Skip to main content

The 2nd Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon: «Spellbound» (1945)

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Spellbound (1945) begins when Dr. Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck) arrives at a mental hospital in Vermont to replace its elderly director, Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll). Headstrong psychoanalyst Dr. Constance Petersen, who also works there, soon notices that Edwardes has a peculiar phobia about sets of parallel lines against a white background. As Constance and Edwardes begin to fall in love with each other, he confides to her that he killed the real Dr. Edwardes and then assumed his identity. He suffers from massive amnesia and does not know who he is. Believing that the man is innocent and suffering from a guilt complex, Constance resolves to use her psychoanalytic training to break down his amnesia and discover what truly happened.

To protect him, Constance takes the impostor — calling himself «John Brown» — to the New York home of her beloved mentor, Dr. Alex Brulov (Michael Chekhov). There, the two doctors try to unravel Brown's guilt about the murder by analysing his dreams and through an acting out of his experiences. In the process, Constance and Brulov discover that Brown has witnessed the killing of the real Dr. Edwardes on a ski slope and that he believes he is responsible for pushing him from a cliff. Pressing deeper into his psyche, they resurect two extremely important memories. First, he remembers that behind the two skiers there was a man on a hill with a gun who shot Edwardes. Secondly, Brown — who recalls that his actual name is John Ballantyne — relieves a childhood experience wherein he slid down a hand rail with his brother at the bottom, accidentally killing him by knocking him onto sharp-pointed railings. Constance concludes that the real killer has used Ballantine's guilt over his brother's death to convince him that he also killed Edwardes. Returning to the hospital, she finds out that the murderer is actually Dr. Murchison, who was trying to save his position. After vainly trying to intimidate her with a gun, Murchison turns the weapon on himself and fires. Later, at Grand Central Station, Burlov sees newlyweds Constance and Ballantine off to their honeymoon.

John Ballantine: Will you love me just as much when I'm normal?
Dr. Constance Petersen: Oh, I'll be insane about you.

In late 1943, independent producer David O. Selznick became interested in the idea of making a picture that dealt with the theme of psychoanalysis, a subject that truly fascinated him. Although he had only spent a year in therapy, he was overwhelmed by the healing possibilities of the method developed by Austrian physician Sigmund Freud in the early 20th century. As a result, Selznick asked British director Alfred Hitchcock, whom he had under contract, to craft a pshycological thriller grounded in Freundian theory. Hitchcock suggested they adapt The House of Dr. Edwardes, a 1927 novel written by British authors John Palmer and Hilary Saint George Saunders, under the pseudonym «Francis Beeding.» The director already owned the rights, which he then sold to Selznick for $40,000. Set in the Swiss Alps, the story focused on a maniac named Geoffrey Godstone, who imprisons the chief of a mental home and then takes over the management of the facility himself. One of the staff psychiatrists, Constance Sedgwick, discovers who Godstone really is, but is powerless in her efforts to stop him. Finally, the head of the hospital, a distinguished psychiatrist named Dr. Edwardes, arrives and sets matters to right. In an interview with François Truffaut, Hitchcock remarked that the original novel «was melodramatic and quite weird. In the book even the orderlies were lunatics and they did some very queer things. But I wanted to do something more sensible, to turn out the first picture on psychoanalysis.»

In January 1944, while working on war-related short films in England, Hitchcock hired Angus MacPhail to co-author a treatment with him. A former editor for the literary magazine Granta, MacPhail entered the film business in 1926, writing subtitles for silent pictures. He subsequently became the head of the scenario department at the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation, where he met Hitchcock on the set of The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927), the director's first thriller. Hitchcock and MacPhail, who consulted prominent British psychoanalysts before composing their treatment, altered the novel radically. Instead of having a maniac take over the asylum, they created a character with amnesia who thinks he has killed Edwardes and stolen his identity. The staff and patients accept him as such and Constance, the female doctor, even falls in love with him. Then, upon discovering his amnesia, she uses psychoanalysis to cure him and, at the same time, also unmasks the murderer of the real Edwardes.

Gregory Peck, Ingrid Bergman and Alfred
Hitchcock on the set of Spellbound
After Hitchcock turned in the treatment, Selznick hired Ben Hecht, also a veteran of psychoanalysis, to pen the screenplay in collaboration with MacPhail. A prolific storyteller who never took longer than eight weeks to complete a script, Hecht was generally believed to the highest paid screenwriter of his day. After winning the first ever Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Underworld (1927), he wrote such acclaimed pictures as Viva Villa! (1934), Gunga Din (1939), Wuthering Heights (1939) and His Girl Friday (1940).

