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Alfred Hitchcock takes on Sigmund Freud in this thriller in which psychologist Ingrid Bergman tries to solve a murder by unlocking the clues hidden in the mind of amnesiac suspect Gregory Peck. Among the highlights is a bizarre dream sequence seemingly designed by Salvador Dali--complete with huge eyeballs and pointy scissors. Although the film is in black and white, the original release contained one subliminal blood-red frame, appearing when a gun pointed directly at the camera goes off. Spellbound is one of Hitchcock's strangest and most atmospheric films, providing the director with plenty of opportunities to explore what he called "pure cinema"--i.e., the power of pure visual associations. Miklós Rózsa's haunting score (which features the creepy electronic instrument, the theremin) won an Oscar, and the movie was nominated for best picture, director, supporting actor (Michael Chekhov), cinematography and special visual effects. --Jim Emerson --This text refers to an alternate DVD edition.
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Taking the concept of trapped memories may not be a new idea, even in 1940s America, but Hitchcock paints the world of `Spellbound' in the new science of psychology. The medical clinic that houses the start of the film gives the concepts of repression and amnesia more gravitas than in most films that deal with some bloke forgetting something. It is genuinely interesting to discover what role Dr Edwardes played in a murder, if he is truly mad, or merely confused? Gregory Peck is a solid lead, is slightly dry. The same can be said for Ingrid Bergman as Dr Petersen; even though they dress her dowdy she does seem a little glamorous to be the book smart, but street naïve doctor.
What holds the film together is not the eccentric touches of Dali, nor the central performances. It is the story itself that works and keep you watching. As with many of his films Hitchcock spends most of the time allowing the story to breath and only throws in a cinematic trick once in a while. `Spellbound' is perhaps not the best Hitchcock film, but it still a very compelling slice of crime noir.
Bergman is naturally wonderful in her role, and her accent adds a trace of mystery to an already suspenseful story. The portrayal of Dr. Murchison, the previous head of the asylum, is smooth, polished, and quite effective, and the actor portraying Constance's former mentor does a masterful job as a somewhat stereotypical pseudo-Freud blessed with a penchant for making remarks I found quite humorous. While Gregory Peck is also very good, he seems to go a little over the top at times when he is reacting to troubling stimuli. Hitchcock's direction is both innovative and masterful. There are several scenes involving unusual camera shots that add much to the atmosphere of mounting suspense, and a dream sequence supposedly designed by Salvador Dali is unique and oddly compelling.
Certainly, Freudian analysis was more in vogue when this movie was made in 1955 than it is now. It is Constance's belief that something from the impostor's childhood triggered his amnesia, and she seeks to help him by unlocking his buried memories. A crucial plot point centers around a surreal dream the impostor has and Constance's interpretation of its meaning. While some modern viewers may scoff at the notions espoused here, such feelings should take nothing away from the enjoyment of this classic, atmospheric, suspenseful drama.
I was however disappointed to discover that while the film has been restored to its original pristine state, the sound leaves a lot to be desired.
I have poor hearing and strained to follow the dialogue, only to be knocked over the back of my chair by the teeth-rattling dramatic music that intruded at regular intervals.
The music is too loud and the film should have a subtitle option.
Pity really - I'd been looking forward to seeing it again.
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