Spellbound

 

Spellbound

Written by Ben Hecht

Photography by George Barnes

Music: Miklos Rozsa

Art Direction: James Basevi

Dream Design: Salvadore Dali

Produced by David O. Selznick

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

1945

 

Cast:

Ingrid Bergman

Gregory Peck

Leo G. Carroll

Michael Chekhov

John Emery

Norman Lloyd

Rhonda Fleming

 

Production:

Theatrical: Selznick International

Video: MGM

 

Video

Aspect ratio: 1.37:1

Resolution: 1080p

Codec: AVC

Disc Size: 42 GB

Feature Size: 37.5 GB

Bit Rate: High (35~40 Mbps)

Runtime: 119 minutes

Chapters: 24

 

Audio:

English DTS HD-MA 2.0

English Dolby Digital 2.0 (commentary)

 

Subtitles: English

 

Extras:

• Audio commentary by Film Historians Thomas Schatz and Ramirez Berg
• Dreaming with Scissors: Hitchcock, Surrealism and Salvador Dali (16:30)
• Guilt by Association: Psychoanalyzing Spellbound (19:40)
• 1948 radio version with Joseph Cotton (59:45)

• Peter Bogdanovich interviews Hitchcock (15:20)
• A Cinderella Story: Rhonda Fleming (10:10)
• Theatrical trailer

 

Presentation:

Amaray Blu-ray case: BRD x 1

Street Date: January 24, 2012



Introduction:

In one fell swoop on January 24 MGM has made what feels like a 100% increase in the catalogue of classic films for home high definition theatre: Rebecca (1940), Spellbound (1945), Notorious (1946), The Apartment (1960), Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979) - and all but one are in B&W.  Two of these are top drawer films from Alfred Hitchcock, two are the best of the best from Woody Allen, and one is a popular Oscar-winning Billy Wilder film.


The Movie: 8

We learn from the commentary that Spellbound (a clever title at a number of levels, now that I think of it) was the first Hollywood film to deal directly and extensively with psychoanalysis, and that both its producer, David O. Selznick, and the writer, Ben Hecht, were in analysis during the gestation of the movie.  To cap it off, the credited psychoanalytic consultant, May E. Romm, was none other than Selznick’s analyst, and that Selznick himself was dealing with guilt over the death of his brother Myron.  Talk about art imitating life!


     

 

The story features a number of familiar Hitchcock plot elements (man being pursued by police while he pursues the real perpetrator) as well as several experimental cinematic techniques (Miklos Rosza’s use of the Theremin, and the expressionistic use of a series of opening doors that reach its zenith in a dream sequence based on designs by Salvador Dali.)   Peck plays an amnesiac who has purloined the identity of a man he comes to believe he has killed. Bergman is the lone female psychiatrist at a psychiatric hospital who falls in love with him and attempts to cure him at the same time.

 

While a couple of the basic tenants of psychoanalysis (the idea that insight represents cure, and confusing “amnesia” with “schizophrenia”) are given the “Hollywood” treatment – i.e. are oversimplified, approaching misinformation – much of the texture is not only accurate and savvy, but relevant as to the progress of both the plot and the uncovering of the patient’s illness, especially the idea that guilt about something in the present can be a cover for another guilt from one’s past that the mind has taken great pains to keep secret from the patient.


     

 

I can’t think of another film from any country or time period that is so rich in its description of the therapeutic process.  To take one subtle example: When Bergman is in the guest room of her mentor, she observes how the room feels different, and adds that it is “[not the room that has changed,] it is I who have changed.  It is called ‘transfer of affect.’”  At one level she is speaking about her own process of “coming out” as a mature woman – no longer threatened by the possibility of becoming or being seen as someone like her patient played by Rhonda Fleming.  In another scene with Peck grabs his hand and swoons in emotional pain, she says to him “Your hand that is remembering. Open your mind and the pain will leave.”  Brilliant!  A Gestalt observation two decades ahead of its time.  Also, the fact that Bergman’s observations that her involvement with her patient is unethical and is supported by her mentor’s warning that ashe is behaving irresponsibly has generalizable implications today.


