Blu-ray Review: Spellbound

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Distributor: MGM Home Entertainment / 20th Century Fox

Release Date: 24/Jan/2012

Region: Region Free

Length: 118 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC, 37.87 Mbps)

Main Audio: English Mono DTS-HD Master Audio (48kHz, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.37:1

Bitrate: 37.87 Mbps

Notes: This title is also available on DVD. It was released individually and as part of The Premiere Collection boxed set (both with different cover art).

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This Blu-ray title is also available as part of a three film set entitled, The Classic Collection. This set has different cover artwork.

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“Selznick thought I only wanted Dali for publicity purposes. That wasn’t true. I felt that if I was going to have dream sequences, they should be vivid. I didn’t think that we should resort to the old-fashioned blurry effect that they got by putting vaseline around the lens. What I really wanted to do, and they wouldn’t do it because of the expense, was to have the dream sequences shot on the back lot in bright sunshine, so they would have to stop-down the camera to such a degree that the pictures would have been needle-sharp, as contrast to the rest of the picture, which was slightly diffused because that was the cameraman’s particular style. But I used Dali for his draftmanship and the infinity which he introduces into his subject.” –Alfred Hitchcock

While the dream elements of the film are certainly memorable (despite being edited down to almost nothing by Selznick), it is probably the on-screen romance between Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck that attracted most viewers upon the film’s release. Modern critics seem to agree that the film is uneven and that the psychological theories the film is based upon are both dated and overly simplistic. That said, it certainly represented psychoanalytical theories of the era and there was a consultant on the set to make sure that the psychology in the film was more or less accurate. (The consultant was Selznick’s own psychoanalyst, Dr. May Romm.)  It seems unfair to judge the film on its somewhat archaic theories when the theories were relatively new at the time of the film’s release.

Spellbound was warmly received by critics. For example, Bosley Crowther wrote:

“This writer has had little traffic with practitioners of psychiatry or with the twilight abstractions of their science, so we are no in a position to say whether Ingrid Bergman, who plays one in her latest film, Spellbound, is typical of such professionals or whether the methods she employs would yield results. But this we can say with due authority: if all psychiatrists are as fruitful as hers are to Gregory Peck, who plays a victim of amnesia in this fine film which came to the Astor yesterday — then psychiatry deserves such popularity as this picture most certainly will enjoy.

For Miss Bergman and her brand of treatment, so beautifully demonstrated here, is a guaranteed cure for what ails you, just as much as it is for Mr. Peck. It consists of her winning personality, softly but insistently suffused throughout a story of deep emotional content of her ardent sincerity, her lustrous looks and her easy ability to toss off glibly a line of talk upon which most girls would choke…

…This story, we say, has relation to all the faith-healing films ever made, but the manner and quality of its telling is extraordinarily fine. The script, which was based on the novel of Francis Beeding, ‘The House of Dr. Edwardes,’ was prepared by Ben Hecht and the director was Alfred Hitchcock, the old master of dramatic suspense. So the firm texture of the narration, the flow of continuity and dialogue, the shock of the unexpected, the scope of image — all are happily here.

But, in this particular instance, Mr. Hecht and Mr. Hitchcock have done more. They have fashioned a moving love story with the elements of melodramatic use. More than a literal “chase” takes place here — more than a run from the police. A “chase” of even more suspenseful moment is made through the mind of a man. And in this strange and indeterminate area the pursuer — and, partially, the pursued — is the girl with whom the victim is mutually in love. Mr. Hitchcock has used some startling images to symbolize the content of dreams — images designed by Salvador Dali. But his real success is in creating the illusion of love… Not to be speechless about it, David O. Selznick has a rare film in Spellbound.” -Bosley Crowther (New York Times, November 02, 1945)

Spellbound went on to receive quite a few Academy Award nominations (including nominations for Best Picture and Best Director), and won the Oscar for Miklós Rózsa’s innovative score. It is indeed interesting to see how many of Hitchcock’s films that were attacked by critics upon their release are now considered classics (or even masterpieces), while many films that were once praised have fallen from grace.

Perhaps Spellbound isn’t among Hitchcock’s best work, but it is certainly solid entertainment.

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The Presentation:

2.5 of 5 MacGuffins

The disc is contained in the standard Blu-ray case with reasonably attractive cover art. It is nothing earth-shattering, but the artwork is more attractive than MGM’s DVD release of the same title.

There is no menu on the disc. To access the special features or change the audio settings, one must do so while the film is already playing. This is rather bothersome and extremely inconvenient. Some people might not mind this issue, but this film deserves a much better presentation.

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Picture Quality:

3.5 of 5 MacGuffins

This is certainly the best that Spellbound has looked on home video, but one cannot help but be slightly disappointed with this 1080p transfer. There is a fair amount of print damage, shadows are often a bit dull, and there are a few occasions of troublesome edge enhancement. Fortunately, none of these problems ever become distracting. As a matter of fact, the picture exhibits wonderful clarity and remarkable contrast. Grain levels also seem accurate for a film of this vintage.

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Sound Quality:

3 of 5 MacGuffins

The Mono DTS-HD track is also less than impressive. There seems to be a very slight layer of hiss throughout the length of the track and there is also an occasional pop or crackle. These flaws are never distracting and it is perhaps unfair to expect anything better. Milkos Rosza’s score sometimes swallows dialogue, but this issue is obviously source related and should not be held against the actual transfer.

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Special Features:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

Commentary with Thomas Schatz and Charles Ramirez Berg

Schatz and Berg’s discussion is both enthusiastic and lively. Their commentary often focuses on the structure of the film, but covers other territory as well. The downside of the track is that they also provide the occasional false statement (such as mistaking Saboteur for Sabotage).

Running With Scissors: Hitchcock, Surrealism and Salvador Dali – (SD) – (21:25)

This short documentary focuses on Salvador Dali’s contribution to Spellbound. The dream sequence is discussed at length and experts also touch upon the artist’s background.

Guilt by Association: Psychoanalyzing Spellbound – (SD) – (19:39)

Instead of focusing on the making of the film, this documentary touches upon the influence of psychoanalysis upon the production. Experts discuss some of the reasons that this subject matter made its way to the screen during this particular time. It should provide viewers with information that will enrich their enjoyment and understanding of the film.

A Cinderella Story: Rhonda Fleming – (SD) – (10:10)

Rhonda Fleming discusses how she was discovered and cast in Spellbound. She also discusses some of her more recent charity projects.

Peter Bogdanovich Interviews Alfred Hitchcock – (15:22)

This is a brief excerpt of Hitchcock’s interview with Peter Bogdanovich. The audio plays over a blank black screen. Hitchcock is always interesting and this excerpt is no exception.

Original Theatrical Trailer – (SD) – (2:07)

The Theatrical Trailer for Spellbound is included and is more interesting than many trailers from this period.

1948 Radio Version of Spellbound Directed by Alfred Hitchcock – (59:47)

This radio play is interesting, but it has nothing on the actual film. The beginning of this feature includes a list of credits and then the audio plays over a blank black screen.

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Final Words:

Spellbound is not considered one of Alfred Hitchcock’s better efforts, but it is quite charming and certainly worth including in your collection. If MGM’s Blu-ray release isn’t perfect, it is at least an improvement on previous home video transfers.

Review by: Devon Powell