Spellbound (1945 film)

Spellbound is a 1945 American film noir psychological mystery thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It tells the story of the new head of a mental asylum who turns out not to be what he claims. The film stars Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Michael Chekhov and Leo G. Carroll. It is an adaptation by Angus MacPhail and Ben Hecht of the novel The House of Dr. Edwardes (1927) by Hilary Saint George Saunders and John Palmer.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byAlfred Hitchcock
Produced byDavid O. Selznick
Screenplay byAngus MacPhail
Ben Hecht
Based onThe House of Dr. Edwardes by
Hilary Saint George Saunders
Francis Beeding
StarringIngrid Bergman
Gregory Peck
Michael Chekhov
Music byMiklós Rózsa
CinematographyGeorge Barnes
Edited byHal C. Kern
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • October 31, 1945 (1945-10-31) (New York City)[1]
  • December 28, 1945 (1945-12-28) (US)
Running time
111 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States
BudgetUS$1.5 million[3][4]
Box officeUS$6,387,000 (by 1947)[5]


Dr. Constance Petersen is a psychoanalyst at Green Manors, a therapeutic community mental hospital in Vermont. She is perceived by the other (male) doctors as detached and emotionless. The director of the hospital, Dr. Murchison, is being forced into retirement, shortly after returning from an absence due to nervous exhaustion. His replacement is Dr. Anthony Edwardes, who turns out to be surprisingly young.

Petersen notices that this Edwardes has a peculiar phobia about sets of parallel lines against a white background. She also soon realizes, by comparing handwriting, that this man is not the real Edwardes, but an impostor. He confides to her that he has killed the real Edwardes and has taken his place. He suffers from amnesia and does not know who he is. Petersen believes he is innocent and that he is suffering from a guilt complex. He disappears overnight, leaving a note for her. At the same time, it becomes public knowledge that the supposed Edwardes is an impostor, and that the real Edwardes is missing and may have been murdered.

Petersen manages to track him down and starts to use her psychoanalytic training to break his amnesia and find out what really happened. Pursued by the police, Petersen and the impostor (calling himself John Brown) travel by train to Rochester, New York, where they stay with Dr. Alexander Brulov, Petersen's former mentor.

The two doctors analyze a dream that Brown had. The dream sequence is full of psychoanalytic symbols  eyes, curtains, scissors, playing cards (some of them blank), a man with no face, a man falling off a building, a man hiding behind a chimney and dropping a wheel, and being pursued by large wings. They deduce that Brown and Edwardes had been on a ski trip together (the lines in white being ski tracks), and that Edwardes had somehow died there. Petersen and Brown go to the Gabriel Valley ski resort (the wings provide a clue), to reenact the event.

Near the bottom of the hill, Brown suddenly recovers from his amnesia. He recalls that there is a precipice in front of them, over which Edwardes fell to his death. He stops them just in time. He also remembers a traumatic event from his childhood  he slid down a hand rail with his brother at the bottom, accidentally knocking him onto sharp-pointed railings, killing him. This incident had caused him to develop a guilt complex. He also remembers that his real name is John Ballantyne. All is understood now, and Ballantyne is about to be exonerated, when it is discovered that Edwardes had a bullet in his body. Ballantyne is convicted of murder and sent to prison.

A heartbroken Petersen returns to her position at the hospital, where Murchison is once again the director. Murchison lets slip that he had known Edwardes slightly and did not like him, contradicting his earlier statement that they had never met. Now suspicious, Petersen reconsiders her notes from the dream and realizes that the wheel was a revolver, and that the man hiding behind the chimney and dropping the wheel was Murchison, who shot Edwardes and then dropped the gun.

Petersen confronts Murchison. He confesses but says that he still has the gun and threatens to kill her. She walks away, the gun pointed at her, explaining that while the first murder was committed under the extenuating circumstances of Murchison's fragile mental state, her murder would certainly lead him to the electric chair. He allows her to leave then turns the gun on himself. Petersen is then reunited with Ballantyne. They leave on their honeymoon together from Grand Central Terminal, where they had begun their investigation of his psychosis.



Hitchcock's cameo appearance is a signature occurrence in almost all of his films. In Spellbound, he can be seen coming out of an elevator at the Empire State Hotel, carrying a violin case and smoking a cigarette, about 39:01 minutes into the film. The trailer for Spellbound's original theatrical release in America made a great deal of fuss over this cameo, showing the footage twice and even freeze-framing Hitchcock's brief appearance while a breathless narrator informs us that this ordinary-looking man is the film's director.