     

 

But most delicious in terms of the therapeutic relationship as well as a means to heighten tension is the number of times that Peck pushes her away when she touches a nerve, when the veneer of his amnesia and carefully constructed assumption of the identity of the person he believes he has killed  is attacked.  In psychoanalytic terms, the dynamic at play is what we call “resistance”, which every patient falls back on regardless of their desire for change. But the movie’s psycho-babble, so-called, is carefully and exhaustively mined for dramatic possibilities: most importantly, in regards the love story and the possibility that Peck, regardless of the audience and Bergman seeing him as a “good guy,” is in fact dangerous, whether he is also a murder or not.  The tension between the love story and the dangers of the healing process explains why he looks at her the way he does when she is asleep and he has a razor in his hand, and why he sees her as a threat and an object of disdain when they are skiing toward a precipice.


     

 

Image: 7/7

While not entirely restored, the picture does look better and cleaner and with a longer grayscale than the Criterion DVD of several years ago.  There is a tendency for the contrast to be pumped up slightly to favor the blacks, but close-ups are awesome, if not razor sharp.  Thee is the occasional blemish and the odd light scratche, but nothing disturbing.

 

Audio & Music: 7/10

The good news is that MGM decided to offer the original mono track in a lossless format, eschewing the too common idiocy of re-imaging such films in 5.1  Hats off, guys.  Dialogue is clear, and Rosza’s score vibrates.  My only complaint is that the MGM logo that precedes the movie is entirely too loud, requiring a level adjustment if you don’t want your ears blown off.


     

 

Extras: 8

First up is the audio commentary with film historians Thomas Schatz and Ramirez Berg.  While silences are rare, they are not as detailed nor “film school” as Marian Keane’s commentary for Criterion.  Keane has a way of presenting herself like “from Hitchcock’s brain to my mouth” that just galls me, though she does come up with the occasional insight.  But I digress. 

 

Schatz and Berg – one of them, anyway, I couldn’t tell –misnames the title of the Hitchcock’s film in which Norman Lloyd falls off the Statue of Liberty (it’s Saboteur not Sabotage – an earlier Hitchcock film, and often confused), but I found them to be interesting and insightful, melding comments about the context of the film in world and cinema history, filmmakers’ credits, plot points, use of camera and lighting, with thoughtful remarks about the psychology of the characters.


     

 

The remaining extras were all new to me, and are fairly self-explanatory.  I took special interest in the twenty minute piece titled “Guilt by Association: Psychoanalyzing Spellbound”, which places the movie in the context of the psychological challenges faced by returning WWII veterans.  Most of the commentators in the segment are not in the psychology business, but some are.  These experts talk in terms most people can understand about the symptoms, specifically “survivor guilt,” of such soldiers.

 

Recommendation: 9

The forward to the movie says that the movie is about psychoanalysis, the method that treats the emotional problems of the sane – an observation so disarmingly sane that I almost teared up.  Fifteen years later Psycho would usher in a whole new world of cinema, less brave I fear, that too often would devolve into the convenient but far less challenging world of the insane.  There have been movies like Ordinary People and Good Will Hunting that focus on dysfunctionality, but few have been able to integrate the therapeutic process into a smart, compelling thriller.  It’s hard to do, as Hecht, Selznick and Hitchcock found out.  But at least they dared.


     

 

Spellbound has its problems – not least, in the way the climactic reveal takes place at the precipice – but it is far from a failed film. It is also sexist in accordance with the mores of its time.  Yet it remains a woman’s film, not because Bergman comes out and falls in love for the first time, but because she risks taking command outside of the protections of her profession.  By the end of the movie, she has become a whole person. 

 

MGM’s Blu-ray preserves the look of the original.  I felt like I was transported back to our local fine arts repertory movie theater – only the film was in better shape.

 


Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

January 27, 2012



     

 

 

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