Released by: MGM
Released on: January 24, 2012.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Gregory Peck, Ingrid Bergman, Leo G. Carroll
Year: 1945 Purchase From Amazon
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock (who was nominated for the Best Director Oscar – the film was also nominated for Best Picture, among others!) in 1945 and based on the novel The House Of Dr. Edwardes, Spellbound begins when the man in charge of the Green Manors Mental Hospital, Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll), steps down, much to the dismay of the lovely Dr. Constance Peterson (Ingrid Bergman). Her fears are put aside pretty quickly, however, when she meets his replacement, Dr. Edwardes (Gregory Peck) as the two are quite obviously attracted to one another right from the start of their relationship.
Not too long after they initially meet, however, it becomes quite obvious that Dr. Edwardes is not who he seems, in fact he’s quite possibly an amnesiacs posing as a completely different person. Complicating things even further is the fact that he’s being chased by the police who suspect that he may actually be a murderer. He and Peterson head out on the run. She’s hoping to treat him and to get inside his head once and for all and solve the mystery of his identity – but the mystery of the real Dr. Edwardes isn’t going to go away and she’s pulled further and further into his twisted world.
Beautifully shot by cinematographer George Barnes and featuring a very early Thearmin score from Miklos Rozsa (who won an Academy Award for his work on this picture), Spellbound is also noteworthy for being one of the first films to deal with the subject of psychoanalysis. It’s a tense, slick looking and stylish thriller featuring two iconic performers in the lead roles and while the visual side of things makes great use of shadow and light, Bergman and Peck accomplish the formidable task of pulling us into their increasingly bizarre relationship. It’s interesting to watch their characters grow as the film plays out, as she, the cold and clinical woman of science, starts to warm to her patient while he, quite her opposite, starts to reveal his true nature. Both do fine with the material, each looking very much the part of a classic movie star/starlet – she’s incredibly beautiful (the typically gorgeous Hitchcock blonde), almost flawless, and he’s handsome and dashing and charming – it only stands to reason that they’d fall in love the way they do here, consequences be damned. Some of the dialogue may seem contrived, corny even, by modern standards but you have to look past that to see the forest through trees and the delivery from both principal parties is so committed and strong that you can’t help but fall for it.
If the film wraps things up just a little too conveniently towards the end, we can forgive it – it more than makes up for that flaw with great acting, absolutely excellent cinematography and yeah, that Theramin score, it’s something else – a true classic in its own right. The good more than certainly outweighs the bad here, and Hitchcock’s direction, if not quite as efficient as it would soon get, is very strong indeed. The film never overstays its welcome, moving at a good pace and keeping things interesting even when it gets a little bit talky. On top of that, it throws in a dream sequence put together by none other than famed surrealist Salvador Dali that is not only completely bizarre but just flat out mind altering in terms of their visuals.
MGM’s Blu-ray debut of Spellbound presents the film in its original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratio in a nice looking AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation. This is a film that has always had a certain softness to it and that softness is retained for the film’s high definition debut, as it should be. Those expecting remarkable detail may not always like what they see here, but taking into account how the movie was shot, it’s hard to complain, really. Detail and clarity are definitely improved over previous standard definition offerings not just in close up shots but in medium and long distance ones as well. Contrast looks very good, the image never feels too bright or artificially boosted, and there are no issues with compression artifacts or noise reduction to note. Some edge enhancement is easy to spot if you’re susceptible to such things but it isn’t overpowering. Minor print damage pops up here and there, but the key word there is minor – Hitchcock fans and classic movie aficionados should definitely appreciate the upgrade that this offers over previous releases.
The only audio option is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track with subtitles provided in English only. The track is obviously limited in range but it sounds fine for its age. Dialogue is easy enough to follow and to understand and any hiss that pops into the mix now and again is so minor that it’s not a big deal. The film’s infamous Theramin heavy score sounds quite good here, adding some welcome ambience to a few key scenes.
Extras start off with a commentary track from author and film professor Charles Ramirez Berg. It’s a good track, laid back and easy to listen to and not overly scholarly or dry but at the same time quite informative. There’s a lot of information here about the cast and crew but also a good bit of discussion about the score, as well as Dali’s efforts and the various performances in the film. A good mix of trivia and anecdotes, it’s probably the best way on this disc to learn more about the movie and those who made it.
From there we get a few featurettes, the first of which is Dreaming With Scissors: Hitchcock, Surrealism And Salvador Dali. For just over twenty-one minutes, this documentary explores how Hitchcock and Dali came to work together on this film, how producer David Selznick felt about the end results of their collaborative efforts and the subsequent mandated editing of that material that would then take place. The second featurette is Guilt By Association: Psychoanalyzing Spellbound, which is a twenty-minute piece that notes how Spellbound was the first major studio film to deal with the theories of psychoanalysis and related studies and how the timing was interesting given that the practice was on the rise with the influx of veterans coming home from Europe and the South Pacific at the end of the Second World War. The third featurette is Cinderella Story: Rhonda Fleming, and it’s basically a quick ten minute biography of the actress and a fairly interesting one at that which provides some welcome background information on her.
Rounding out the extras is an audio recording of the 1948 radio play of Spellbound (it’s an hour long and features Joseph Cotton!), an audio interview with Alfred Hitchcock (running just over fifteen minutes and conducted by filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich) and the film’s original theatrical trailer. Menus and chapter stops are also included. All of the extras are presented in standard definition.
The Final Word:
MGM’s Blu-ray isn’t perfect in the audio and video department but it does offer up a pretty solid upgrade from the DVD releases the film has received over the years. Throw in a few decent supplements and this one is a fine package overall. As to the film itself? It’s Hitchcock and Dali with Peck and Bergman shot by George Barnes with a score from Miklos Rozsa – all of this amounts to a pretty mandatory viewing experience. It might not be Hitchcock’s best, but it’s still a fantastic film.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!