Spellbound was made over contract disagreements between Alfred Hitchcock and producer David O. Selznick. Hitchcock's contract with Selznick began in March 1939, but only resulted in three films, Spellbound, Rebecca (1940) and The Paradine Case (1947). (Notorious was sold to RKO in mid-production.) Selznick wanted Hitchcock to make a movie based upon Selznick's own positive experience with psychoanalysis. Selznick even brought in his therapist, May Romm, MD, who was credited in the film as a technical adviser. Dr. Romm and Hitchcock clashed frequently.[6]

Further contention was caused by the hiring of surrealist artist Salvador Dalí to conceive certain scenes in the film's key dream sequence. However, the sequence conceived and designed by Dalí and Hitchcock, once translated to film, proved to be too lengthy and complicated for Selznick, so the vast majority of what had been filmed ultimately was edited out. Two minutes of the dream sequence appear in the final film, but according to Ingrid Bergman, the original had been twenty minutes long.[7]

The cut footage apparently no longer exists, although some production stills have survived in the Selznick archives. Eventually, Selznick hired William Cameron Menzies, who had worked on Gone With the Wind, to oversee the set designs and direct the sequence. Hitchcock himself had very little to do with its actual filming.[7]

Spellbound was shot in black and white, except for two frames of bright red at the conclusion, when Dr. Murchison's gun is fired into the camera. This detail was deleted in most 16mm and video formats but was restored for the film's DVD release and airings on Turner Classic Movies.

Parts of the film were shot in Alta, Utah.[8]:287


Selznick originally wanted Joseph Cotten, Dorothy McGuire, and Paul Lukas to play the roles ultimately portrayed by Peck, Bergman, and Chekhov, respectively.[9][10] Greta Garbo was considered for the role of Dr. Constance Petersen.[10] Hitchcock wanted Joseph Cotten to portray Dr. Murchison.[11] Selznick also wanted Jennifer Jones to portray Dr. Petersen but Hitchcock objected.[12][13]

Bergman and Peck's relationship

Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck were both married to others at the time of productionBergman to Petter Aron Lindström and Peck to Greta Kukkonenbut they had a brief affair during filming.[14] Their secret relationship became public knowledge when Peck confessed to Brad Darrach of People in an interview in 1987, five years after Bergman's death: "All I can say is that I had a real love for her (Bergman), and I think that’s where I ought to stop…. I was young. She was young. We were involved for weeks in close and intense work."[15][16][17]


The film features an orchestral score by Miklós Rózsa that pioneered the use of the theremin, performed by Dr. Samuel Hoffmann. Selznick originally wanted Bernard Herrmann, but when Herrmann became unavailable, Rózsa was hired and eventually won the Oscar for his score.[7] Although Rózsa considered Spellbound to contain some of his best work, he said "Alfred Hitchcock didn't like the music — said it got in the way of his direction. I haven't seen him since."[18] During the film's protracted post-production, considerable disagreement arose about the music, exacerbated by a lack of communication between producer, director, and composer. Rózsa had scored another film, The Lost Weekend, before Spellbound was released and had used the theremin in that score as well. This led to allegations that he had recycled music from Selznick's film in the Paramount production. Meanwhile, Selznick's assistant tampered with the Spellbound scoring by replacing some of Rózsa's material with earlier music by Franz Waxman and Roy Webb.

Intrada Records released a re-recording by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra of the film's complete score. The album also featured music not heard in the finished film.[19]


Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote that the story was "a rather obvious and often-told tale ... but the manner and quality of its telling is extraordinarily fine ... 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."[20] Variety wrote that Bergman gave a "beautiful characterization" and that Peck "handles the suspense scenes with great skill and has one of his finest screen roles to date."[21] Harrison's Reports wrote: "Very good! ... The performances of the entire cast are superior, and throughout the action an overtone of suspense and terror, tinged with touches of deep human interest and appealing romance, is sustained."[22] John McCarten of The New Yorker wrote that "when the film stops trying to be esoteric and abandons arcane mumbling for good, rousing melodrama, it moves along in the manner to which Hitchcock has accustomed us ... Fortunately, the English expert hasn't forgotten any of his tricks. He still has a nice regard for supplementary characters, and he uses everything from train whistles to grand orchestral crescendos to maintain excitement at a shrill pitch ... All in all, you'd better see this one."[23]

Spellbound placed fifth on Film Daily's annual poll of 559 critics across the United States naming the best films of the year.[24]

After the film's release, it broke every record in London, in both famous theaters, Pavilion and Tivoli Strand, for a single day, week, month, holiday and Sundays.[25]

