In 1944 Hitchcock headed back to England to help with the war effort. In collaboration with The British Ministry of Information he made two short propaganda films in support of the French Resistance, Bon Voyage and Adventure malgachel, before heading back to the States to fulfill his contract with Selznick. By the time production finished on his next project, Spellbound, the war was over.
Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) falls in love with Dr. Edwardes (Gregory Peck), the new chief psychiatrist at the mental asylum where she works. But he’s not who he seems. Indeed, he’s not Dr. Edwardes at all. He’s an amnesiac with no knowledge of who he really is other than the initials JB. The real Dr. Edwardes has been murdered and JB quickly becomes the top suspect. Constance sets out to help him recover his memory and prove the innocence of the man she loves.
The introduction of plot-convenient amnesia adds some new spice to the now overused Hitchcock formula. We’re used to stories of the innocent man on the run, but in this case we’re not so sure he’s innocent. In fact, neither is he.
See, JB has psychotic episodes when he sees black lines upon a white surface. This creepy element to the character cranks up the tension in the mystery and in the romance. “Will he kiss me… or kill me?” ran the poster’s tagline. That actually sums up the drama rather well.
The film contains some great visual moments such as one of my favourite Hitchcock POV shots as the delirious JB downs a glass of milk, slowly overwhelming the screen with whiteness or the famous psychedelic dream sequence designed by Salvador Dalí in his unmistakable surrealist style.
Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman do a pretty good job as the leads, although we’ve seen far stronger performances from both of them even before this early stage of their in their careers in Keys of the Kingdom and Casablanca. You’d be forgiven for expecting more from this supremely talented duo. I’m sorry, Ingrid. But even you can’t make the word “liverwurst” sound romantic.
Regardless, Spellbound has a compelling mystery at its core told to us with some striking visuals. If you can overlook the absurdly the improbable plot details (even by Hitch’s pulpy standard) it’s an entertaining romp.