Spellbound

Talkie of the Week: Spellbound

USA 1945, 111 minutes, black & white, United Artists. Director: Alfred Hitchcock, Written by Angus MacPhail and Ben Hecht, Based on the novel The House of Dr. Edwardes by Hilary Saint George Saunders and Francis Beeding. Cast: Ingrid Berman, Gregory Peck, Michael Chekhov, Leo G. Carroll, Rhonda Fleming, John Emery, Steven Geray, Paul Harvey, Donald Curtis, Norman Lloyd, Bill Goodwin, Wallace Ford, Art Baker, Regis Toomey.

Plot summary: When Dr. Edwardes arrives at Green Manors, levelheaded Dr. Petersen is spellbound by the new hospital director who has a secret she is determined to uncover.

spellbound_b&wReview: Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) is the sole female doctor at Green Manors, a mental hospital in Vermont. Among her colleagues, she is known as efficient and detached, an image she sheds upon arrival of new hospital director Dr. Edwardes (Gregory Peck). Edwardes is charming but also struggles with a phobia his esteemed colleague finds conspicuous: he gets upset whenever he spots dark, parallel lines on a white background. Despite her ulterior instincts, Dr. Petersen is attracted to the handsome doctor who has a secret she is determined to uncover and thus solve the mystery of his phobia.

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Spellbound was produced by David Selznick, a collaboration that didn’t turn out as fruitful as initially intended. For their third common production, Selznick brought in his own psychoanalyst to turn the plot into a puff piece on therapy and celebrate his own positive experiences. Hitchcock, however, known for his independent streak, frequently butted heads with the interfering analyst and hired Salvador Dali to add an intriguing touch of surrealism to his now famous dream sequence. Originally almost twenty minutes long, the scene was eventually cut down by Selznick and has only been available in its edited form since the release of the film in 1945.

Shot as a mystical thriller with a captivating storyline about mental illness, Spellbound was successful upon release. Rewarded with an Academy Ward for Best Score and five additional nominations, the film was popular with movie goers and critics alike, and is still entertaining on DVD and Blu-ray today. Blessed with a suspenseful plot and two haunting leads, the film has what it takes to keep its audience on the edge of their seats and continues to be one of Hitchcock’s mid-career treats.

Harvey

Talkie of the Week: Harvey

USA 1950, 104 minutes, black & white, Universal International Pictures. Director: Henry Koster, Written by Mary Chase and Oscar Brodney, Based on the play “Harvey” by Mary Chase. Cast: James Stewart, Josephine Hull, Peggy Dow, Charles Drake, Cecil Kellaway, Victoria Horne, Jesse White, William H. Lynn, Wallace Ford, Nana Bryant, Grace Mills, Clem Bevans.

Plot summary: Elwood P. Dowd is a likable, regular fella with a unique, mythical friend who never leaves his side no matter how weird others think he is.

Review: Elwood P. Dowd is quite a character. He’s pleasant, sweet and quirky – the kind of relative children would love but adults are frequently embarrassed by. Elwood lives with his sister Veta and niece Myrtle Mae both of whom love him dearly but also want to get rid of him. They do not know how to handle his peculiarities, particularly his friendship to Harvey, a 6’3.5” tall rabbit. Visible only to Elwood, Harvey is a Celtic myth, a so-called pooka, as real or unreal as you imagine him to be.

James Stewart played Elwood Dowd, a simple fellow whose devotion to his unseen companion makes him genuinely smart. At first glance, he may be flirting with addiction and mental illness, his heart, however, is in the right place and his statements are everything but random. Always a natural at playing humble personalities with a touch of greatness, James Stewart was rewarded with his fourth Academy Award nomination in 1951. He was supported by a powerful Josephine Hull whose Veta Louise Simmons was lusciously torn between loving her brother and losing her own mind. She was rightly recognized by the Academy as Best Supporting Actress and, like Stewart, created a unique character you cannot help but like.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Mary Chase, Harvey is still every bit as remarkable and entertaining as it was upon release. Unwilling to give easy answers but offering bittersweet questions instead, the film is funny, sad but also uplifting – a rare mix in movies today and thus a real treat for anyone who enjoys the quality and depth of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

The film is available on DVD and VHS. You can get a glimpse at the trailer here.