Upon being assigned to the project, Hecht suggested that they focus «The House of Dr. Edwardes» — as the film was still titled — on the female psychiatrist and the amnesiac patient with whom she falls in love. Since psychoanalysis had proven successful as the theme of Moss Hart's hit Broadway musical Lady in the Dark (1941), Hitchcock and Selznick immediately approved of this approach to the material. As research, Hitchcock and Hecht toured mental hospitals in Connecticut and New York, before focusing on the psychiatric ward at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. In addition, Selznick hired his own analyst, Dr. May E. Romm, a prominent Beverly Hills psychiatrist who had worked in the producer's Since You Went Away (1944), to serve as technical advisor.

Initially, Selznick wanted Joseph Cotten — who had starred in Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) — and Dorothy McGuire to play the two lead characters, with Paul Lukas as the villainous Dr. Murchison. Ultimately, however, Selznick decided to team contract players Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck for the film. As an independent, he had produced only a small number of pictures each year, loaning his contract talent out to other studios. He had not yet produced any of Peck's films and he had not produced a Bergman film since her Hollywood debut opposite Leslie Howard in Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939), or a Hitchcock film since his Best Picture winner Rebecca (1940). With all three names growing in popularity and demonstrating solid box-office appeal, Selznick saw this as the perfect opportunity to join his biggest assets in the same project. The role of Dr. Murchison was eventually assigned to Leo G. Carroll, who had appeared in Rebecca, as well as in Hitchcock's Suspicion (1941). Russian-born actor and theatre practitioner Michael Chekhov, nephew of the acclaimed playwright Anton Chekhov, was cast as Dr. Alex Brulov, a Freudian analyst and Constance's former mentor.

Shot from the dream sequence created by Dalí
As originally scripted, Peck's character's dreams, which hold the key to the film's mystery, were only described in the dialogue. During pre-production, however, Hitchcock decided that it was essential to show them on screen — and in a way that would «break with the traditional way of handling dream sequences through a blurred and hazy screen.»

To achieve the effect he desired, Hitchcock asked Selznick to hire Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dalí, who was already famous for his dreamlike creations. According to the director, Selznick agreed to the hiring, «though I think he didn't really understand my reasons for wanting Dalí. He probably thought I wanted his collaboration for publicity purposes. The real reason was that I wanted to convey the dreams with great visual sharpness and clarity, sharper than the film itself. I wanted Dalí because of the architectural sharpness of his work.»

Under his original agreement, Dalí was to sketch out the dream sequences for Hitchcock's approval, then turn their agreed-upon images into a series of paintings that would be used in the film. He would receive $1,000 for each of his creations, which could not be altered without his permission. He handed in five paintings in June 1944, after which Selznick's financial department budgeted the dream sequence at $150,000. Refusing to spend that much money, Selznick wanted to removed the dream sequence, but Hitchcock devised a plan to use special effects and projections of Dalí's paintings that ultimately lowered the cost to $20,000. With that, Selznick gave the director the go-ahead.

Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman on the set
The film began production on July 7, 1944. Though initially puzzled by Hitchcock's «breezy disdain,» Bergman worked very well with the director. She did, however, have problems with one of the film's more emotional scenes and told Hitchcock she just could not build up the appropriate feeling to do it. His advice: «Ingrid, fake it!» She would later call this response the best piece of direction she had ever received. Throughout her career she would remember his advice whenever she was faced with similar problems.

On the other hand, Peck's relationship with Hitchcock was tricky. A disciple of the Stanislavsky or «Method» school of acting, Peck was somewhat disdainful of the director's «clever shell games.» At the same time, he was doing everything he could to meet Hitchcock's high expectations. «I felt I needed a good deal of direction,» Peck said, but when he asked for assistance, Hitchcock was not forthcoming. «My dear boy,» he replied in answer to a question about motivation, «I couldn't care less what you're thinking. Just let your face drain of all expression.» Despite Hitchcock's lack of specific acting pointers, Peck found him clever and ingenious. «He was full of jokes and quips and puns,» Peck recalled. «I always thought of him a little bit as an overweight English schoolboy with some obvious complexes, but with an uncanny talent for building suspense and holding an audience in the palm of his hand.»

