Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) co-starring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck is a light psychological mystery. Seen by this writer for the first time in nitrate at a screening at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood during the 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival, this 1945 movie is not director Hitchcock’s best work. Spellbound is nevertheless thoughtful and interesting. With Peck as the handsome but offbeat new head of a mental health center and cigarette holder-smoking Bergman as the lady doctor with whom he falls in love at first sight, Spellbound is, as TCM’s hostess properly introduced it, more than a tad preposterous.
Seeded into this psycho-drama, which also features Norman Lloyd and a capable cast as pseudo-sane, possibly malicious or predatory and mentally unstable doctors and patients, is “a lesson in how to accept reality”. As soon as Peck’s doctor appears on scene as the new chief and author of a scholarly work titled “The Labyrinth of the Guilt Complex”, with frigid Bergman coming undone at the sight of him, it’s clear that Spellbound aims to surprise while spinning into several subplots.
Is Spellbound spellbinding? Not completely, as Peck’s and Bergman’s doctors bond over a common interest in athletics and he subsequently goes bonkers over kidney-shaped designs on a napkin (or is it the stripes?) and she gets excited over the prospect of tending to the helpless male. Spellbound is more fun for picking up clues than it is binding, even as murder comes into play and Peck dashes off to the Empire Hotel.
Subplots come and go. Some converge, some do not, and some stagnate for no apparent plot point or purpose than amusement. There’s the matter of toying with the then-radical notion of a woman in public alone. Or is Hitchcock simply exploring the idea of being suspicious of an attractive woman alone? This is done as he dramatizes harassment of an attractive, professional woman who’s alone.
In any case, Bergman’s competent doctor is subdued in pursuing the handsome, possibly helpless, possibly unhinged, man in room 3033 and this alone raises thought-provoking, or at least entertaining, questions, especially in the context of the year 1945. When someone makes a declaration which begins with “I want…”, it earns the audience attention, even if it hardly amounts to an effective surprise.
Mixed with detectives on the trail, a glass of milk, a dubious claim that “the mind isn’t everything”, and a train to Rochester, all with Hitchcock’s usual visual flourish, Spellbound gets ahead of itself. Murder, of course, is solved in due course, though don’t expect a fully logical, let alone plausible, explanation. That it comes with the additional bit of wisdom that there’s “lots of happiness in working hard” makes Spellbound more enjoyable than bewitching.