’t what they seem. We learn that the new doctor isn’t actually Edwardes; the imposter remembers little about his past other than his initials as “J.B.” He also believes that he murdered the real Edwardes, but Constance can’t imagine that the man she loves could do such a thing.

From there she decides to use the wonders of psychoanalysis to get to the bottom of things and save J.B. Unfortuately, others also discover that J.B. isn’t Edwardes, so he goes on the lam. Constance follows him and the two spend most of the film on the run as she attempts to delve into his mind.

At its heart, Spellbound enjoys a good story and a clever viewpoint. The tale doesn’t seem tremendously original as J.B. slowly uncovers his past, but the attempt to do so through psychology appears interesting. Hitchcock unfolds the plot in a nicely taut manner for the most part, and the story moves along well much of the time.

However, the use of psychoanalysis bogs down these elements. At times Spellbound feels like a propaganda piece that sings the glories of that method. Granted, the movie occasionally casts some doubts about the program’s usefulness, but the techniques prove successful in the end, so Spellbound seems to strongly praise the format as the magical way to solve all of life’s problems. Admittedly, people thought that way at the time, but this still comes across as unrealistic and silly.

Without that side of the film, Spellbound might have worked better, but those parts fill a lot of the piece, so they remain an inherent flaw. The acting seems fairly average as well. Bergman appears acceptable as Constance, but Peck comes across as somewhat too stiff and banal as J.B. He doesn’t strongly communicate the demons in his character, as he appears moderately lifeless and drab. He and Bergman don’t connect terribly strongly as a couple either; I didn’t get a great sense of their chemistry.

Spellbound does enjoy a tight climax, and I also think it provides some wonderfully irreverent moments during which real life intrudes on the story. For example, while Constance waits to find J.B. at a hotel, a schlub from Pittsburgh hits on her. That bit has little to do with the story - though it does introduce the hotel detective, who plays a small part - but it nonetheless works because it seems amusing and real. I also like the bland banter between a pair of cops as they wait to chat with Constance’s former mentor; those touches of real-life add spark to the project.

Otherwise, Spellbound feels like below-average Hitchcock. The movie enjoys enough successful moments to merit a look, but the heavy emphasis on the glories of psychoanalysis make it a chore to watch at times.


The DVD Grades: Picture B- / Audio B- / Bonus B+

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.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.65 Stars Number of Votes: 20
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