In the amazing list “Hollywood Giallo (+ its others),” IMDB user Schwenkstar says of this movie, “The razor blade, the repressed memories, the amnesia, the mistaken identities, the Freudian subtext, the surreal dream sequences, the fixation on eyes and the hooded figure all prefigure giallo films.”
Based on The House of Dr. Edwardes by Hilary Saint George Saunders and John Palmer, Spellbound finds Dr. Constance Peterse (Ingrid Bergman) working as a psychoanalyst at Green Manors, a mental health facility in Vermont. The rest of the staff whisper that she’s an ice queen, but she’s instantly all hot and bothered by the arrival of the new director Dr. Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck).
Yet all is not well. Edwardes has a strange fear of parallel lines against a white background and his signature doesn’t match up to his published books. He confides in her that he’s killed Edwardes and has taken over his identity; she doesn’t believe him and works to save him. Man, women were seeing unredeemable men as projects as far back as 1945.
The rest of the world believes Edwardes/John Ballantyne to be a murderer, but Dr. Peterse keeps believing in her man, even when he’s arrested, tried and convicted of murder. Do memories lie? Can they be implanted? And can Gregory Peck really be a murderer?
Director Alfred Hitchcock made this movie for producer David O. Selznick, one of three films he made for him before creative conflicts got in the way (the other two are Rebecca and The Paradine Case. Selznick asked Hitchcock to make a film based upon his positive experience with psychoanalysis and that inspired the movie Selznick brought in his own therapist, May Romm, MD, to serve as the technical advisor on the production, which basically meant arguing with Hitchcock.
What led to even further fights between director and producer was the dream sequence. Hitchcock had hired Salvador Dalí to conceive and design that segment, but it was too long — twenty minutes! — for Selznick and only two minutes — which were directed by William Cameron Menzies — are in the movie. Whatever ended up on the cutting room floor is lost forever.
Hitchcock explained to François Truffaut, “Dalí had some strange ideas; he wanted a statue to crack like a shell falling apart, with ants crawling all over it, and underneath, there would be Ingrid Bergman, covered by the ants! It just wasn’t possible.”
However, he did add that only Dali could make a true dream sequence possible: “What I was after was the vividness of dreams. As you know, all Dalí’s work is very solid, very sharp, with very long perspectives, black shadows. This was again the avoidance of the cliché: all dreams in movies are blurred. It isn’t true—Dalí was the best man to do the dreams because that’s what dreams should be.”