Monday, August 4, 2014

Spellbound (1945)

SpellboundThe video quality of Criterion's DVD version of SPELLBOUND discs look a bit sharper, more detailed, but grainier than Anchor Bay's re-pressed version from 2000 (in which the flash-of-red color shot was restored). The audio quality of Criterion's 1.0 mono soundtrack is also a little more detailed and more distinct than Anchor Bay's 2.0 mono track. The Anchor Bay disc also sounds much louder, but there are audio distortions in a few places. The soundtrack of the Criterion disc (and many DVDs) was recorded at a much lower volume level, which is usually an effort to retain as much as possible the dynamic range of the source material. The Criterion DVD booklet says the film's original overture and exit music has been included on the disc for the first time. This is simply not true, for the re-pressed Anchor Bay disc also has the overture and exit music. The initial pressing of the Anchor Bay disc, in which the red-color shot is erroneously shown in B&W, does not have the overture and exit music, however.

Although SPELLBOUND helped solidify Hitchcock's position in Hollywood, it isn't one of his best films. But Marian Keane's remarkable analytical audio commentary on the Criterion disc should heighten your appreciation of the film. Keane juxtaposes the themes in the film against the manner in which Hitchcock made his films and the manner in which we, the viewers, watch them, and suggests that they are somehow interrated. She points out that many Hitchcock films (including SPELLBOUND) are about people who take pleasure in watching and analyzing other people, which is also the very thing that we, the viewers, do when we watch such films. As in her commentary for the NOTORIOUS DVD, she injects an extra layer of significance within the film by refering to certain elements in the film as "surrogate authors," "scriptwriting sessions," and "director's assertion of his authorship." Keane single-mindedly concentrates on the interpretation, deconstruction, and theorization on the subject of Hitchcock, and the result is one of the most remarkable dissertations ever recorded on DVD. I give 4 stars to the film itself, but 5 to Keane.

I give 5 stars to the supplements on the Criterion disc as well, like I routinely do. There is a wonderful, rather detailed photo-essay segment on the making of the Dali sequence. Two film clips of the surrealist film UN CHIEN ANDALOU is included ! to show some earlier inspirations for the SPELLBOUND dream sequence. Memos from the filmmakers and production photos show how the dream sequence was re-shot several times due to logistic difficulties and artistic differences. There are also production photos of the deleted "ballroom" sub-sequence, in which Ingrid Bergman plays a statuesque figure bewildering Gregory Peck.

Other extras include about 150 production and publicity photos, a half-hour audio interview of the film's composer, a 7-minute radio program on the subject of theramin, a 1-hour radioplay version of SPELLBOUND, "story treatments" that show how the original novel was loosely adapted into a filmmable story, and other correspondences from psychoanalysts and Production Code officials who offered advices to the filmmakers. The booklet contains two very good essays; one is about the making of the film, while the other offers some artistic analyses (some of which echo Keane's comments).

Combining Hitch's fascination with Freudian symbolism, desire to work with Salvador Dali and writer Ben Hecht, "Spellbound" manages to be very entertaining even if it is a flawed Hitchcock classic. Compromise started with casting with Hitch forced to take Gregory Peck for the lead opposite his choice Ingrid Bergman. Peck does a nice job even if he is a bit stiff in the role of Dr. Edwardes--only he isn't Edwardes at all. It turns out that "John" suffers from amnesia and must rely on Dr. Constance Peterson (Berman) to discover who he is and what happened to the real Dr. Edwardes.

Blu-Ray Transfer: "Spellbound" will leave fans of the film, well, spellbound. The film receives a handsome transfer. How does this compare to the Criterion? "Spellbound" looks sleeker in a good way with nice, consistent grain (for the most part) with the only major flaw I could detect some over use of edge enhancement (resulting in some intrusive haloing). Could this look better? Probably--the use of edge enhancement was unnecessarily heavy handed but, on the whole, it bests just about every DVD presentation I've seen of the movie.

Bear in my that the bigger your screen, the higher resolution your monitor and the more noticeable the improved resolution/depth will be. It isn't a huge difference but it IS there (depth though is noticeable different on both small and large screens).

