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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.

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


  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 :)

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

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

  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. :)


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