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Spellbound: The Criterion Collection

Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945) has taken quite a beating over the years, generally ridiculed for its lush and overwrought style. And yet for many viewers, there is still something compelling about the picture. For one thing, the world has changed around the film. What once may have struck the viewer as over-done now looks almost calm and classical in its style. For another thing, Spellbound interestingly anticipates aspects of several later Hitchcock works such as Marnie, Psycho, and Vertigo. Psychiatrists at the Green Manors asylum await the arrival of Dr. Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck), who is replacing retiring head Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll). Once there, he forms a bond with the chilly Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman). Soon it comes to pass that the real Dr. Edwards has been murdered, and possibly by his replacement, who is an amnesiac unable to remember his own name. Soon the lovers are on the run, and Constance attempts to psychoanalyze the truth out of her patient-turned-lover, later with the help of her own mentor, Dr. Alex Brulof (Michael Chekhof). Out of this steaming brew of medical witchcraft and dime-store romance Hitchcock has managed to concoct something interesting, if not entirely successful, and including surrealistic "dream" images by Salvador Dali. On the surface Spellbound seems so ridiculous. Yet to notice how carefully Hitchcock weave images and motifs such as the importance of doors is to marvel at a craftsmanship that even took this pulp seriously. Still, it's possible to say that the DVD bearing Spellbound is more important than the movie itself. Numbered 136 in the Criterion Collection, it arrives well out of order and was obviously meant to be paired with Rebecca. The single-sided, dual layered disc starts off with a fine transfer of the black-and-white full-frame (1.33:1) image. Audio is in DD 1.0 and includes the restored "entrance" and "exit" music provided by the film's composer, Miklos Rozsa. Interpretive support is offered first off by Marian Keane in an audio commentary track, who has the thankless task of defending an obviously flawed movie that others view as the height of romantic Hollywood brainlessness. Also on hand is "A Nightmare Ordered by Telephone," a blend of essay, footage, and photographs by actor and writer James Bigwood, focusing solely on the dream sequence in Spellbound. Next is an audio interview with Rozsa conducted by author Rudy Behlmer. Linked to this is a seven minute public radio piece on the theremin, done for WNYC's The Fishko Files. Finally there are a few screens of bibliograpical resources for further study of the theremin. As is also customary with Criterion, the disc offers the radio performance version of the film. This one is from Lux Radio Theatre's adaptation in 1948, starring Joseph Cotten, who was Hitchcock's original choice, and Alida Vali. There is a suite of production letters, divided into seven categories, and an extensive production stills gallery offered in four sections. Finally, there is the theatrical trailer, which is rather scratchy, and a 20-page production notes booklet with highly informative essays by Hitchcock experts Leonard Leff, who focuses on the relationship between Hitchcock and Selznick and the film's production history, and Lesley Brill, who concentrates on psychoanalysis and film. Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm

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