I have never been the biggest Hitchcock fan, this I’ll admit from the start. I appreciate his well crafted suspense thrillers, but there is a clunkiness to so many of his films that it either makes me cherish the really good ones or simply want to avoid the entire lot of them. Spellbound is one of those films that leaves me rather cold, though it is not without interest.
A story of psychology and love, but Hitchcock knows too little of either to create a plausible story and from the very beginning a decision must be made. I chose to just go with Hitchcock and see where he’d leading me. I have to excuse the fact that the ice cold Ingrid Bergman has her heart quickly melted by Gregory Peck. One moment she’s a dedicated female psychiatrist, the next she’s confused, heart-stricken mush. The cold-hearted headshrink, decides to jeopardize her entire career because twenty-four hours ago she fell head-over heels for the newest director of her mental institute – who turns out to be someone completely different than he original said he was, but what does Bergman care she’s in love!
Hitchcock continually exhibits a profound lack of understanding for humans, but the majority of his ignorance is reserved for his female characters. By today’s standards Bergman’s behavior appears dated, foolish, and contrived. I bet that even back then her impulsive actions looked stupid and degrading. I suppose that the casting of a woman in a such a scientific role might have been considered daring at that point in time. Daring maybe, but damn does it feel false. Like asking Tara Reid to play a doctor or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to play a jockey. It might be funny, but could you take it seriously?
That’s my problem with Spellbound. Bergman as a doctor, I could buy that, but not while Hitchcock is running shop. I can also forgive Hitchcock for his need to shove aside realistic human behavior in favor of a well woven tale of suspense, but Spellbound is not the most suspenseful of Hitchcock’s films. Excusing an occasional scene here and there, the danger is never that imminent. The clock is not ticking rapidly and there is no bomb. Spellbound is a lesiurely tale of amnesia, murder, and a stolen identity. The whole thing held together by a series of repeated lines on white surfaces. The site of such lines sets Peck into a tizzy and Bergman takes it upon herself to determine the cause of her new beau’s madness. If she can solve the mystery of the white lines she might be able to clear her lover’s name before the cops haul him off to jail for a murder he can’t remember committing. But, there is no need to worry because a psychatrist in love is on the case. Yes, love can conquer all, even common sense. Is Bergman right ot follow her heart? Of course, she’s right to do so.
It would probably be more interesting if she were wrong, but Bergman’s a smart cookie even if she spends half the film acting like a starry-eyed school girl confused by her emotions. Her heart leads her to the killer, but along the way there’s a brief stop in a Dali designed dreamscape full of oversized eyes and blank playing cards. Today it looks just ridiculous and at the same time it felt so much like a prequel to some episode of Twin Peaks. Perhaps, David Lynch’s dreamworlds won’t age well either, but what little of the supposed twenty minute sequence that Dali originally shot is still too much. However, it does help Bergman figure out who the real murderer is, but once she figures it out the fun slides out of the movie and out of sight. I found it hard to watch the film with much interesting having seen it so many years ago and still remembering just who pulled the trigger. Spellbound does not deserve to be called one of Hitchcock’s best, neither stylistically or narratively speaking. It most certainly is not his best work with actors. But, this rug pulling tale of suspense nicely kills a Saturday night.