Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman

In honor of Halloween, I am reviewing two psychological thrillers directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Earlier this week I reviewed his adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s book Rebecca, starring Sir Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. Today, on Halloween, I am going to the root of psychological thrillers—Spellbound. Why do I consider Spellbound one of the greatest thrillers in film history? Because it’s actually psychological! Like…it’s really about this guy’s psyche, and what could be more thrilling than that?

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Spellbound is an adaptation of the 1927 novel The House of Dr. Edwardes by Hilary Saint George Saunders and John Palmer. It stars the incomparable Ingrid Bergman as the psychoanalyst Dr. Constance Petersen and the dashing Gregory Peck as Dr. Edwardes, the head of a mental asylum. However, after noticing some peculiar behavior of Dr. Edwardes, Dr. Petersen discovers that he is not the real Edwardes. He reveals to Petersen that he killed the true Dr. Edwardes and took his place, but he suffers from a severe case of amnesia and doesn’t even know who he is. Now calling himself John Brown, he leaves the mental asylum. But Petersen, who believes him to be innocent and suffering from a psychological guilt complex, follows him. Together, they evade capture by the police as Petersen uses psychoanalysis to get to the root of John Brown’s guilt complex. It is through Freudian psychoanalysis of a dream that Petersen discovers the truth about John Brown and Dr. Edwardes’ death. And…if you want to discover the truth, then watch the movie.


Image from the dream sequence designed by Dali.

There are many spectacular aspects of this film. Hitchcock was a true genius with a psychological thriller, and both Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck are stellar actors. The question of John Brown’s innocence or guilt is expertly hung in the air throughout the film. Petersen’s genuine belief in Brown’s innocence invests the viewers in the characters. But viewers can never fully trust that Brown is innocent. On top of this, the movie is full of Freudian psychology, from the meaning of dreams to the importance of childhood events in psychological issues. The first spoke lines of the film are two lines from a Shakespeare play, “The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” The evil that unfolds in the story is rooted in the characters themselves. The problems are in the human psyche, not destiny. The cherry on the psychological cake is the phenomenal dream sequence designed by surrealist artist Salvador Dali.


Hitchcock (center) and Dali (right)

If you like suspenseful movies, the philosophy of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, black and white films, or the perfectly handsome Gregory Peck, then Spellbound is a movie for you. Boasting beautiful music that won the Academy Award for Best Score, it keeps you on the edge of your seat while offering a classic Hollywood experience. It is definitely a movie that will keep you spellbound.


Dr. Petersen and John Brown


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