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In 1945 when Spellbound was originally released, it received some of the best reviews of any Hitchcock film. It was even nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. But as the past five decades plus have elapsed, the reputation of Spellbound has slipped. Rarely is it mentioned in the same group as Notorious, Rear Window, Psycho, North By Northwest, and the other films generally regarded as Hitchcock's finest work.

A large part of the movie's slip in status can be ascribed to its decidedly dated approach to psychology. Back in 1945, the movie's psychology received endorsement from the psychoanalytic community, but its idea of past experiences so clearly triggering neuroses now appears quaint. Nonetheless, the movie still has considerable power and its hypnotic atmosphere is still compelling.

Hitchcock described Spellbound as "just another manhunt story wrapped up in pseudo-psychoanalysis." Back in the '40s, Hollywood had great faith in Freudian psychology and created several movies (such as The Dark Mirror and Possessed) where psychology was used to explain away character motivations in painfully obvious terms. In Spellbound, psychiatrist Dr. Edwards (Gregory Peck) becomes catatonic when he sees vertical lines. What causes this condition? And why is he suffering from amnesia? Dr. Edwards is the new head of psychiatry at the Green Manors Mental Asylum. But doubts about his credentials and identity soon begin to surface, as when he panics during a surgery and must be escorted out of the operating room. Is he an impostor? And if he is, who is he? In spite of her usually cool demeanor, Dr. Constance Peterson (Ingrid Bergman) becomes attracted to Edwards. She soon realizes that he is an impostor, but she is already captivated by his charming good looks. So she tries to help him discover his real self--and the whereabouts of the real Dr. Edwards.

Spellbound features a famous dream sequence designed by Salvador Dali that includes some astonishing images, including huge floating eyes, twisted landscapes, and a faceless man in a tuxedo.

The Criterion Collection has now given the film a first-class presentation, following in the wake of their superb presentations of Rebecca and Notorious in 2001. This disc is packed with extras, such as a vintage radio adaptation of Spellbound by the great old-time radio production Lux Radio Theatre, with Joseph Cotten and Alida Valli in the leads.

The most important extra on this disc is an illustrated essay, "A Nightmare Ordered by Telephone," about the Salvador Dali-designed dream sequence. As revealed in this essay by James Bigwood, Hitchcock had very little to do with the actual filming of the sequence. An early version of the dream sequence was rejected by producer David O. Selznick: "It is not Dali's fault, for his work is much finer and much better for the purpose than I ever thought it would be. It is the photography, set-ups, lighting, et cetera, all of which is about what you would expect from Monogram." (Monogram was one of the poverty row studios that produced B movies in the '30s and '40s.) Eventually Selznick hired William Cameron Menzies of Things to Come fame to oversee the set designs and to direct the sequence. And thus, one of the most celebrated of all Hitchcock sequences wasn't directed by Hitchcock at all.

Bigwood's essay also reveals that the rumors about the dream sequence having originally been twenty minutes long (a humor started by star Ingrid Bergman when she exaggerated during an interview) are without basis. However, an additional section of the dream sequence was indeed filmed, at least in part. In this section, Bergman is encased as a statue, she breaks free, and then dances with Gregory Peck while pianos hang from the ceiling. No one seems to have been happy with how this episode turned out, including Salvador Dali, and thus it was discarded. However, stills of this sequence, which are included as part of Bigwood's essay, look tantalizing.

The Criterion Collection's DVD also includes commentary by Hitchcock scholar Marian Keane, excerpt's from a 1973 audio interview with composer Milos Rozsa, a radio program about the theremin, a trailer, and hundreds of behind-the-scene photos, ads, posters, and stills.

This disc definitely enriches the experience of seeing Spellbound, and therefore it's essential viewing for everyone interested in the cinema of Alfred Hitchcock.


Spellbound is now available on DVD from The Criterion Collection in a new digital transfer with film and sound restoration, including rare theater entrance and exit music cues by composer Miklos Rozsa. Special features include audio commentary by Hitchcock scholar Marian Keane; "A Nightmare Ordered by Telephone," an illustrated essay by James Bigwood about the Salvador Dali-designed dream sequence; excerpts from a 1973 audio interview with composer Miklos Rozsa; a complete 1948 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of Spellbound, starring Joseph Cotten and Alida Valli; a WNYC radio program about the theremin; essays by Hitchcock scholars Leonary Leff (Hitchcock and Selznick) and Lesley Brill (The Hitchcock Romance); hundreds of behind-the-scenes photos, documents chronicling the film's production, set photos, ads, posters, and publicity materials; and a theatrical trailer. Suggested retail price: $39.95. For more information, check out the The Criterion Collection Web site.




In Focus: The Cinema of Alfred Hitchcock
(articles and reviews by various writers)