Although working with Hitchcock could be frustrating for an actor, Peck found Bergman a joy. «I think you fall in love a little bit with a woman like Ingrid Bergman,» he told a journalist, «and I don't think there's any way to avoid it, for she was incredibly beautiful, and a very sweet person. [...] Her lovely skin kind of took your breath away, and her whole radiance was something to behold.» Over the years, there have been persistent rumors of an affair between the co-stars. In fact, according to an unnamed cast member, one day «Ingrid and Peck came in late and disheveled, and there was a lot of speculation.» In an interview for his biography of Bergman, Laurence Leamer questioned Peck about the rumors, but he replied, «That is not the kind of thing I talk about.» However, in 1987, when Brad Darrach of People magazine asked Peck about his favorite leading ladies, he did allude to a deeper relationship with Bergman, noting, «All I can say is that I had a real love for her, and I think that's where I ought to stop. [...] I was young. She was young. We were involved for weeks in close and intense work.»

Gregory Peck, Ingrid Bergman and Salvador
Dalí on the set of Spellbound
Hitchcock completed principal photography on October 13, 1944 and left for London. Selznick was completely dissatisfied with the dream sequences the director had filmed from Dalí's scenario. He found them «pedestrian, like something out of a Poverty Row quickie.» With Hitchcock out of the country, Selznick turned first to director Josef von Sternberg, who declined his invitation to film the dream sequences. Then he approached designer William Cameron Menzies, who had directed the visionary British science fiction film Things to Come (1936) and supervised the visuals on Selznick's Best Picture-winning epic Gone With the Wind (1939). Menzies devised a new scenario for the dream sequence, which was approved by Dalí and Hitchcock, when the latter returned to the U.S. in December 1944. Selznick still was not happy with what came out on film. Eventually, the dream was cut to about two minutes and Menzies declined any screen credit.

As he was preparing the film for previews, Selznick decided that he did not care for the title The House of Dr. Edwardes. As he had done in the past, he held an in-house competition to rename the film, with the $50 prize going to secretary Ruth Batchelor, who suggested Spellbound. The film performed well in previews, with the biggest surprise being audience reaction to Peck in the male lead. By this point in time, he had scored a hit in 20th Century-Fox's religious drama The Keys of the Kingdom (1944). That and his publicity had turned him into a major sex symbol. As Selznick reported in one of his famous memos: «We could not keep the audience quiet from the time his name came on the screen until w ehad shushed them through three or four sequences and stopped all the dames from 'oohing' and 'ahing' and gurgling.»

With the delays in finishing the dream sequence and the glut of wartime product, Spellbound was held up in post-production for over a year. It finally opened at the Astor Theatre in New York on November 1, 1945. Selznick was concerned that Bergman's other release that year The Bells of St. Mary's (1945), completed after Spellbound was set to premiere the same month. So he turned the event into a plus by advertising 1945 as «The Year of Bergman.» Spellbound ended up grossing $7 million, making it Hitchcock's biggest hit to that date. The fim was a critical success as well. Howard Barnes of the New York Herald-Tribune called it a «fascinating chase through the labyrinth of a man's tortured mind,» while Bosley Crowther of The New York Times pronounced it «the most mature of the many melodramas Mr. Hitchcock has made.» Spellbound was nominated for six Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Michael Chekhov), Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects and Best Score. It won in the latter category for Miklós Rózsa's combination of lush romantic themes with a pioneering use of the electronic instrument the theremin.


This post is my contribution to The 2nd Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema. To view all entries, click HERE.



____________________________
SOURCES:
Gregory Peck: A Biography by Gary Fishgall (Scribner, 2002)
Gregory Peck: A Charmed Life by Lynn Haney (Da Capo Press, 2003)
Hitchcock/Truffaut by François Truffaut (Simon & Schuster, 1984) 
TCM's article on Spellbound by Frank Miller 
TCM's notes on Spellbound

Comments

  1. Hey Cátia, it seems I had post a comment, but it doesn't appear.... anyway, I was just saying that I really enjoyed your article about my favourite Bergman's film. It was very informative and I learned a lot from it! Thanks for your participation :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Virginie. Thank you for reading. I hope you host another Ingrid Bergman blogathon next year. :)

      Delete
  2. Oh and I think Paul Lukas would have been perfect in the role of Dr. Murchison!

