In the 1945 thriller Spellbound, Ingrid Bergman asks a lot of questions.
She asks so many questions, in fact, we’re willing to bet she holds some kind of cinematic record.
Bergman plays a psychoanalyst who helps amnesia victim Gregory Peck uncover details of a murder he may or may not have committed. She is convinced Peck has knowledge of an event so horrible he’s buried it in his subconscious. This is coupled with a Guilt Complex that is clouding his mind.
We (as in, yours truly) are not trained in psychiatry, so here’s the simple Wikipedia definition of a Guilt Complex:
Guilt Com·plex (noun) : an obsession with the idea of having done wrong
You need to keep this definition handy because the term “Guilt Complex” really gets around in this film. Between Guilt Complex discussions and Bergman’s questions, it’s a wonder anything gets done.
But in spite of all of this heavy-handed psychiatry, Spellbound zips along. When Peck is discovered to be impersonating a man who has disappeared – and later found dead – Bergman takes it upon herself to Sort Things Out.
Of course, she and Peck and fallen in love, and she’s convinced of his innocence. It’s hard to know what this conviction is based on, because here’s what keeps happening:
- Peck sees a pattern of straight lines and goes into kind of a trance.
- Bergman starts grilling him with questions. What does he see? What is he thinking? What does he remember?
- Peck snaps at Bergman and tells her to stop.
- Bergman asks even more questions.
- Peck blacks out.
Bergman is certain this means progress – and she may be right, because each time Peck is able to shake a few more memories out of the box.
So you can see why Bergman asks so many questions. It appears you have to, if you’re going to reboot someone’s memory.
Now, all of this questioning takes place in between dodging the police and mental health authorities, and hoping Peck doesn’t get any funny ideas when he sees a pattern of lines while he’s holding a straight-edge razor.
Spellbound is not one of our favourite Hitchcock films; however, Hitch is such a clever director and the cast is so good, it ends up a much better film than it looks on paper.
Bergman’s performance is crucial – it’s up to her to carry the film. She convinces us the answers to the mystery are so close, we can almost reach out and touch them.
Her character is unafraid to collide head on with what comes next, even if it means Peck might kill her. (Well, if she insists on asking all those blasted questions…) However, her desire to cure him is far greater than her fear of him.
Bergman also has a way of slipping into Kind Doctor Mode, the way some doctors do when they’re delivering bad news in an upbeat way. When she questions Peck, she speaks in a soft, cheerful voice and assures Peck they’ll Get To The Bottom Of This.
How can you not salute a woman like that?
Spellbound has its flaws, in our opinion, but it is a must-see for Ingrid Bergman fans – or for those who like a big helping of psychoanalysis with their thrillers.
Spellbound: starring Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, Michael Checkov. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Written by Ben Hecht and Angus MacPhail (adaptation). United Artists Corp., 1945, B&W, 115 mins.
This post is part of The Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema. Click HERE to see the schedule.