"Spellbound" had a very troubled production from conflicts between Hitchcock and Selznick's consultant on the film, to butting heads over the dream sequence (which uses a lot of Dali's concepts but was actually redesigned by William Cameron Menzies at Selznick's request)which was heavily edited for the film. Selznick had a heavier hand in this Hitchcock production compared to other films from the period (with the exception of "Rebecca" which Hitchcock always stated wasn't a "Hitchcock picture" and "The Paradine Case" about which star Gregory Peck responded he'd love to see burned when asked if he could pick one film to be destroyed from his extensive filmography).

As usual when Hitch had a conflict or couldn't quite find an angle to the material he focused his attention on certain sequences such as the last shot of the film (which briefly uses an innovative moment of color in an otherwise black and white film) and the sequence where Bergman experiences her sexual awakening.

That isn't to say that this set doesn't have some flaws. For example the lack of a main menu is a bit annoying although not a deal breaker.

The special features are solid throughout.

We get a really good commentary track featuring Thomas Schatz and Charles Ramirez Berg both film historians with some interesting observations about the movie, it's production history and the issue that Selnick had with the dream sequence (and had the bulk of it cut unfortunately).

We also get a featurette on Dali and Hitch's collaboration as well as Selznick's discomfort with the dream sequence.

"Guilt By Association: Psychoanalyzing Spellbound" is a solid featurette highlighting the narrative hook of psychoanalysis and dream interpretation. Hitch was primarily interested in Freud only as a means to tell a story.

We get a unique presentation--Hitchcock directing the radio play of "Spellbound" featuring Joseph Cotten subbing for Peck.

We also get one of Peter Bogdanovich's Hitchcock interviews.

There's also a good featurette on co-star Rhonda Fleming as well as the theatrical trailer in standard definition.

Although it isn't a flawless classic "Spellbound" has enough of Hitch's set pieces to make this interesting and Bergman is, as always, beautiful. Hitchcock's "Spellbound" receives a nice transfer to Blu-ray courtesy of MGM and, while this isn't one of Hitch's best films, it has enough moments to make it worthwhile for Hitchcock fans.

Is this the ultimate edition on Blu-ray? It's hard to tell because MGM and the company they've hired for the restoration done here has done a fine job on the film. It's possible that Criterion or another studio could do some additional work that might make this edition obsolete but, for now, THIS is the best showing of the film even with the occasional bit of noise, edge enhancement and other minor imperfections in the transfer.

Recommended for Hitchcock fans.

Buy Spellbound (1945) Now

SPELLBOUND was directed by Alfred Hitchcock and produced by David O. Selznick in 1945. As the story unravels it is essentially a murder plot interwoven around psychiatrists and psychoanalysis. It is actually Alfred Hitchcock's approach to the story and his collaborations with composer Miklos Rozsa and surrealist artist Salvador Dali that highlights this film. Gregory Peck plays John "J.B." Ballantine who poses as a psychiatrist while in a state of amnesia. Uncovered by Dr. Constance Peterson played by Ingrid Bergman, Ballantine must find out if he is responsible for the death of the missing psychiatrist that he posed as and simultaneously discover his own identity. Miklos Rozsa's score is both romantic yet eerie as Ballantine tries to remember what happened through analysis of his dreams. Alfred Hitchcock hired Salvador Dali to design illustrations and paintings in order to construct a crisp and vivid rendering of these dreams. Hitchcock did not want to use conventional techniques such as blurred camera shots to recreate the dreams. He wanted them to be as clear and even sharper than the rest of the film. He wanted Dali's style of using shadows, lines of convergence and the idea of infinite distance incorporated into the dream sequences. In the dream sequence we see a black stage highlighted with people at gambling tables with huge mysterious looking eyes peering over them. A man cuts away at the fabric of one eye with a giant scissors revealing another eye. In another part of the dream we see a man standing on a roof behind a chimney that has sprouted roots. The hooded man holds what looks like a deformed or eccentric wagon wheel in his hand. In the distance there is a formation of rocks and boulders, which look like they are sprouting into the shape of a man's head. Another part of the dream shows a man running down a pitched geometric plane as the shadow of a bird follows him. In the background there are geometric shapes and lines that go off into infinity. All these images must be interpreted into experiences from reality. Dali's images are unsettling and thought provoking. Eventually, the eccentric wagon wheel turns out to represent the chambers of a revolver pistol and reveals the true identity of the murderer. A surrealistic painting brings to the canvas an image from reality but puts it into a context of the unreal. I think Dali was successful in translating the realistic elements from the plot into a vision of incomprehensibility of the conscious human mind. Hitchcock and the scriptwriter Ben Hecht then had their characters translate Dali's images back into plausible reality. This is brilliant filmmaking years ahead of its time.

