Spellbound – Alfred Hitchcock
This cutting off seems the point of the surrealism in Spellbound: through a total warping of the objects of reality and their environment, the inner conflicts of the character whose surrealism we are seeing are better brought into focus. The effect is the same in the skiing sequence: the obviousness of the rear-screen projection may annoy people seeking unobtrusive, technical realism, but it seems that what Hitchcock is forcing us to do is to see that artificial background as a metaphor for the character’s inner state. By isolating him from his environment totally, he has achieved a condition of unreality that is responsive to the demands of the characters’ emotional torments and release: we see what they are feeling, not what they are seeing, and their emotions which are reflected in their surroundings are the impressions to which we respond.
Hitchcock carries out his theme of isolation in visual nuances as well. When John and Constance are at her old teacher’s house, joined in two-shot and talking intimately, the wall behind her is a totally different tone from the one behind him, thus separating them emotionally even though they are together in the shot. Sometimes John’s head is perfectly framed by the frame of a picture behind him, cutting him off from the rest of the composition and presenting him in a metaphoric cage. This meticulous attention to technical detail as well as to narrative is characteristic of Hitchcock, and makes his films textbooks for the creation of an idea through both formal and narrative means.
Spellbound was both a commercial success and a critical success, and it earned a place on the New York Times “Ten Best Films of 1945″ list. Ingrid Bergman was the New York Film Critics Circle Award’s choice for Best Actress of 1945. Although the 1945 film does not achieve the total artistic success of Hitchcock’s later films, it points to them in its themes and formai expression, and is one of his finest pre-1950 productions. Spellbound was parodied, along with other Hitchcock films (notably Vertigo), in Mel Brooks’s 1978 tribute to the master, High Anxiety.