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Thursday, 23 May 2013

Classic Film Review: Spellbound (1945)

Spellbound stars Ingrid Bergman as a psychiatrist who goes to great lengths to protect a patient while she works out the truth of his case. The patient (Gregory Peck) originally appears at the institution where Dr Constance Peterson (Bergman) works, masquerading as the new chief, Dr Edwardes. However, Constance soon works out that he's not who he says he is and suspects that he has something to do with the disappearance of Dr Edwardes. This is complicated by the fact that Constance has found herself immediately attracted to the patient. She conceals his location from the police then sets off to find and then cure him, uncovering the truth in the process.

This is an atmospheric Hitchcock film with a supporting cast that includes Michael Chekov as Dr Alexander Brulov and Leo G. Carroll as outgoing chief Dr Murchison. The concept of psychoanalysis is explained in sometimes clunky terms during the film but it makes a good basis for the plot. To be fully immersed in the story you may have to believe wholeheartedly in psychoanalysis but, on the other hand, it's a good film even if you're ambivalent. The short dream sequence devised by Salvador Dali is too short for my liking but certainly adds something to the film.

The beauty of this one, though, lies in the leading actors. Bergman is phenomenal, from her first moments as a calm and in control doctor through to the finale where she's fighting to save the man she loves. There are too many excellent individual scenes to mention but the climax between her and the villain takes some beating. Equally, Gregory Peck manages a role that could have become far too melodramatic very well. During his episodes, yes, the patient is unpredictable and weak but this contrasts nicely with his obvious affection towards Constance. Also excellent is Michael Chekov as the talkative Dr Brulov who lightens the tension a little with his non-stop chatter though there is more to him than that.

Of course, there are aspects of this film which were badly handled. The completely artificial ski scene was one, which could have been better handled with a director like Hitchcock. In addition, I felt that the superfluous characters who were introduced at the beginning (another doctor and a female patient) wasted a little bit of time. While they were there to set up Constance as a character, I don't think they entirely worked. However, these are small gripes. Overall, I found Spellbound to be a captivating film and one which would've cemented my love for Ingrid Bergman - if it wasn't already cemented, that is.

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