Read Best Reviews of Spellbound (1945) Here

This movie has several flaws, but the great performances of its stars and Hitchcock's clever direction make it a classic, and great fun, anyway! First off even though most of Hitchcock's films have aged well, this one hasn't. Its biggest problem is that the silly psychology reminds you constantly when the movie was made. Additionally, if you are a big Hitchcock fan, be forewarned that this is not as thrilling as some of his other films. Instead, it is more oriented towards romance and bad ideas about psychology.

Pretty much, Spellbound is about a icy, analytical psychologist (Ingrid Bergman) who runs off with a patient who was posing as the new director of the mental institute (Gregory Peck). As they attempt to keep away from the police, who want to arrest Peck, Bergman tries to "cure" him using psychoanalysis (it's tough not to laugh during these scenes).

Anyhow, all in all, this is great entertainment. The Salvador Dali dream sequence, which is famous, is rightly so and the music, acting, and cinematography combine to make a great atmosphere. The movie is still pretty exciting and Bergman and Peck give great performances and make a nice couple. Even though this is not Hitchcock at his typical best, it's a good movie and deserves a viewing regardless of its silly ideas.

Want Spellbound (1945) Discount?

This review refers to the Anchor Bay release of the "Spellbound" DVD....

Anchor Bay has done it again. This 1945 classic directed by Alfred Hitchcock, was beautifully transfered onto this DVD. The black and white images are sharp, crisp, and clear. Barely a sign of this film's age. The sound remastered in Dolby Dig 2.0 is great. If you're a fan of this film, you'll be thrilled at how good it looks.

Haven't seen it yet, but love Hitch, or maybe it's been a while since you have?....Here's a little of this riveting story.....

The beautiful Ingrid Bergman plays the distant psychiatrist Dr. Constance Petersen. She treats a number of troubled patients at the Green Manors Mental Asylum, but her toughest case is yet to come. With Dr. Murchison(Leo G Carroll) being forced into retirement a new chief of staff will be arriving. It is the esteemed Dr Edwards(Gregory Peck)who takes over. It is not long before Edwards and Constance find themselves attracted to one another, and it is not long before Constance figures out that Edwards is not really who he says he is. He displays signs of paranoia and amnesia and it is possible that he murdered the real Dr. Edwards.They are on the run to try to solve the case but as the original theatrical poster says,"Will he Kiss me or Kill me?"(The DVD comes with a mini version of this poster).

You'll be awed Hitch's definitive style of camera angles, shadow and lights, romance and a unique dream sequence designed by Salavdor Dali. Not to mention all the wonderful talent that graces this film. Bergman and Peck make screen magic together, Carroll is a legend and this film shows us why.Also starring is Rhonda Flemming,Michael Chekhov, and Wallace Ford. The music by Miklos Rozsa also adds greatly to the building tension, and romantic scenes in the story.

Looking for Hitch: About :40 minutes in, you may see him if you're quick!

It never ceases to amaze me that we are lucky enough to be able to see these great classics as they were first seen and with the added treat of the origianl theatrical Overture.(I will be adding this one to my listmania of "Old Movies That Look Great on DVD") Now, if you are looking for special features, this DVD does not have any, there is another version by Criterion that offers more in the way of extras,although quite a bit more expensive.(Criterion also does great transfers)Which ever you choose, this a a must have for fans of Hitch, Bergman or Peck.

So don't worry about trying to over anaylze this one....As Hitch himself said "It's just a movie." But a GREAT one! So enjoy!......Laurie

more Hitch stuff:

Hitchcock's Notebooks: An Authorized and Illustrated Look Inside the C

Alfred Hitchcock Presents volume 2

Alfred Hitchcock Double Feature Volume One Sabotage / The Man Who Knew Too Much [VHS]

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