It earned rentals of $4,975,000 in North America.[26][27]


Award Category Subject Result
Academy Awards Best Picture David O. Selznick Nominated
Best Director Alfred Hitchcock Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Michael Chekhov Nominated
Best Cinematography George Barnes Nominated
Best Original Score Miklós Rózsa Won
Best Visual Effects Jack Cosgrove Nominated[28]
NYFCC Award Best Actress Ingrid Bergman Won
Venice Film Festival Grand International Award Alfred Hitchcock Nominated


On two occasions, Spellbound was adapted for the radio program Lux Radio Theater, each time starring Joseph Cotten: the first on March 8, 1948, the second on January 25, 1951.


Rózsa's score inspired Jerry Goldsmith to become a film composer.[29][30]

In the 1970 comedy film Lovers and Other Strangers, the character Johnny (Harry Guardino) is more interested in watching Spellbound on television than his own wife Wilma (Anne Meara).[31]

It was parodied in the 1977 Mel Brooks film High Anxiety.

Home Media Releases

The most notable release is the Criterion Collection release on DVD and Blu-ray. The original release is now out of print. The film was rereleased by MGM on DVD in 2008.

See also



  1. Hanson, Patricia King, ed. (1999). The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States: Feature Films, 1941-1950. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 2293. ISBN 0-520-21521-4.
  2. "SPELLBOUND (A)". British Board of Film Classification. 1946-01-30. Retrieved 2013-01-27.
  3. "Indies $70,000,000 Pix Output". Variety: 3. 3 November 1944. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  4. Truffaut 1983, p. 169.
  5. David Thomson, Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick, Abacus, 1993 p 445
  6. Lyttelton, Oliver (31 October 2012). "5 Things You May Not Know About Alfred Hitchcock's 'Spellbound'". Retrieved 17 May 2015.
  7. Spoto, Donald (1999). The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock. Da Capo. p. 277. ISBN 0-306-80932-X.
  8. D'Arc, James V. (2010). When Hollywood came to town: A history of moviemaking in Utah (1st ed.). Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith. ISBN 9781423605874.
  9. Haney, Lynn (2009). Gregory Peck: A Charmed Life. Da Capo Press. ISBN 9780786737819.page 116
  10. Lyttleton, Oliver (31 October 2012). "5 Things You May Not Know About Alfred Hitchcock's 'Spellbound'". IndieWire. Retrieved 18 September 2016.
  11. Millington, Richard; Freedman, Jonathan (1999). Hitchcock's America. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195353310. page 25
  12. Green, Paul (2011). Jennifer Jones: The Life and Films. McFarland. ISBN 9780786485833.page 224
  13. Fishgall, Gary (2002). Gregory Peck: A Biography. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780684852904.page 96
  14. Haney, Lynn (2009). Gregory Peck: A Charmed Life. De Capo Press. ISBN 9780786737819.
  15. Fishgall, Gary (2002). "Gregory Peck: A Biography". ISBN 9780684852904. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)page 98
  16. Smit, David (2012). "Ingrid Bergman: The Life, Career and Public Image". ISBN 9780786472260. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)page 30
  17. Darrach, Brad (15 June 1987). "Gregory Peck". People. Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  18. "Miklós Rózsa - Biography". Retrieved 2009-12-21.
  19. "Spellbound". Intrada Records. Retrieved October 21, 2012.
  20. Crowther, Bosley (November 2, 1945). "Movie Review - Spellbound". The New York Times. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  21. "Film Reviews". Variety. New York: Variety, Inc.: 17 October 31, 1945.
  22. "Harrison's Reports". November 3, 1945: 175. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  23. McCarten, John (November 3, 1945). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. New York: F-R Publishing Corp.: 69–70.
  24. "'Lost Weekend' Tops '10 Best'". Film Daily. New York: Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.: 1 January 6, 1947.
  25. "'Spellbound' Breaks Admission Records". The Miami News. 30 June 1946.
  26. "All-Time Top Grossers", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 69
  27. "60 Top Grossers of 1946", Variety 8 January 1947 p8
  28. 1946 Academy Award nominations and winners for films released in 1945 at Oscar.org
  29. Miller, Frank. "Spellbound (1945) Pop Culture 101 - SPELLBOUND". Turner Classic Movies.
  30. Jerry Goldsmith interview on YouTube
  31. Merrill, Jane; Filstrup, Chris (2011). The Wedding Night: A Popular History: A Popular History. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9780313392115. page 240

Works cited


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