Prolific director Alfred Hitchcock is a staple in the horror and thriller category, influencing numerous contemporary films and TV shows. His classic works, including “Psycho,” “The Birds” “Rear Window,” and “The 39 Steps,” rely heavily on suspense. It’s partly what makes his catalog so unique, and Hitchcock’s vision is truly stunning, incorporating striking visuals with meandering, riveting narratives. An oft-overlooked, though beautifully rendered and told film is 1945’s “Spellbound.” Opting for a psychological mindbender, and starring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck, it’s a mesmerizing Hitchcock thriller.
Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) is a new psychoanalyst at Green Manors sanatorium, and current hospital director Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll) is on the verge of retirement. Dr. Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck) is named his successor. Edwardes begins to display odd symptoms, and eventually Petersen discovers that this isn’t the real Dr. Edwardes. Faux-Edwardes admits he isn’t the good doctor, but can’t remember his true identity. Together, Dr. Petersen and the masquerading Dr. Edwardes embark on a mission to discover what happened to the doctor, and unlock the imposter’s lost memories.
“Spellbound” is one of Hitchcock’s more unique films, and the suspense is really ramped up. There’s the tension of Dr. Edwardes’ disappearance, and his impersonator. It’s unclear if he’s a friend or foe, and the film plays on that notion well. However the most unconventional aspects are the surrealist dream sequences concocted by Salvador Dali for the movie. They’re bizarre, even for a Hitchcock production, and could arguably be the inspiration behind that weird boat scene in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
The storytelling unravels slowly, but in such a manner that it captures attention rather than fostering disinterest. It’s as if there’s a trail of nuggets offering tidbits of information, releasing incremental progress. This timed-release structure makes “Spellbound” riveting, but the most nightmarish aspects are those dream sequences. Seriously unsettling, they are a large part of why it’s one of Hitchock’s more underrated, gripping productions. However, if “Spellbound’s” surrealist hallucinations and psychological tension don’t solidify its Halloween appropriateness, the release date certainly does: October 31st, 1945.