    ReplyDelete
  3. How completely fascinating! And I think it's funny how everyone was oohing and awwing over Gregory Peck. I have to admit that when I first saw Spellbound I thought that he and Ingrid Bergman made one of the most beautiful couples I'd ever seen on film.

    Really enjoyed your review of this film! I want to see it again now. :)

    ReplyDelete

Post a comment

Popular posts from this blog

Golden Couples: Gary Cooper & Patricia Neal

 It was April 1948 when director King Vidor spotted 22-year-old Patricia Neal on the Warner Bros. studio lot. A drama graduate from Northwestern University, she had just arrived in Hollywood following a Tony Award-winning performance in Lillian Hellman's Another Part of the Forest . Vidor was impressed by Patricia's looks and asked her if she would be interested in doing a screen test for the female lead in his newest film, The Fountainhead (1949). Gary Cooper had already signed as the male protagonist and the studio was considering Lauren Bacall and Barbara Stanwyck to play his love interest.   Neal liked the script and about two months later, she met with the director for sound and photographic tests. Vidor was enthusiastic about the young actress, but her first audition was a complete disaster. Cooper was apparently watching her from off the set and he was so unimpressed by her performance that he commented, "What's that!?" He tried to convince Vidor to

The Gotta Dance! Blogathon: Gene Kelly & Judy Garland

   In 1940, up-and-coming Broadway star Gene Kelly was offered the lead role in Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's new musical Pal Joey , based on the John O'Hara novel about an ambitious and manipulative small-time nightclub performer. Opening at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Christmas Day, the show brought Gene is best reviews to date. John Martin of The New York Times wrote of him: "A tap-dancer who can characterize his routines and turn them into an integral element of an imaginative theatrical whole would seem to be pretty close, indeed, to unique." One of his performances was attended by established Hollywood star Judy Garland , who requested to meet him after the show. Gene agreed and then accompanied Judy and her entourage, which included her mother Ethel and several press agents, to dinner at the newly-opened Copacabana nightclub. They sang and danced until 3 a.m., after which Gene took Judy for a walk through Central Park, talking about the future possibi

The Sinatra Centennial Blogathon: Frank Sinatra & Gene Kelly

  In January 1944, MGM chief Louis B. Mayer happened to see a young crooner by the name of Frank Sinatra perform at a benefit concert for The Jewish Home for the Aged in Los Angeles. According to Nancy Sinatra, Frank's eldest daughter, Mayer was so moved by her father's soulful rendition of « Ol' Man River » that he made the decision right then and there to sign Frank to his studio. Sinatra had been on the MGM payroll once before, singing with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in the Eleanor Powell vehicle Ship Ahoy (1942), although it is very likely that Mayer never bothered to see that film. Now that Frank was «hot,» however, Metro made arrangements to buy half of his contract from RKO, with the final deal being signed in February of that year. Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in  Anchors Aweigh Being a contract player at the studio that boasted «more stars than there are in the heavens» gave Frank a sudden perspective regarding his own talents as a film performer. The «g

Moody New Star: A Portrait of James Dean by Dennis Stock

  Dennis Stock was a young photographer working for the Magnum agency when he met James Dean in the winter of 1954, at a party hosted by director Nicholas Ray at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. As Stock observed a moody Jimmy slouched on a chair, he wondered what Ray had seen in him to give him the lead role in Rebel Without a Cause (1955). After exchanging a few polite words, Stock learned they had someone in common: Gjon Mili, the renowned LIFE magazine photographer at whose New York studio Elia Kazan had shot Jimmy's screen test for East of Eden (1955). Stock had worked as Mili's apprentice for four years upon his discharge from military service and was also his good friend . James Dean and Dennis Stock in 1955 Becau se Stock was unfamiliar with Dean's work, he accepted Jimmy's invitation to attend a preview of  East of Eden  later in the week at a Santa Monica theatre. When Dennis saw the film, he was mesmerized by Jimmy's heartfelt performance an

Golden Couples: Clark Gable & Jean Harlow

  At the 3rd Academy Awards ceremony, MGM's hugely successful prison drama The Big House (1930) earned writer Frances Marion an Oscar for Best Writing. Hoping that she would be inspired to repeat that accomplishment, Irving Thalberg, head of production at Metro, sent Marion to Chicago, Illinois to research story ideas. While flicking through the pages of The Saturday Evening Post , she found an article revealing that, in a city where people distrusted the police, a small group of leading citizens met in secret to arrange their own justice for criminals. Marion took inspiration from that story and wrote The Secret Six (1931), in which Wallace Beery and Lewis Stone, stars of The Big House , play two mobsters prosecuted by a half a dozen vigilantes. Thalberg was pleased with the leading roles Marion wrote for Beery and Stone, but asked if she could also fill out one of the minor leads for Clark Gable , a tall, dark and handsome 30-year-old actor whom Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had recen

