Sunday, April 17, 2011

Spellbound. B+


As I watched Spellbound, similarities to Vertigo kept popping up, almost as if the movie was some sort of prep work for Hitchcock's masterwork. I saw a romance built on mad love and obsession, I saw a character haunted by a past he can't remember, a character with problems he cannot figure out. Here it's a man, in Vertigo it's a woman, Kim Novak's Madeleine. And as in Vertigo, I saw a sinister murder plot, an elaborate dream sequence, a surprise ending, and an overall romantic tone fueled by perpetual mystery. These similarities are likely a coincidence, since the novel Vertigo was based on hadn't even been written, but the point is that one can see some of Hitchcock's primary interests with these two pictures. Spellbound is a weaker film because it has Gregory Peck in a role that is pretty lifeless and mostly devoid of the passion that makes Madeleine so enduring. And the movie doesn't have the same effect on the viewer as Vertigo does, either. While it has a tone of obsession, it fails to make us obsessed. And as one of Hitchcock's most psychological stories, the movie doesn't really go to many adventuresome places, instead settling for an overtly romantic mood. The good news is that the story, concerning a the new head of a mental hospital (Peck) who may or may not be a murderous impostor, is swift and exciting. And there's a lot here that's expertly done, including Peck's phobia for parallel lines against a white background, Salvador Dali's famous dream scene, and the Oscar winning score by Miklos Rozsa. And there's also great supporting work from Michael Chekhov as a wise old man and one of the best of Hitchcock's side players. Spellbound is like Vertigo-lite. Though it could have been better, it still contains elements that show why Hitchcock is great, even if the movie itself is not.

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