Monday, 17 February 2020

Spellbound

Alfred Hitchcock hits the nail on the head once more, in so many ways, not least by drawing out real acting talent from the cast and once again creating tension, suspense and thrills at every turn by clever film-making techniques. Spellbound came along in 1945 during a busy few years leading up to Notorious, The Paradine Case and Rope.

The story in Spellbound revolves around a psychiatric institute and its doctors somewhere in rural America. There's a little posse of them and at the centre, their only female medic. The men around her tease and suggest and propose, but she's really not interested in any of them, rather fascinated by, and married to her work. The head of the institution is part of the chasing droolers but he's also out of a job shortly, to be replaced by incoming Dr Edwardes.

The new boss turns up and the up-to-now cold female medic instantly falls for him! They note how young the very experienced Dr Edwardes is, but he gets away with it - for now! We've all worked out by now that all is not what it seems and even though our leading couple have amazingly fallen madly in love in five minutes flat, there's a puzzle afoot to be solved!

The leading man and woman in the film are a young and thin looking Gregory Peck (Roman Holiday, The Million Pound Note, The Guns of Navarone) and pretty as ever Ingrid Bergman (Casablanca, Notorious, Gaslight). Hitchcock draws the very best out of them, and the whole cast, in a way that other directors of the day just couldn't. Apart from the cultural, behavioural and situational giveaways, the film doesn't feel dated, nor story wooden or unlikely. The pair play off against each other with ease and the audience warms to them in their quest to discover the solution to the puzzle, despite his outrageous sexism!

It turns into a typical Hitchcock thriller, thereon in - the quest to uncover the truth, the authorities chasing the wrong person, injustice served out which needs fixing - culminating in a dash against time at the end reaching a climax of unfolding discovery. I do not believe that I've ever seen this film before, and I didn't see elements of the story coming! So I'll say no more.

Another of the ways in which Hitchcock creates mood, atmosphere and suspense is, as we know, by a very smart understanding of light and shadow. He again uses this to great effect here, infusing each scene with the right amounts of each to ensure that the audience is not only locked in by the thrills and story but also by the ambience created, to which many back in the day were, presumably oblivious. The black and white throughout adds terrifically to this technique and is great fun to observe.

Salvador Dali is in on the act here as well and for fans of his work it's interesting to see how they've hijacked his style and paintings in order to create a dream sequence as our main man tried to uncover what's buried deep in his subconscious about his past. Yet another twist that I didn't see coming rears its head as a result of that psychoanalysis as well. I think I'd better stop there, encourage you to watch it and not risk spoiling your enjoyment!

Yet another cracker from the master of suspense which I thoroughly enjoyed, late to the party as I may be! I've yet to find a duff Hitchcock film in my quest and every time I see another, I realise how far ahead of his time he was, enjoying the experimentation of techniques, storytelling and surprising and thrilling an audience. Yet another one highly recommended.

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