1945 / Best Director / Best Picture / Best Supporting Actor

Film #99: Spellbound (1945)

Many would be surprised to know that the majority of Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous productions, including Psycho and Vertigo, weren’t nominated for Best Picture. In fact only four of Hitchcock’s movies featured in the category and as we’ve previously seen only Rebecca ultimately won the prize. In fact all of Hitchcock’s Best Picture nominated movies came during the period when he was working for producer David O. Selznik which was something the he himself despised doing and ultimately left to set up his own production company.

This post looks at the final of Hitchcock’s four Best Picture nominated films Spellbound which is set in Green Manners Mental Institution and specifically focuses on Ingrid Bergman’s Dr Constance Peterson. Green Manners is having a change of direction as the head of the institution Dr Murchinson is being replaced by a younger model in Gregory Peck’s Dr Edwards. However it soon emerges that Peck isn’t who says he is and is a man with amnesia moonlighting as Edwards. Peterson decides to help Peck’s character escape and try and find out what he’s hiding and who he really is. She does this with the help of her old mentor Dr Brulov, played by an Oscar-nominated Michael Chekhov, who specialises in analysing dreams and piece by piece the puzzle comes together. To say anymore would be to ruin the film for those who haven’t seen it however I would like to highlight two scenes. One is a dream that Peck has which Brulov and Peterson then analyse. The whole dream sequence is a master class in surrealism and responsibility for the scene was handed from Hitchcock over to surrealist Salvador Dali who brilliantly depicted someone’s psyche although one of the scenes featuring Bergman as a statue didn’t make the final cut. The other scene sees one of the characters pointing a gun at someone else, the shot is focused on the gun and as the character that the gun is focused on leaves the room we follow the gun as it is rotated around and pointed at the head of the person who is holding it. When the shot is fired the screen goes red which, as this is the film’s only use of colour gives the death extra significance.

Another thing that should be highlighted is Miklos Rosza’s Oscar winning score, which is able to capture both the romantic and dramatic elements of the film and almost dominated the entire film at some points. Neither Bergman or Peck were nominated, although Bergman was nominated for another film, I think Peck overall didn’t demonstrate his full potential as an actor while Bergman’s performance was decent enough given Constance a cold edge which was easily thawed with the appearance of Peck. One of my main criticisms is that I didn’t really buy their romance which was one of the points that the film’s narrative focused on and overall this film wasn’t one of Hitchcock’s best. But I’m glad I watch Spellbound as its one of the only Hitchcock films I’ve never seen and even though it’s not one of Hitch’s best it’s still a very well made and well-conceived picture.


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