5 Things You May Not Know About Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Spellbound’

5 Things You May Not Know About Alfred Hitchcock's 'Spellbound'

We’re of the general opinion that you can never get enough Alfred Hitchcock, and while we’ve just wrapped up our massive retrospective of the director’s films to celebrate the release of a new Blu-ray boxset of his work, today has another Hitch connection. These days, Halloween means "Paranormal Activity" sequels in theaters (and before that, "Saw" movies), but in the past, when the holiday wasn’t such a corporate behemoth, more interesting fare made it to theaters for that time of year. And October 31, 1945 saw the release of Hitchcock’s "Spellbound."

Alfred Hitchcock came to Hollywood after a string of hits in Great Britain in 1940, and swiftly became one of the most in-demand directors around thanks to films like "Rebecca," "Foreign Correspondent," "Shadow of a Doubt," and "Lifeboat." But one of his most forward looking pictures of the 1940s was his thriller about a psychoanalyst at a mental asylum (Ingrid Bergman) who begins to realize that the new director, Dr. Edwardes (Gregory Peck), might not be who he appears to be.

Despite Hitchcock labelling it as "just another manhunt," the film holds up as one of the director’s most interesting and rich films of the period, thanks in part to surreal imagery contributed by artist Salvador Dali, and yet it proved to be a huge hit and picked up six Oscar nominations. To mark the release of the film all those years ago, we’ve dug up five facts about the movie that even the most ardent Hitchcock-ophile might not be aware of. Check them out below.

1. The film came out of producer David O. Selznick’s desire to spread the word about psychoanalysis.
Like many in Hollywood at the time, legendary producer David O. Selznick had become an advocate of the benefits of psychoanalysis (he was also an advocate of amphetamines, but that’s neither here nor there), and wanted to release a major movie to sing its praises. As such, when Alfred Hitchcock, who Selznick had brought to Hollywood for the Oscar-winning "Rebecca," wanted to buy the rights to thriller novel "The House of Dr. Edwardes" by Francis Beeding (the pseudonym of John Palmer and Hilary A. Saunders), Selznick agreed, acquiring the book for a whopping $40,000. The producer also provided the use of his own analyst, May Romm M.D, as a technical adviser for the shoot. Hitchcock would mostly ignore her, however, telling her after she tried to correct him on one scene, "My dear, it’s only a movie."

2. While Salvador Dali was hired to create the delusion sequences, much of what he planned was either not shot or cut by Selznick.
Hitchcock had the brilliant idea of using surrealist legend Salvador Dali to design the sequences of delusion. Selznick was initially unsure, but when he realized the publicity boon it would cause, he agreed. However, things quickly went downhill: Hitchcock gave Dali pretty much free rein, and had little to do with the sequence, and as a result, Selznick tried to bring it under control by hiring legendary production designer William Cameron Menzies ("Gone With The Wind") to helm the sequence — although Menzies was unhappy with the end result, and had his credit taken off. Once it was completed, it seemingly ran as much as twenty minutes (according to Ingrid Bergman in Donald Spoto’s book "The Dark Side of Genius"), but Selznick cut much of what remained (including shots of Bergman as the god Diana). Ultimately, fourteen minutes of the film in total were removed by the producer (which seems to have been lost), while censors demanded that provocative references to "sex menace," "frustrations," "libido" and "tomcat" were taken out.  

3. Joseph Cotten and Greta Garbo were considered for the lead roles at one point.
"Spellbound" has one of Hitchcock’s finest casts, with Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman in the lead roles, and legendary Russian actor Michael Chekhov and Hitchcock favorite Leo G. Carroll in support. But as ever, it could have turned out very differently: Selznick originally wanted Joseph Cotten, Dorothy McGuire ("Gentlemen’s Agreement") and Paul Lukas ("Watch On The Rhine," "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea") for the lead roles, while at one point he thought about luring Greta Garbo out of retirement to play Dr. Petersen. Peck, Bergman and Chekhov won out, although Cotten would eventually get the chance to play the role, taking on Dr. Edwardes/John Ballantyne in two separate radio productions in 1948 and 1951.

4. The film caused a rift between Selznick and Hitchcock.
Selznick had given Hitchcock his first Hollywood break with "Rebecca" in 1940, and they’d had a huge Oscar-winning success with it, but the producer had mostly lent the director out to other studios since, for the likes of "Suspicion" and "Shadow of a Doubt." "Spellbound" marked their first collaboration since "Rebecca," and things went less smoothly, with the director and producer clashing, as we’ve seen, on everything from casting to the Dali sequence. As a result, relationships became estranged, and it may have contributed to the following year’s "Notorious" being sold off to RKO Radio Pictures, in part because Selznick needed cash after overruns on "Duel In The Sun" (which Selznick must have regretted: Hitchcock’s film became a giant hit). In 1947, they would make one final film together, the poorly-received "The Paradine Case," but Hitchcock had become too powerful, the partnership had unravelled, and the director and producer never worked together again.

5. The score features one of the earliest uses of the theremin.
The sound of the theremin, which had been invented in 1928, would become associated indelibly with science fiction thanks to its use in films like "The Day The Earth Stood Still." But the instrument originally got its start in Hollywood (it had been used in the scores to some Russian films like 1931’s "Odna") thanks to the score for "Spellbound." After Bernard Hermann turned the project down, Hungarian composer Miklós Rózsa ("The Four Feathers," "Ben-Hur") got the gig, and decided to use the eerie instrument as the centrepiece of his score. It was played by Dr. Samuel Hoffman, a medical doctor who had a sideline as one of the most important practicioners of the instrument, later playing on the scores for "The Thing From Another World," "It Came From Outer Space," "The 5000 Fingers Of Dr. T" and "The Ten Commandments," among many others. The score would win an Oscar, and remains one of the composer’s favorites, but Hitchcock never liked it, saying it got in the way of his direction.

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Great piece!

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