Directed by the old master of dramatic suspense Alfred Hitchcock and featuring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck, Spellbound (1945), is a psychological thriller film, based on the novel The House of Dr Edwardes by Hilary St George Saunders and John Palmer under the pseudonym Francis Beeding. It is the story of a young woman, a psychoanalyst who falls in love with the new head of a hospital in which she works, only to find that he is an imposter, a patient of dissociative amnesia and potentially, a murderer. Apart from the firm texture of the narration, the shock of the unexpected, the flow of continuity and dialogue and the shock of the stunning surprises in the script, prepared by Ben Hecht, Hitchcock has also used some amazing images in the film to symbolise the content of dreams, designed by Salvador Dali.
However, although the haunting melodies by Miklos Rozsa perfectly complement the puzzlingly cryptic happenings in the film, its real success is in creating the illusion of love, despite the circumstantial evidence indicating the man is an imposter, taking the position of a dead, until he prudently flees.
The film starts at Green Manors, a psychiatric institution in Vermont, where Dr Constance Peterson, an attractive young woman portrayed by Ingrid Bergman, serving as one of the psychiatrists, is perceived by the other doctors as cold, emotionless and frigid like a human glacier. However, the otherwise peaceful situation in the hospital changes, when Dr. Murchison, the director of the institution, is forced into retirement, shortly after his long absence as he had a nervous breakdown and his replacement, a surprisingly young Dr. Anthony Edwardes, immediately exhibits some alarming eccentricities. It was love at first sight for Constance, as she takes a stroll with the young director through the countryside, letting down her guard to spend the afternoon picnicking, much to surprise for the other doctors.
During that time in the film, there is a short sequence, where Constance goes up to his room and they kiss, while a cutaway to a series of doors opens into the distance. The scene symbolises that Constance, cold and shut off from the world, is being opened to love with the kiss and all the barriers inside her are falling, one after the other. However, Constanceobserved something weird about Dr. Edwardes, who does not seem to know anything about psychiatry, freaks out when Constance makes lines with a fork on the tablecloth and has a peculiar phobia about sets of parallel lines against a white background.
Lead by her irrepressible eagerness to find the truth, Constance Peterson compares Edwardes' signature on a letter to her with an autographed copy of one of his books and found that they do not match, evidencing him an imposter. As she confronts him, he confides to her that he has amnesia and probably he has killed the real Edwardes and taken his place, but he does not remember anything about it, even does not know who he really is. Somehow, Petersen became convinced that the man is innocent and due to some unknown psychological complications, he is suffering from a guilt complex.
Although she assured the fake Anthony Edwardes to help him to come out of the crisis, he disappears overnight, leaving a note for her that he is leaving for New York. Soon it also becomes public that the person presented himself as Edwardes is an impostor and possibly the real Edwardes is missing and may have been killed.
The disappearance of the man with whom she fell in love made Petersen determined to find him and finally traced him at the Empire State Hotel, where he was staying under the pseudonym John Brown. Although he tried his best to be left alone, the psychiatrists in the young and attractive woman won the battle to make him agree on psychoanalysing his amnesia and uncovering his memories. The two took a train ride to Rochester and took shelter at the house of Dr Alexander Brulov, Petersen's former mentor. Primarily, Dr. Brulov maintains that he is an amnesiac with serious mental problems, especially as he was found sleepwalking around his house holding a straight razor.
As the two psychiatrists begin to analyse one of his dreams with tons of weird sexual imagery, they choose to ignore the sexual part and start to find any underlying coded message in it. In the dream, while he was playing cards in a strange club, a scantily-clad woman resembling Petersen starts kissing everybody present in the area. Suddenly, there was an altercation in which his card partner, an older man, was accused of cheating and consequently, threatened by the masked proprietor of the club. After that, the older man was seen standing on the extreme end of a sloped roof, suddenly he fell off, while the proprietor was standing behind a chimney and dropping a wheel he held in his hands. The dream sequences concluded strangely with him being frantically chased down a hill by a huge pair of wings.
From the sequences of the apparently absurd dream, it was presumed by both the psychiatrists that it was related to the murder of the real Dr. Edwardes, before their patient assumed his identity. It was also presumed that possibly his phobia of dark lines on white was based on ski tracks in the snow and the older man represented the real Edwardes, who met his demise in a skiing accident. From the detail of the wings, it was deduced to be the Gabriel Valley ski lodge. Based on their analytical deduction of the dream, the analysts decided to visit the site of the ski accident with their patient, planning on recreating the circumstances of the death of Edwardes.
As the three visited the site, down the slope, the patient with dementia remembers his past and recalls the moment when he saw Edwardes fall off the cliff in front of him. The remembrance of the incident also took him to a significant day in his childhood, when he kicked his brother off the roof and onto a sharply spiked fence post, killing him instantly and initiating his guilt complex. He also remembers that he is John Ballantyne, a serviceman from the United States Air Force and he has suffered from a long-term guilt complex about the childhood death of his brother, but he no longer thinks he killed Dr Edwardes. However, when following his direction, the police recovered the body of Edwardes with a bullet wound in his back, Ballantyne was arrested, tried and convicted of murder.
As the heartbroken Petersen returns to her position at the hospital, she has a brief conversation with Dr. Murchison, in which he casually reveals he knew Edwardes. That created a big asking mark in Petersen, because if the man knew Edwardes personally, he should have mentioned at the first instance that Ballantyne was an imposter. Re-analysing her notes of Ballantyne's dream Petersen became convinced that the masked proprietor in his dream represents Murchison, the wheel represents a revolver and Murchison is the murderer of Edwardes. As Petersen confronts Murchison in his office, deducing Ballantyne's dream to him and getting him to admit that the masked proprietor represents himself, who killed Edwardes, Murchison replies that her deductions are correct in every detail, except one, that he still has the revolver. While he pointed the revolver at her, she walked out of his office to call the police. She knew that Murchison would not dare to shoot her, because he could get a lesser charge for Edwardes' murder on the plea of insanity, but shooting her would guarantee his execution. As Murchison found no way to escape, he turned the gun on himself. The film ends with happily married Petersen and Ballantyne at the Grand Central Terminal, receiving well-wishes from Dr. Brulov before their departure for enjoying their honeymoon.
Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman created certain on-screen chemistry in the film, beyond the scripted roles, probably because they had a brief but torrid affair while filming it, although they were married to other people, which is a soft touch of the illicit to make the fiction work on-screen.Excelled with their performances, along with the surreal dream sequence created by Salvador Dali about the focus on human sexuality, Spellbound represents Alfred Hitchcock’s wonderful blend of English filmmaking and German cinematic expressionism. It seems that Hitchcock’s fusion of psychodrama and thriller genre elements in the film was probably based on the flow of European refugee émigrés in America during the 1940s and the large number of shell shocked soldiers returning to homes that no longer provided comfort and peace. Opened theatrically in New York City on Halloween 1945 and subsequently widely released in the United States, Spellbound was a major box-office success, earned favourable reviews from critics and was nominated for six Academy Awards.