spellbound-oct-9thPsychological thriller from Alfred Hitchcock starring Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman, set in a psychiatric asylum. An amnesiac (Peck) poses as a doctor at the hospital, and initially dupes Dr Constance Peterson (Bergman) who uncharacteristically allows herself to become romantically involved. When sinister happenings ensue, Dr Peterson takes it upon herself to unravel the mystery of her amnesiac patient/amour. Includes a Salvador Dali dream sequence. (Cert PG)
Dir: Alfred Hitchcock 109 mins UK 1945

Programme Notes

Thursday, 9th October 2008
USA 1945 109 minutes

David O Selznick, the producer, had always wanted to do a film with Hitchcock about psychiatry. Hitchcock chose as his subject a book by Francis Beeding called The House of Doctor Edwardes, set in a Swiss insane asylum, where one of the patients takes over the asylum. (Edwardes was changed to Edwards for the film). Hitchcock and a co-writer Angus MacPhail began work on the screenplay, but Selznick decided to replace MacPhail with Ben Hecht, whom he considered to be more familiar with psychotherapy. Selznick was not so much interested in the madman story as the love story which Hitchcock and Hecht would have to incorporate in the film. Hitchcock, on the other hand saw psychiatry as an interesting element of a suspense film, essential to the study of the criminal mind. He said he could never imagine himself as being able to disclose his innermost thoughts, feelings and fears to anyone, including himself and his wife Alma.

When Spellbound began shooting, David O Selznick brought in his own psychiatrist, a Doctor May Romm, as a technical advisor. However Hitchcock’s view of psychiatry did not always agree with the doctor’s more conventional approach. Norman Lloyd who plays Garmes in the film recalled that when in one particular scene Doctor Romm observed that Hitchcock had directed something in contravention of accepted psychoanalytic theory Hitchcock said ‘It’s only a movie, May, and in a movie we don’t have to stay absolutely faithful to the facts.’

It was at Hitchcock’s suggestion that the surrealist painter Salvador Dali was brought in to help design the dream sequence which was to be directed by the production designer William Cameron Menzies. In the event very little of what Hitchcock and Dali had planned was used in the film and Menzies declined to accept any credit for his work on the project. Peck had been told by Selznick that his nightmare scene was to be an unforgettable image, as Hitchcock wanted. As he was lying there the audience would share his experience. In the scene ‘there were four hundred human eyes which looked down at me from the heavy black drapes. Meanwhile a gigantic pair of pliers, many times my size, would appear and then I was supposed to chase him or it, the pliers, up the side of a pyramid where I would find a plaster cast of Ingrid. Her plaster would crack and streams of ants would pour out of her face. Ugh. Well the ants ended up on the cutting room floor. I asked Hitch about why I was having a greatly curtailed nightmare. He said ‘The Ants’ contract was cancelled. We couldn’t get enough trained ants, and Central Casting said all of their fleas were already gainfully employed. Aside from that’ he added ‘David [O Selznick] decided it would make audiences laugh.’

The musical score won an Oscar for Miklos Rozsa. His music featured an electronic instrument known as a theremin. This upset Selznick again when he learned that Rozsa had also used it in Billy Wilder’s Lost Weekend, for which the score was also nominated.

Watch out for Hitchcock’s cameo appearance as he emerges from the Empire Hotel carrying a violin case.

GB, with acknowledgement to Charlotte Chandler’s ‘It’s Only a Movie’ Alfred Hitchcock: A Personal Biography

Dr Constance Petersen – Ingrid Bergman
John Ballantyne/Dr Edwards – Gregory Peck
Dr Alex Brulov – Michael Chekhov
Mr Garmes – Norman Lloyd
Mary Carmichael – Rhonda Fleming
Director – Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay – Alfred Hitchcock, Ben Hecht
Cinematography – George Barnes
Original Music – Miklos Rozsa
Producer – David O Selznick



“Very good in its time and still very entertaining. A really creative and workmanlike job.”

“Wonderful to see an American film and understand every word of the dialogue!”

“A comedy as much as a suspense film. I did enjoy it – the acting was above criticism.”

“(What a) wonderful double twist! I’d have paid more attention but was distracted by Bergman’s stupendous left eyebrow.”

“Very Hitchcock – rather fun. The psychobabble sounded a bit thin to modern ears: I wonder if it did in 1945?”

“So now we’re all psychoanalysts!”

“If HGL was good news for social workers, how did the psychiatrists fare here?”

“Simplistic 1940s psychotherapy – (the film) would have scared me if I’d seen it then.”

“The sexist attitudes to intelligent women grated somewhat and the psychology theory was questionable. Nevertheless, still a most enjoyable period piece. (As for the) skiing sequence, most of the 1940s audience(s) didn’t know what skiing was!”

“A very slippery slope!”

“Skiing but not as we know it – or were (they) taking the piste?”

“Good of its kind”

“In 1947, I thought it was great!”

“Splendid film but does not stand repeating too often. I’m afraid it has dated more than (some) other earlier [Hitchcock?] films.”

“Great humour but not the ‘fear factor’ of other Hitchcocks. Glad I was not a professional woman in 1945. The plot was bonkers but who cares? Very enjoyable,”

“Stretched [one’s] credulity but amusing.”

“Oh dear – but of course Peck and Bergman made it all worthwhile …”

“Disappointing, lacking in suspense”

“Would have liked the ants and enjoyed Dali’s image. Checkov was the most memorable of the actors!”

“How could a psychoanalyst be so childish, naïve (and) stereotypically female?”

“Not one for feminists!”

“If it hadn’t been so funny, it would have rated an E.” [D given]


A:20, B:22, C:8, D:1, E:0 to give 80%