Given the hoopla surrounding Universal's recent release of their library of Alfred Hitchcock films, we thought that it would be nice to give his other works a spin. "Spellbound" is one of three Hitchcock movies carried by Anchor Bay Entertainment. These were among the first Hitchcock features available on DVD and a welcome addition to any fan or completist's collection.
Made in 1945, "Spellbound" stars Ingrid Bergman as Dr. Constance Petersen, a psychoanalyst. Her boss, Dr. Murchison, has been forced to retire. Therefore, the famous Dr. Edwardes (Gregory Peck) comes to replace Murchison. However, Constance soon finds out that Edwardes isn't really who he says he is. Rather, he is a victim of amnesia suffering from a guilt complex. Constance decides to help this mystery man figure out his identity.
I was disappointed by this film. The script is ludicrous, at times laughingly so. Most of the film plays as an involving mystery as Petersen and J.B. (the initials of Peck's character) race to piece together the chain of events that lead to J.B.'s condition before the police lock him away in jail. However, the filmmakers stuck a love story into the narrative, and this is the single most unbelievable aspect of the film. "Spellbound" was based on the novel "The House of Dr. Edwardes" (Francis Bleeding). If the love story was in the source novel, then the screenwriter should've thrown it out the window. If the love story was not in the novel, then the filmmakers added it as part of a Hollywood ploy to sell more tickets to people who wanted to see the two attractive stars get touch-feely on the big screen.
The film's pacing lags. There are stretches where the film doesn't seem to be going anywhere, but then there are stretches where the compressed time and flow of events offend a viewer's credulity. In addition, the near-continuous music score got on my nerves. Now, I know that it was standard practice to have music playing almost throughout an entire film, but it wore me down big time. You see, film music is intended to underscore the emotions of a movie, and if a person's emotions are manipulated non-stop for two hours, well, suffice it to say that my nerves were frayed from irritation, not suspense, at the end.
"Spellbound" is good for one thing: this is the Hitchcock flick with a dream sequence designed by Salvador Dali, the Spanish artist most famous for his painting of melting clocks, for one thing. It's a notable and historical collaboration between good ol' Hitch and Dali, especially considering the fact that the film explores the analyzing of abstract dreams.
I note in my review of "Notorious" how ravishing Ingrid Bergman looks. Here, she plays a professional woman (a doctor), so she plays less to the camera (and the audience) in "Spellbound" than in "Notorious." However, it is interesting to see the "Hollywood" style of filmmaking at work. In "Notorious," because of her character's sexuality, the lighting on Bergman seems muted and dark in nature, as if to paint her as a seductress. Here, in "Spellbound," the light is rather intense on Bergman's face, especially her already-sparkling eyes. There is no doubt that she plays one of the good guys in this film, and the filmmakers never miss out on the opportunity to tell you so.
Anchor Bay's DVD release of "Spellbound" preserves the film's original 1.33:1 (fullscreen on 4:3 TVs) ratio. Due to the deterioration of the film print, the image appears to be very soft, faded, and dark. Everything seems to glow dimly rather than be lighted from a distinguishable source. Scratches and nicks mar the image throughout the whole film.
The mono audio presents a whole range of problems. The dialogue comes through clearly, but the music fares much worse. Although the score (composed by Miklos Rozsa of "Ben-Hur" fame) won an Oscar, this DVD won't win anything for its sub-par reproduction of the music. High-pitched instruments sound very harsh for some reason. Additionally, there is a fair amount of hiss and static.
Again, this has to do with the film's deterioration over the span of five decades as well as the recording technology of the time. Alas, this DVD came out too early in DVD's lifetime to have received a deluxe clean up (ala Warner's "North by Northwest"). Oh, well, given the astounding improvements in DVD mastering that we have witnessed in the past six months alone, I'm sure that "Spellbound" will get its due some day.
Extras. What extras? The DVD doesn't have any bonus material whatsoever. Zero, zip, zilch, nada.
This release of "Spellbound" falls under the "thank heavens it's on DVD" category. No one's going to be thunderstruck by this presentation of the movie. However, bear in mind that this film has been kicked around by different studios over the decades, and whatever promotional work done for the film's original release has been destroyed, has deteriorated, or has been misplaced in the great unknown. We're lucky to have the film itself intact.