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  Spellbound Parallel Barking
Year: 1945
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Stars: Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Michael Chekhov, Leo G. Carroll, Rhonda Fleming, John Emery, Norman Lloyd, Bill Goodwin, Steve Geray, Donald Curtis, Wallace Ford, Art Baker, Regis Toomey, Paul Harvey
Genre: Thriller, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: At Green Manors psychiatric hospital, Dr Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) is seeing her latest patient, a nymphomaniac who after opening up to her a little suddenly lashes out and has to be escorted from the office. Constance is not discouraged, and takes the incident as all in a day's work, but her co-worker Dr Fleurot (John Emery) sees this as an indication that by burying her head in her books she is not leaving her options open: especially in the field of love. He is right, she isn't interested, at least not until the new head of the establishment, Dr Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck) arrives...

The reason Spellbound has a cult following today is partly because of its director, Alfred Hitchcock, for his thrillers almost always present movie buffs with plenty to get their teeth into. Yet the other reason rests on one of Hitch's collaborators, one Salvador Dali, the famed surrealist artist who added his singular vision of dream states to this film's central nightmare sequence. This bit wasn't even directed by Hitchcock - William Cameron Menzies took that role - and would have been longer but producer David O. Selznick was never happy with it to the extent that the whole scene lasts merely a couple of minutes.

Nevertheless, it's in this imagining of the male lead's inner turmoil in symbolic form that gives the film considerable charge, and also offers something to look forward to if all that earnest chitchat is beginning to wear you down. Spellbound more or less cemented the Hollywood of the forties' obsession with psychiatry and psychoanalysis, boasting of its medical credentials in the opening credits and engaging actual shrinks to give its plotline that veneer of respectability and more importantly, authenticity. However, watching it now, it appears an absurdly diminished version of actual psychiatry, even to the extent that when Constance receives her first kiss from Anthony, we are treated to the somewhat hilarious view of doors opening in her mind.

Not that Anthony really is who he says he is, and soon we are in more traditional couple on the run territory that Hitchcock knew so well. Peck's character does not know his real name, although he thinks his initials are J.B., and he is posing as the doctor because he cannot recall his true identity. So if J.B. is here, where is the real Edwardes? Could it be that, as he suspects, J.B. has murdered him and assumed his identity? Thereafter the frosty Constance has found her perfect man: someone who is handsome and dashing enough to sweep her off her feet, but also needs a wealth of sessions with her to unravel his hangups.

What Spellbound really does is treat psychiatry as a gimmick, much in the way that Rock Around the Clock treated rock 'n' roll tunes as a way of capitalising on a current fad to get the public into cinemas. This means that every so often the romance or thriller bits will peter out to be replaced with Peck getting a fararway look in his eye and coming up with a fresh revelation to move the action forward a little more, which should by all rights be rather tedious, but in these professionals' hands ends up being quite fun. The manner in which Ben Hecht's script works in J.B.'s fixation on parallel lines becomes something akin to a running joke, and there's even a Sigmund Freud stand in (Michael Chekhov - nephew of Anton and tutor to Ingrid Bergman) to help with the heavy duty analysis when needed. It's difficult to tell how seriously this is being taken - Selznick was committed to the idea, if no-one else - but if it is hard to take, then it is entertaining for all that. Watch for the dreams, stay for the moonshine. Swooning music by Miklos Rozsa.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Alfred Hitchcock  (1899 - 1980)

Hugely influential British director, renowned as "The Master of Suspense" for his way with thrillers. His first recognisably Hitchcockian film was The Lodger, but it was only until Blackmail (the first British sound film) that he found his calling. His other 1930s films included a few classics: Number Seventeen, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, Secret Agent, Sabotage, The Lady Vanishes, Young and Innocent and Jamaica Inn.

Producer David O. Selznick gave Hitchcock his break in Hollywood directing Rebecca, and he never looked back. In the forties were Suspicion, thinly veiled propaganda Foreign Correspondent, the single set Lifeboat, Saboteur, Notorious, Spellbound (with the Salvador Dali dream sequence), Shadow of a Doubt (his personal favourite) and technician's nightmare Rope.

In the fifties were darkly amusing Strangers on a Train, I Confess, Dial M for Murder (in 3-D), rare comedy The Trouble with Harry, Rear Window, a remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much, To Catch a Thief, the uncharacteristic in style The Wrong Man, the sickly Vertigo, and his quintessential chase movie, North By Northwest. He also had a successful television series around this time, which he introduced, making his distinctive face and voice as recognisable as his name.

The sixties started strongly with groundbreaking horror Psycho, and The Birds was just as successful, but then Hitchcock went into decline with uninspired thrillers like Marnie, Torn Curtain and Topaz. The seventies saw a return to form with Frenzy, but his last film Family Plot was disappointing. Still, a great career, and his mixture of romance, black comedy, thrills and elaborate set pieces will always entertain. Watch out for his cameo appearances in most of his films.

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