Spellbound by “Spellbound”

by Ellery LeSueur

Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) is a love story about a girl who can’t help but fall in love with a man who may be a murderer. The theme of the illogical nature of love, and how that can be dangerous when you’ve got a murderer on the loose, is one of my favorite issues to see cinema investigate.

When it comes to love, what strange psychological process do we undergo that makes us completely abandon sense? Spellbound depicts this process via Ingrid Bergman’s character, who we see transform from clinical doctor to obsessed lover. And, admittedly, it wouldn’t be hard to fall in love with the young, handsome Gregory Peck, who looks disturbingly like Anthony Perkin as Norman Bates in his later role in Psycho (1960).

Hitchcock films are also notorious (a little more Hitchcock humor) for their brilliant music, but the score of Spellbound captures the film’s essence perfectly. Right from the film’s first moments – over that glorious title sequence of bare branches and leaves swirling in the wind – the score is sweeping and breath-taking, a kind of dark, bewitched kind of love story, all right in the sound. Nothing has even happened yet and already I feel like I’m in the middle of some gorgeous drama.

There are so many great lines about the dizzying logic of love. The way Ingrid Bergman says “I couldn’t feel this way toward a man who was bad, who had committed murder. I couldn’t feel this pain for someone who was evil.” How Gregory Peck tells Ingrid “I think you’re quire mad. You’re much crazier than I, to do all this for a creature without a name.” And when Michael Checkhov, as Dr. Alexander Brulov, exclaims to Ingrid: “We are speaking of a schizophrenic, and not a valentine!” Hitchcock’s dark humor would find it hilarious how easy it is, when we are in love, to get the two confused.

There’s all sorts of other brilliant Hitchcock motifs to be found here. Eye glasses motifs, the centrality of the kissing scene, the idea of masks, and a really incredible scene involving a razor. The chaos world, a kind of darkness lying beneath, is definitely at work in Spellbound. The film looks at love as a psychological problem. There’s even chaos in what it means to be human. Hitchcock uses the film to poke fun at the idea that humanity is so full of chaos that we need psychoanalysis simply to find out, as Dr. Brulov says, “what the devil you’re trying to say to yourself.”

Ellery LeSueur is a writer and cinephile from Chicago, Illinois. Fascinated by American cinema history, her favorite Hitchcock films are Psycho, Spellbound, and The 39 Steps.

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