Monday, August 25, 2008

Hello Dali

Yes, it's a hideously bad pun, but as part of Ingrid Bergman's day in TCM's Summer Under the Stars, TCM is showing Alfred Hitchcock's 1945 movie Spellbound at 10:00 PM ET tonight.

Ingrid Bergman stars as Constance Petersson a doctor in a Vermont psychiatric institution. A new administrator, Anthony Edwardes, played by Gregory Peck, comes to take over the place from Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll), but it turns out that Peck isn't quite what he seems. It's eventually discovered that the man who is supposed to be the new administrator was in fact shot, and Peck is portraying that man but has a terrible case of amnesia. Worse, he has to flee the institution because the police naturally believe that he was the murderer. Meanwhile, he and Constance have fallen in love, so when he runs off to New York City to escape from the police, she follows in order to try to figure out both who he is, and who the real murderer was. Eventually, the two travel to several places across the northeast US, all the while falling further in love....

Alfred Hitchcock has some really difficult material to work with here, and gives his best shot at it, making a pretty darn good movie out of Spellbound. However, it's not without its problems. Psychoanalysis wasn't quite as well-known in 1945 as it is today, and Hollywood's portrayal of it leaves a bit to be desired. Sigmund Freud had a much bigger reputation then than he does now, meaning that Spellbound has quite a bit of Freudian-inspired imagery that seems dated now, or worse, risible. Of note is Peck and Bergman's first kiss, which is a double exposure of them and a hallway of doors opening up. But there's also Peck's hangup, of anything where there are lines on a bright white background. It drives Peck nuts, and he's almost as bad as Tippi Hedren in Marnie.

The highlight of the movie, however, is probably when Constance, aided by her former college professor (humorously played by Michael Chekhov, who comments, "Any husband of Constance is a husband of mine, so to speak"), analyses Peck's recurring dream (which is one of the keys to solving the mystery of who killed Dr. Edwardes). The sequence is full of strange images, and was designed by surrealist artist Salvador Dali. The dream sequence is a huge contrast from the rest of the movie, and is visually quite stunning.

Spellbound isn't quite at the top of the list of the best Alfred Hitchcock movies, but it's still wonderfully entertaining, and a fun enough love story with that outstanding Dali sequence. It's highly worth watching if you haven't seen it before, and it still worth a repeat viewing if you have seen it before (indeed, I intend to spend my entire evening with Miss Bergman). However, if you only have the time for one Hitchcock movie tonight, I'd suggest watching the movie that precedes Spellbound at 8:00 PM ET, Hitchcock's 1946 masterpiece Notorious.

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