‘Spellbound’: A Star-Studded Love Story in Dalí’s Design and Hitchcock’s Style

Alfred Hitchcock directs Ingrid Bergman on the set of 'Spellbound' in 1944. Still photographer: Ned Scott © Selznick International Pictures, Vanguard Films


By Sven Mikulec

One of the thematically unique works of Alfred Hitchcock was definitely the 1945 giant crowd-pleaser called Spellbound, featuring the unlikely romance of Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. The story of a psychiatrist eager to prove the innocence of a man suspected of murder by using psychoanalysis found its way to the audience, generously helped by the appeal of the renowned star Bergman and the up-and-coming leading man Peck. Based on Hilary Saint George Saunders and John Palmer’s 1927 novel ‘The House of Dr. Edwardes,’ to which Hitchcock bought the rights, the screenplay was first developed by Hitchcock and the British writer Angus MacPhail, but producer David O. Selznick decided the script needed some help, hence hiring Ben Hecht to embellish the material. Since Hitchcock had a desire to put in a dream sequence in the film, but wanted to stray from the conventional path of dream representation in movies, he insisted on hiring Salvador Dalí to design the sequence. Selznick allegedly agreed upon realizing the publicity value of such a move. During Hitchcock’s trip to England, William Cameron Menzies was hired to film this portion of the film. Even though Hitchcock approved of his work upon returning to the States, Selznick decided to cut most of the sequence out of the final version. What remained still managed to have an impact on the audience, turning into one of the most quoted and referenced parts of Hitchcock’s picture, but dissatisfied Menzies declined an official credit. Selznick allegedly agreed to make this film from a desire to promote psychoanalysis and as a way of personally thanking his psychotherapist May Romm M.D., whom he brought on as a technical adviser to Hitchcock. The film also found its way into the history books due to Miklós Rózsa’s score: the Hungarian composer’s work on Spellbound included one of the first uses of an electronic instrument called the theremin, and Spellbound’s soundtrack was one of the first albums to achieve commercial success, opening the eyes of studio heads who realized the soundtrack’s potential to acquire extra profit.

Even though, in his legendary conversation with Truffaut, Hitchcock denounced Spellbound as just another manhunt disguised in pseudo-psychology, it’s not that unreasonable to believe that what bothered Hitchcock about the movie and shaped his memory of its filming was the tension with Selznick that severed their professional relationship. Hitchcock and the producer often clashed during production, mostly stemming from the filmmaker’s fondness of independence and the producer’s controlling nature. The truth is that this is indeed another love story, but the obstacle in the couple’s path to happiness and bliss is much more complex this time. One of the taglines used in the film’s promotion—“will he kiss me or kill me”—has not only proven effective, as the audiences stormed the theaters, but nicely sums up the point of the movie and the specificity of this Hitchcock’s tense and inviting creation.

A monumentally important screenplay. Screenwriter must-read: Ben Hecht’s screenplay for Spellbound [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available at Amazon and other online retailers. Absolutely our highest recommendation.

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In the fall of 1962, whilst The Birds was in post-production, François Truffaut carried out extensive interviews with Alfred Hitchcock at his offices at Universal Studios. The interviews were recorded to audio tape and the content eventually edited down into the ‘Hitchcock/Truffaut’ book. Buy Hitchcock by François Truffaut from Amazon. Hitchcock/Truffaut documentary explores the art and influence of Hitchcock through his famed 1962 interview with French auteur François Truffaut.

In 1944 you went back to America to make Spellbound. I notice among the credits the name of Angus MacPhail. I believe he also worked with you on Bon Voyage.
Angus Mac­Phail was the head of Gaumont-British’s sce­nario department. He had been one of those young Cambridge intellectuals who had taken an interest in cinema in the early days. I first met him on the set of The Lodger, when we were both working for Gaumont-British. I met him again in London when I went over to do those French shorts, and we outlined the first treat­ment of Spellbound together. But the script wasn’t tight enough, it rambled; so when I came back to Hollywood, Ben Hecht was assigned to it. ince he was very keen on psychoanalysis, he turned out to be a very fortunate choice.

In the book they’ve written about you, Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol claim you in­tended Spellbound to be a wilder, more extrav­agant picture. The clinic director, for instance, was to have the Cross of Christ tattooed on his soles so that he trampled it with each step. He also engaged in various forms of black magic.
Well, the original novel, ‘The House of Dr. Edwardes,’ was about a madman taking over an insane asylum. It was melodramatic and quite weird. In the book even the orderlies were lunatics and they did some very queer things. But I wanted to do something more sensible, to turn out the first picture on psychoanalysis. So I worked with Ben Hecht, who was in constant touch with prominent psychoanalysts. I was determined to break with the traditional way of handling dream sequences through a blurred and hazy screen. I asked Selznick if he could get Dali to work with us and he agreed, though I think he didn’t really understand my reasons for wanting Dali. He probably thought I wanted his collaboration for publicity pur­poses. The real reason was that I wanted to con­vey the dreams with great visual sharpness and clarity, sharper than the film itself. I wanted Dali because of the architectural sharpness of his work. Chirico has the same quality, you know, the long shadows, the infinity of distance, and the converging lines of perspective. But Dali had some strange ideas; he wanted a statue to crack like a shell falling apart, with ants crawling all over it, and underneath, there would be Ingrid Bergman, covered by the ants! It just wasn’t possible. My idea was to shoot the Dali dream scenes in the open air so that the whole thing, photo­graphed in real sunshine, would be terribly sharp. I was very keen on that idea, but the producers were concerned about the expense. So we shot the dream in the studios.


Finally, there was a single dream di­vided into four separate parts. I saw Spellbound again recently and I must admit that I didn’t care very much for the scenario.
Well, it’s just another manhunt story wrapped up in pseudo-psychoanalysis.

The peculiar thing is that several of your pictures-among them Notorious and Ver­tigo-really look like filmed dreams, and that’s why one expects a Hitchcock film on psycho­analysis to be wildly imaginative-way out! In­stead, this turns out to be one of your most sensible pictures, with lots of dialogue. My crit­icism is that Spellbound is rather weak on fan­tasy, especially in the light of some of your other works. 
Since psychoanalysis was involved, there was a reluctance to fantasize; we tried to use a logical approach to the man’s adventure.

I see. Well anyway, there are some very beautiful scenes in the picture. For in­stance, the one showing the seven doors open­ing after the kiss, and even the first meeting between Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman; that was so clearly love at first sight.
Unfortunately, the violins begin to play just then. That was terrible!

I also liked the group of shots following Gregory Peck’s arrest and the close-ups of In­grid Bergman before she begins to cry. On the other hand, the whole sequence in which they take refuge with the elderly professor was of no particular interest. I hope you won’t be of­fended, but I must say I found the picture something of a disappointment.
Not at all. The whole thing’s too com­plicated, and I found the explanations toward the end very confusing.

Another serious weakness of this film—and this also applies to The Paradine Case—is Gregory Peck. Whereas Ingrid Bergman is an extraordinary actress, ideally well suited to your style, Gregory Peck isn’t a Hitchcockian actor. He’s shallow for one, but the main thing is the lack of expression in his eyes. Even so, I prefer The Paradine Case to Spellbound. How about you?
I don’t know. There are several errors in that one as well.


A study Salvador Dalí drew for a dream sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound. Credit: Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí/Artists Rights Society, New York.


Salvador Dalí’s set design for Spellbound.


Pre-production drawing of Salvador Dalí’s dream sequence in Spellbound.



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Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound. Photographed by Ned Scott © Selznick International Pictures, Vanguard Films. Intended for editorial use only. All material for educational and noncommercial purposes only.


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