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Laramie Movie Scope:
Spellbound (1945)

An amnesiac impostor captures the heart of a female psychoanalyst

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(1945, b/w) At Green Manors Mental Asylum in Brooklyn, Dr Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman), is all business and seriousness - one of her patients, Mary Carmichael (Rhonda Fleming), snarls about the "drooling science" of psychoanalysis while her colleague, Dr Fleurot, disappointed in her lack of human and emotional experience, especially her indifference to his courtship, refers to her as a "human glacier."

However, upon the arrival of Dr Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck), taking over the directorship from Dr Murchison (Leo G. Carroll), who after 20 years has been forced into retirement following 20 years of service and a nervous breakdown, she's smitten. Out on a stroll in the countryside together, Dr Edwardes says to her: "It happens in a moment sometimes like lightning striking."

From the outset, Dr Edwardes exhibits an irrational anxiety whenever he sees lines on a white background, as when Dr Petersen uses her fork to draw a figure on the table linen or while she's wearing a robe displaying a similar design; in the operating room during surgery he passes out from shock. Noticing in a copy of Dr Edwardes's book, Labyrinth of the Guilt Complex, an inscription with signature that does not match that of the new chief, Dr Petersen demands of him: "Who are you?" When he admits he doesn't know, confessing, "I killed him and took his place," Constance tries to comfort the handsome amnesiac - amnesia being the mind's trick to preserve sanity after a horrible event - assuring him that he's suffering from a guilt fantasy, not a murderer.

In the wake of his sneaking off at night, leaving her a message of his going to the Empire Hotel in New York City (signed "J.B." from initials on a cigarette case in his possession), Constance, after hearing Dr Murchison's theory that the paranoid impostor killed the real Dr Edwardes and Dr Fleurot's prediction that he will soon commit suicide, dissembles to the police before pursuing him. Finding "John Brown" with the help of the house detective ("I'm a kind of a psychologist"), she says as she embraces and kisses him: "It has nothing to do with love. Nothing at all."

In an effort to treat and cure J.B. (whom she's sure has medical training and has recently suffered from a serious accident) by uncovering the source of his guilt complex from an assumed incident in his childhood as well as to escape from the authorities, Constance takes him by train to the home of her mentor, Dr Alex Brulov (Michael Chekov), in Rochester. Concerned that J.B. may be a dangerous schizophrenic, Dr Brulov reprehends his former pupil and assistant: "We both know that the mind of a woman in love is operating on the lowest level of the intellect." Certain that she couldn't love an evil man, Constance replies: "the heart can see deeper sometimes."

Inspired by Francis Breeding's novel, The House of Dr. Edwardes, director Alfred Hitchcock's psychological thriller, featuring a dream sequence based on Salvadore Dali's surrealistic images, from Ben Hecht's screenplay - recipient of five Oscar nominations, winning for Miklos Rozsa's Best Original Score - is marred by a faked scene of downhill skiing.

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Copyright © 2010 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

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