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New York Times (02/Nov/1945) - Movies: Spellbound (1945)

(c) The New York Times (02/Nov/1945)

Spellbound (1945)

This writer has had little traffic with practitioners of psychiatry or with the twilight abstractions of their science, so we are not in a position to say whether Ingrid Bergman, who plays one in her latest film, "Spellbound" is typical of such professionals or whether the methods she employs would yield results. But this we can say with due authority: if all psychiatrists are as charming as she — and if their attentions to all their patients are as fruitful as hers are to Gregory Peck, who plays a victim of amnesia in this fine film which came to the Astor yesterday — then psychiatry deserves such popularity as this picture most certainly will enjoy.

For Miss Bergman and her brand of treatment, so beautifully demonstrated here, is a guaranteed cure for what ails you, just as much as it is for Mr. Peck. It consists of her winning personality softly but insistently suffused through a story of deep emotional content; of her ardent sincerity her lustrous looks and her easy ability to toss off glibly a line of talk upon which most girls would choke.

In other words, lovely Miss Bergman is both the doctor and prescription in this film. She is the single stimulation of dramatic logic and audience belief. For the fact is the story of "Spellbound" is a rather obvious and often-told tale. And it depends, despite its truly expert telling, upon the illusion of the lady in the leading role.

It is the story of a female psychiatrist who falls suddenly and desperately in love with a man upon whom the dark suspicion of murder is relentlessly cast. All of the circumstantial evidence indicates that he has taken the dead man's place and is trying to assume his position — that is, until he prudently flees. But the lady, with full and touching confidence in the intuitive rightness of her love, is convinced that her adored one is most truly a victim of amnesia. And so she follows him to his place in hiding, begins the bold attempt to unlock his mind and, always two jumps ahead of detectives, finally delves the gnawing secret of his past.

This story, we say, has relation to all the faith-healing films ever made, but the manner and quality of its telling is extraordinarily fine. The script, which was based on the novel of Francis Beeding, "The House of Dr. Edwardes," was prepared by Ben Hecht and the director was Alfred Hitchcock, the old master of dramatic suspense. So the firm texture of the narration, the flow of continuity and dialogue, the shock of the unexpected, the scope of image—all are happily here.

But, in this particular instance, Mr. Hecht and Mr. Hitchcock have done more. They have fashioned a moving love story with the elements of melodramatic use. More than a literal "chase" takes place here—more than a run from the police. A "chase" of even more suspenseful moment is made through the mind of a man. And in this strange and indeterminate area the pursuer — and, partially, the pursued — is the girl with whom the victim is mutually in love. Mr. Hitchcock has used some startling images to symbolize the content of dreams — images designed by Salvador Dali. But his real success is in creating the illusion of love.

Miss Bergman, as we say, is his chief asset in accomplishing the sincerity of this film, but Mr. Peck is also a large contributor. His performance, restrained and refined, is precisely the proper counter to Miss Bergman's exquisite role. Michael Chekhov is likewise responsible for some of the excellent humor in this film, playing an elderly psychiatrist and an accomplice in Miss Bergman's mental "chase." Leo G. Carroll, Wallace Ford and John Emery contribute excellent smaller roles.

Not to be speechless about it, David O. Selznick has a rare film in "Spellbound."