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.

Three Husbands

Talkie of the Week: Three Husbands

USA 1951, 77 minutes, black & white, United Artists. Director: Irving Reis, Written by Vera Caspary. Cast: Eve Arden, Ruth Warrick, Vanessa Brown, Howard Da Silva, Shepperd Strudwick, Robert Karnes, Emlyn Williams, Billie Burke, Louise Erickson, Jonathan Hale, Jane Darwell

Plot summary: When Maxwell Bard, a desired playboy, dies, he leaves a letter to each of his three married friends, teasing them about the affairs he supposedly had with their wives.

Review: In 1949, A Letter to Three Wives was released by 20th Century Fox, starring Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Ann Sothern, Jeffrey Lynn, Paul Douglas and Kirk Douglas. The movie was loosely based on John Klempner’s novel A Letter to Five Wives and adapted by Vera Caspary and Joseph L. Mankiewicz. The film won two Academy Awards for Best Director (Mankiewicz) and Best Screenplay, and was also nominated for Best Motion Picture. In 1951, Vera Caspary turned the tables of the plot and wrote the screenplay for a comedy version of the story called Three Husbands.

The film stars Emlyn Williams as Max Bard, a recently deceased playboy who was on very good terms with three of his best friends’ wives. Informing the husbands about the nature of these friendships in individual letters, he causes a stir in the married lives of all three of them until Max’ will exposes the reasons behind his postmortem honesty. In a surprising twist, the wives come out on top and stand tall without condemning their husbands, their attitude smoothing the impact of female victory without destroying its message: wives are happier when they are allowed to retain their independence.

Three Husbands is a comedy, pure and simple. It lives from its hilarious cast, the catchy dialogue and delightful outcome. It is a story about marriage, rumors and trust. It is also a good seventy-seven minutes of entertainment with a dash of innocent laughs. Eve Arden is my personal cherry on top in this film. Her qualities as a comedienne are so refined and work beautifully with Howard Da Silva and Emlyn Williams, it’s worth watching this movie for their scenes alone. But you should really give the entire film a chance. If you like classic comedies and a decent cast, I’m positive you won’t be disappointed.

Available on amazon and youtube, as well as in the internet archive.