Films I Saw in 2020

For the past four years, I have shared with you a list of all the films I saw throughout  2016 , 2017 , 2018 and 2019 , so I thought I would continue the «tradition» and do it again in 2020. This list includes both classic and «modern» films, which make up a total of 161 titles. About three or four of these were re-watches, but I decided to include them anyway. Let me know how many from these you have seen. As always, films marked with a heart ( ❤ ) are my favorites.   Sherlock Jr. (1924) | Starring Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire, Joe Keaton and Ward Crane The Crowd  (1928) | Starring James Murray, Eleanor Boardman, Bert Roach and Estelle Clark Young Mr. Lincoln  (1939) | Starring Henry Fonda, Alice Brady, Marjorie Weaver and Arleen Whelan Brief Encounter  (1945) | Starring Celia Johnson, Trevor Howard, Stanley Holloway and Joyce Carey The Bells of St. Mary's  (1945) | Starring Bing Crosby, Ingrid Bergman, Henry Travers and Joan Carroll   The Girl He Left Behind  (1956) |

Golden Couples: Henry Fonda & Barbara Stanwyck

In the mid- and late 1930s, screwball comedy was in vogue and pratically every actress in Hollywood tried her hand at it. Barbara Stanwyck never considered herself a naturally funny person or a commedienne per se , but after delivering a heart-wrenching performance in King Vidor's Stella Dallas (1937), she decided she needed a « vacation » from emotional dramas. In her search for a role, she stumbled upon a « champagne comedy » called The Mad Miss Manton (1938), originally intended as a Katharine Hepburn vehicle.   Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda in The Mad Miss Manton     Directed by Leigh Jason from a script by Philip G. Epstein, The Mad Miss Manton begins when vivacious Park Avenue socialite Melsa Manton finds a corpse while walking her dogs in the early hours of the morning. She calls the police, but they dismiss the incident — not only because Melsa is a notorious prankster, but also because the body disappears in the meantime. Sarcastic newspaper editor Peter Ames is pa

May & June Favorites

I have always wanted to do a «monthly favorites» type of post on this blog, but I kept putting it off some reason or the other. Last year, though, I finally decided to do it. I will be doing one of these every month (or every two months) and I will include literally everything that I have loved or that has made me happy during that time, be it a film, a song, a book, a TV show or even an item of clothing. Here are my May and June favorites.     Favorite TV show: Fleabag (2016-2019) I watched Andrew Scott's interview on The Graham Norton Show (about damn time he was invited!) and one of the things they talked about was his character on a TV show called Fleabag . I had never heard of it, but everyone was raving about it, so I was curious to see it — especially when Andrew's character was called The Hot Priest (I'm not joking, that's the actual name of his character). I binge-watched the whole thing and I am obsessed with it.    Fleabag is honestly one of the best sh

Merry Christmas from Old Hollywood

Ava Gardner Frank Sinatra Norma Shearer Bob Hope and Doris Day Ann Miller Loretta Young Kim Novak Elvis Presley   Merry Christmas, everyone!

The Carole Lombard Memorial Blogathon: The Gable & Lombard Love Story

A lot happened in 1932. Gandhi was arrested by the British in India; Hattie W. Caraway became the first woman elected to the United States Senate; Aldous Huxley's  Brave New World  was published; women's suffrage was granted in Brazil; James Chadwick discovered the neutron; Goofy made his first ever appearance in a Disney short; the Summer Olympic Games took place in Los Angeles; the first Mars bar was produced; Babe Ruth performed his famous called shot; the BBC World Service began broadcasting; and the iconic Radio City Music Hall opened in Manhattan. It was also in 1932 that Carole Lombard met Clark Gable for the first time, not knowing each would change the other's life forever.     Jane Alice Peters was born to a wealthy Indiana family on October 6, 1908. When she was seven years old, her parents separated and her mother, Bessie, took her and her two older brothers to live in Los Angeles. Jane grew up a «tomboy» and was passionately involved in sports in middle school