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Spellbound is a psychological mystery thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1945. It tells the story of the new head of a mental asylum who turns out not to be what he claims. The film stars Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Michael Chekhov and Leo G. Carroll. It is an adaptation by Angus MacPhail and Ben Hecht of the novel The House of Dr. Edwardes (1927) by Hilary Saint George Saunders and John Palmer (writing as "Francis Beeding").


The film opens with Shakespeare's proverb, and words on the screen announcing that its purpose is to highlight the virtues of psychoanalysis in banishing mental illness and restoring reason.

Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) is a psychoanalyst at Green Manors, a mental hospital in Vermontmarker, and is perceived by the other (male) doctors as detached and emotionless. The director of the hospital, Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll), is being forced into retirement, shortly after returning from an absence due to nervous exhaustion. His replacement is the much younger Dr. Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck).

Dr. Petersen notices that there is something strange about Dr. Edwardes. He has a peculiar phobia about seeing sets of parallel lines against a white background, first displayed in an inappropriate reaction to seeing a diagram drawn with the tines of a fork on a tablecloth.

Dr. Petersen soon realizes, by comparing handwriting, that this man is an impostor and not the real Dr. Edwardes. He confides to her that he killed Dr. Edwardes and took his place. He suffers from massive amnesia and does not know who he is. Dr. Petersen believes that he is innocent and suffering from a guilt complex.

'Dr. Edwardes' disappears during the night, having left a note for Dr. Petersen that he is going to New York Citymarker.

It becomes public knowledge that 'Dr. Edwardes' is an impostor, and that the real Dr. Edwardes is missing and may have been murdered.

Dr. Petersen goes to the hotel indicated in the note, knowing that the police are in pursuit. She needs to use her psychoanalytic skills to unlock his amnesia and find out what had really happened.

One of Hitchcock's characteristic innocent-person-pursued-by-the-police evasions ensues, as Dr. Petersen and the impostor (who now calls himself 'John Brown') travel by train to Rochestermarker, to meet Dr. Brulov (Michael Chekhov), who had been Dr. Petersen's teacher and mentor.

The two doctors analyze a dream that 'John Brown' had. The dream sequence (designed by Salvador Dalí) is full of psychoanalytic symbols—eyes, curtains, scissors, playing cards (some of them blank), a man with no face, a man falling off a building, a man hiding behind a chimney dropping a wheel and wings. They deduce that Brown and Edwardes had been on a ski trip together (the lines in white are ski tracks) and that Edwardes had somehow died there. Dr. Petersen and Brown go to the ski resort (the wings provide a clue) to reenact the event and unlock his repressed memories.

Near the bottom of the hill, Brown's memory suddenly returns. He recalls that there is a precipice in front of them, over which Edwardes had fallen to his death. He stops them just in time. He also remembers a traumatic event from his childhood—he slid down some stairs and accidentally knocked his brother onto sharp pointed railings, killing him. This incident had caused him to develop amnesia and a generalized guilt complex. He also remembers that his real name is John Ballantine.

All is understood now, and Ballantine is about to be exonerated, when it is discovered that Edwardes had a bullet in his body. Ballantine is convicted of murder and sent to prison.

A heartbroken Dr. Petersen returns to her position at the hospital, where Dr. Murchison is once again the director. After reconsidering her notes from the dream, she realizes that the 'wheel' was a revolver and that the man hiding behind the chimney and dropping the wheel was Dr. Murchison hiding behind a tree, shooting Dr. Edwardes and dropping the gun. She confronts Murchison with this and he confesses, but says that he didn't drop the gun; he still has it. He pulls it out of his desk and threatens to shoot her. However, when she points out that while the first murder carried extenuating circumstances of his own mental state, murdering her as well surely would result in the electric chair, the man chooses instead to kill himself. Dr. Petersen is then reunited with Ballantine.



Spellbound caused major contention between Alfred Hitchcock and producer David O. Selznick. Hitchcock's contract with Selznick began in March 1939, but only resulted in three films, Rebecca (1940) and The Paradine Case (1947) being the other two. Selznick wanted Hitchcock to make a movie based upon Selznick's own positive experience with psychoanalysis. Selznick even brought in his therapist, May Romm M.D., who was credited in the film as a technical advisor. Dr. Romm and Hitchcock clashed frequently.

Further contention was caused by the hiring of surrealist artist Salvador Dalí to conceive certain scenes of mental delusion. Hitchcock himself had very little to do with the actual filming of the dream sequence. Selznick thought that it was not Dalí's fault, for his work was much finer and much better for the purpose than he ever thought it would be, and although much of Dali's work was used, one dream sequence depicting Bergman turning into a statue of the Roman goddess Diana was cut. Ingrid Bergman is quoted in the Hitchcock biography The Dark Side of Genius (1983) by Donald Spoto that the Dalí sequence ran for almost 20 minutes before it was cut by Selznick. The cut footage apparently no longer exists, although some production stills have survived in the Selznick archives. Eventually Selznick hired William Cameron Menzies of Things to Come to oversee the set designs and to direct the sequence.

The film boasts an orchestral score by Miklós Rózsa notable for its pioneering use of the theremin, performed by Dr. Samuel Hoffmann. Selznick originally wanted Bernard Herrmann but when Herrmann became unavailable, Rózsa was hired and the score went on to win the Academy Award. Although Rózsa has said he considers Spellbound to be one of his best works, he said "Alfred Hitchcock didn't like the music - said it got in the way of his direction. I never saw him since". />

Spellbound was filmed in black and white, except for one or two frames of bright red at the conclusion, when a gun is fired into the camera. This red detail was deleted in 16mm and video formats, but was restored for the film's DVD release and airings on Turner Classic Movies.


Hitchcock's cameo appearance is a signature occurrence in almost all of his films. In Spellbound, he can be seen coming out of an elevator at the Empire Hotel, carrying a violin case and smoking a cigarette, about 37 minutes into the film. The trailer for Spellbound′s original theatrical release in America made a great deal of fuss over this cameo, showing the footage twice and even freeze-framing Hitchcock's brief appearance while a breathless narrator informs us that this ordinary-looking man is the film's director. Because of this trailer, Spellbound may have become the Hitchcock movie that trained audiences to look for the director somewhere within his own film.


Although Spellbound was a critical and box office success in its day, François Truffaut, in his series of interviews with Hitchcock, said that he was disappointed in the film despite being fascinated by the legendary dream sequence and the "doors-within-doors" kissing scene between Bergman and Peck. Hitchcock himself dismissed it later on as "Well, it's just another manhunt story wrapped in pseudo-psychology".


Spellbound won the Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, and was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Michael Chekhov); Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; Best Director; Best Effects, Special Effects; and Best Picture. Ingrid Bergman did not receive an Academy Award nomination for the film, although she was nominated the same year for The Bells of Saint Mary's.

Adaptations in Other Media

On two occasions, Spellbound was adapted to the radio program Lux Radio Theater, each starring Joseph Cotten: the first on March 8, 1948, the second on January 25, 1951.

See also


  1. Leonard Jeff, "Selznick International's Spellbound", The Criterion Collection.

External links

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