Starring: Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Michael Chekhov
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Running Time: 111 mins
Spellbound is an American film about a psychiatrist who meets and falls for a new doctor at her facility, only to realise he isn’t who he says he is.
Treading a rather different path to most Hitchcock thrillers, Spellbound still features all of the director’s classic hallmarks, but tells its story with a different rhythm. Engrossing at first, the film does undeniably lose steam after its first act, although with great performances and some eye-catching twists, it’s still a captivating watch to the finish.
Of course, the classic Hitchcock formula is one that achieved much success over the years. With intrigue from the first second, the director’s films typically build in tension and suspense over the course of the story, ultimately leading to a shock twist finale.
Spellbound, however, plays things a little differently, revealing its biggest twist at the end of the first act, and then changing into an entirely new film for the rest of the runtime. Hitchcock has certainly played with this structure to success elsewhere, most famously in Psycho, but Spellbound doesn’t quite execute it to perfection.
At first, the movie is full of riveting tension and uneasy drama. The mystery surrounding the identity of the charismatic new head of a psychiatric facility (Gregory Peck) is gripping, and it’s surrounded by an unstable atmosphere in the form of the setting, as well as an increasingly agitated Ingrid Bergman.
The early stages of their relationship, too, are almost shocking to watch unfold, given just how quickly things turn upside down for Bergman’s character, and how much seems to be amiss with Peck’s character. Then, out of the blue, the movie tells you what the truth of his identity is.
It’s a shock blow, but it makes for a brilliant conclusion to the opening act. However, the direction that the film takes in its latter stages doesn’t work to the same effect, as we see Bergman and Peck’s unlikely relationship deepen, as she attempts to clear his name for the secret he has been hiding.
On the one hand, the blend of passion and irrational behaviour in Bergman’s originally straight-laced character is fascinating, but on the other, the film goes too far a little too quickly with the relationship between her and Peck, to the point that it’s not immensely convincing.
There isn’t the cagey second-guessing of each other like in Suspicion, and that hurts Spellbound right to the finish, because it lacks an extra layer of tension and intrigue beyond the surface story of Bergman trying to protect Peck.
It’s a shame, because this film is a bold step away from Hitchcock’s more typical formula, but it doesn’t work out perfectly. Gripping at first, but faltering later on, Spellbound is an engaging watch throughout, but a missed opportunity in the end, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.5 overall.