Spellbound – Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock is one of the best-loved and most widely respected directors in American and British cinema. His films are financial, critical, and popular successes that continue to be named among the “ten best films of all time.” The enormous satisfaction people find in his greatest works is a function of his admirable union of visual and narrative expression, and of the metaphors he uses for the emotional malaise with which twentieth century audiences can readily identify.
Hitchcock’s characters suffer from dislocation and isolation which is expressed in terms of identity confusion (North by Northwest, 1959; Psycho, 1960; Marnie, 1964; The Birds, 1963; Spellbound); dislocation in which a character finds himself or herself on the wrong side of the law (Young and Innocent, 1937; Spellbound, Strangers on a Train, 1951; The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1955; The Wrong Man, 1957); isolation from land itself (Lifeboat, 1944); political dislocation (Torn Curtain, 1966; Topaz, 1969; Sabateur, 1952; Sabotage, 1936); or dislocation from their own sexuality and their very souls (Marnie, Vertigo, 1958). The unity’ of all forms of isolation is the genius of Hitchcock’s vision: the inner, psychological forms lead to the external, legal, or physical forms and are accurate maps of the characters’ souls. For Hitchcock, the rectifying of any of these states of isolation is part of and a metaphor for emotional integration. Even in his thrillers and whodunits, the crime or mystery in which the, hero is embroiled is an indication of his or her emotional integration, and only through reaching out emotionally (usually in the form of sexual love) do these characters break through their isolation. Or, if they are unable to break through they are lost (Psycho, Vertigo).
In Hitchcock’s early films, the external dislocation (usually legal) was the focus of the narrative, and the accompanying emotional health achieved by the characters was almost a side benefit. In his later films, however, and in all of his great 1950’s and 1960’s masterpieces, the emotional (usually sexual) integration of the characters is the real subject (Marnie, The Birds, Vertigo, Rear Window, 1954; Notorious, 1946; Psycho, North by Northwest).
With Spellbound, Hitchcock wanted to “turn out the first picture on psychoanalysis.” It is not, of course, the first, but it remains one of the best of the “madmen take over the asylum” genre films. An amnesia victim, John Ballantine (Gregory Peck), thinks he has murdered his friend, Dr. Edwardes (Edward Fielding), a psychiatrist due to take over the head position at a mental hospital. Ballantine masquerades as the murdered man, joins the hospital staff as their leader, and falls in love with Dr., Constance Peterson (Ingrid Bergman). Ballantine behaves strangely when he sees parallel lines, and Constance discovers he has amnesia and believes himself to be a murderer. She takes him to her old teacher and psychoanalyst, and together they analyze his dreams (surreal sequences created by Salvador Dali) to find the source of his trauma..The dream imagery reveals the source of his problem to be his guilt over his role in the accidental death of his younger brother. This was transferred when he saw the murder of Dr Edwardes by the man Edwardes was to replace at the hospital, Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll). Murchison kills himself in a spectacular burst of red (a subjective shot, with the audience in Murchison’s place as he pulls the trigger), and the lovers are free to begin their life together.