Spellbound (1945 film)

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Spellbound original.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by David O. Selznick
Screenplay by Angus MacPhail
Ben Hecht
Story by Hilary Saint George Saunders
Francis Beeding
Starring Ingrid Bergman
Gregory Peck
Michael Chekhov
Leo G. Carroll
Rhonda Fleming
Music by Miklós Rózsa
Cinematography George Barnes
Edited by Hal C. Kern
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • December 28, 1945 (1945-12-28) (US)
Running time
111 minutes[1]
Country United States
Budget US$1.5 million
Box office US$6,387,000 (by 1947)[2]

Spellbound is a 1945 American psychological 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.


The Fault... is Not in Our Stars,
But in Ourselves...

— William Shakespeare

The film opens with Shakespeare's proverb, and words on the screen announcing that its purpose is to highlight the virtues of psychoanalysis in banishing mental illness and restoring reason.

Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) is a psychoanalyst at Green Manors, a mental hospital in Vermont, and is perceived by the other (male) doctors as detached and emotionless. Another one of the doctors tries to kiss her to no effect. The director of the hospital, Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll), is being forced into retirement, shortly after returning from an absence due to nervous exhaustion. His replacement is the much younger Dr. Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck).

Dr. Petersen and others notice that there is something strange about Dr. Edwardes. He has a peculiar phobia about seeing sets of parallel lines against a white background, first displayed after seeing a diagram drawn with the tines of a fork on a tablecloth. Dr. Petersen soon realizes, by comparing handwriting, that this man is an impostor. He confides to her that he killed Dr. Edwardes and took his place. He suffers from massive amnesia and does not know who he is. Dr. Petersen believes that he is innocent and suffering from a guilt complex.

'Dr. Edwardes' disappears during the night, having left a note for Dr. Petersen saying that he is going to the Empire State Hotel in New York City. At the same time, it becomes public knowledge that 'Dr. Edwardes' is an impostor, and that the real Dr. Edwardes is missing and may have been murdered.

Dr. Petersen goes to the Empire State Hotel to try to track him down. Finding him, she starts to use her psychoanalytic training to unlock his amnesia to find out what had really happened. Pursued by the police, Dr. Petersen and the impostor (who now calls himself 'John Brown') travel by train to Rochester, New York to meet Dr. Brulov (Michael Chekhov), who is Dr. Petersen's mentor and former teacher.

The two doctors analyze a dream that 'John Brown' had. The dream sequence (designed by Salvador Dalí) 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. Dr. Petersen and Brown go to the Gabriel Valley ski resort (the wings provide a clue) to reenact the event and unlock his repressed memories.

Near the bottom of the hill, Brown's memory suddenly returns. He recalls that there is a precipice in front of them, over which Edwardes had fallen 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 amnesia and a generalized 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 Dr. Petersen returns to her position at the hospital, where Dr. Murchison is once again the director. During a casual conversation with her, he lets slip that he had known Edwardes slightly, and didn't like him very much, contradicting his earlier claims. Now suspicious, Dr. 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 Dr. Murchison hiding behind a tree, shooting Edwardes, and dropping the gun. She confronts Murchison with this and he confesses, but says that he didn't drop the gun; he still has it. He pulls it out of his desk, threatening to kill her. She walks away, the gun still pointed at her, explaining that while the first murder was committed under the extenuating circumstances of Dr. 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. Dr. Petersen is then reunited with Ballantyne and they honeymoon together from the same Grand Central Station where they first tried to pursue the mystery 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 43:15 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 caused major contention between Alfred Hitchcock and producer David O. Selznick. Hitchcock's contract with Selznick began in March 1939, but only resulted in three films: Rebecca (1940) and The Paradine Case (1947) being the other two. (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 M.D., who was credited in the film as a technical adviser. Dr. Romm and Hitchcock clashed frequently.[3]

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 too complicated, so the vast majority of what was filmed was cut from the film during editing. About two minutes of the dream sequence appear in the final film, but Ingrid Bergman said that the sequence had been almost 20 minutes long before it was cut by Selznick.[4]

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 to direct the sequence. Hitchcock himself had very little to do with its actual filming.[4]

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

Bergman and Peck's relationship[edit]

Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck were both married to others at the time of production — Bergman to Petter Aron Lindström and Peck to Greta Kukkonen— but they had a brief affair during filming.[5] Their secret relationship became public knowledge when Peck confessed to Brad Darrach of People in an interview 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."[6][7][8]


The film features an orchestral score by Miklós Rózsa notable for its pioneering use of the theremin, performed by Dr. Samuel Hoffmann. Selznick originally wanted Bernard Herrmann, but when Herrmann became unavailable, Rózsa was hired; he won the Academy Award for his score.[4] 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 never saw him since."[9] During film's protracted post-production, considerable disagreement arose about the music, exacerbated by a lack of communication between producer, director, and composer. Rózsa scored another film, The Lost Weekend, before Spellbound was released, and he again used the theremin in that score. 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.[10]


After its release, it broke every record in London, in both famous theaters, Pavilion and Tivoli Strand, for a single day, week, month, holiday and Sundays.[11]

It earned rentals of $4,975,000 in North America.[12]

Spellbound won the Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, and was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Michael Chekhov); Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; Best Director; Best Effects, Special Effects; and Best Picture. Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck did not receive Academy Award nominations for the film, although they were nominated the same year for their performances in The Bells of St. Mary's and The Keys of the Kingdom, respectively. Bergman received the New York Film Critics' Circle Award for Best Actress for the film in 1945.


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.[13][14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "SPELLBOUND (A)". British Board of Film Classification. 1946-01-30. Retrieved 2013-01-27. 
  2. ^ David Thomson, Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick, Abacus, 1993 p 445
  3. ^ Lyttelton, Oliver (31 October 2012). "5 Things You May Not Know About Alfred Hitchcock's 'Spellbound'". Retrieved 17 May 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c Spoto, Donald (1999). The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock. Da Capo. p. 277. ISBN 0-306-80932-X. 
  5. ^ Haney, Lynn (2009). Gregory Peck: A Charmed Life. De Capo Press. ISBN 9780786737819. 
  6. ^ Fishgall, Gary (2002). "Gregory Peck: A Biography". ISBN 9780684852904. 
  7. ^ Smit, David (2012). "Ingrid Bergman: The Life, Career and Public Image". ISBN 9780786472260. 
  8. ^ Darrach, Brad (15 June 1987). "Gregory Peck". People. Retrieved 5 October 2015. 
  9. ^ "Miklós Rózsa - Biography". Retrieved 2009-12-21. 
  10. ^ "Spellbound". Intrada Records. Retrieved October 21, 2012. 
  11. ^ "'Spellbound' Breaks Admission Records". The Miami News. 30 June 1946. 
  12. ^ "All-Time Top Grossers", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 69
  13. ^ Miller, Frank. "Spellbound (1945) Pop Culture 101 - SPELLBOUND". Turner Classic Movies. 
  14. ^ Jerry Goldsmith interview on YouTube

External links[edit]