Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Spellbound (1945)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Spellbound (1945)

In director Alfred Hitchcock's psychological mystery-thriller set in a psychiatric institution - it often used Freudian symbols and analysis to add richness to the mysterious plot about identity confusion. The noirish film was adapted by Ben Hecht and Angus MacPhail from the 1927 novel "The House of Dr. Edwardes" written by British authors Hilary Saint George Saunders and John Palmer (with pseudonym "Francis Beeding").

From its six Academy Awards nominations (including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Michael Chekhov), Best B/W Cinematography, and Best Special Effects), it won Best Original Musical Score for Miklós Rózsa (including one of the earliest uses of the theremin - an electronic instrument). [Note: The same year's noirish The Lost Weekend (1945) also prominently featured the instrument.]

The MacGuffins in this melodramatic Hitchcock film were, in essence, the memories of past traumatic events that needed to be interpreted (through pseudo-psychology) in order to prove the innocence of a man wrongly convicted of murder, to cure him of physical manifestations of his mental disease, and to assist him in finding love. The MacGuffin in the story ultimately climaxed to reveal the unmasking of the real killer. The mystery element of the film was played up in the film's taglines:

  • Strange...Strange...Their Irresistible Love! Dark...Dark...Their Inescapable Fears !
  • Will he Kiss me or Kill me?
  • The Maddest Love that ever possessed a woman
  • the opening title credits concluded with a quote from Shakespeare: "The not in our stars, but in ourselves", and a scrolling foreword explained the process of Freudian psychoanalysis and its virtues in unlocking the hidden emotional secrets of the human soul that caused mental illness: ("Our story deals with psychoanalysis, the method by which modern science treats the emotional problems of the sane. The analyst seeks only to induce the patient to talk about his hidden problems, to open the locked doors of his mind. Once the complexes that have been disturbing the patient are uncovered and interpreted, the illness and confusion disappear...and the devils of unreason are driven from the human soul")
Opening Title Credits - View of Green Manors - With a Quote and a Foreword
  • at a Vermont mental hospital-asylum (Green Manors), intellectual, frigid, aloof and cool-minded psychoanalyst Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman), the hospital's only female psychologist, was meeting with a very resistant young and angry, nymphomaniacal patient named Mary Carmichael (Rhonda Fleming); the doctor stated the whole purpose of her therapy: "When you know why you're doing something that's bad for you and when you first started doing it. Then you can begin curing yourself"
  • after the session ended abruptly when the patient became violent, threw a book, and was led away, a colleague named Dr. Fleurot (John Emery) evaluated Dr. Petersen's cold demeanor and "brilliant but lifeless" style as a detriment to her success: ("Your lack of human and emotional experience is bad for you as a doctor and fatal for you as a woman"); she rebuffed his excuses to make amorous advances at her, including a coldly-received kiss
  • meanwhile, new handsome psychiatrist Dr. Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck) was arriving to replace the outgoing director or head of the institution, Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll), who had been involuntarily retired after 20 years of service by the board of directors; he had "crumbled" from mental exhaustion after a recent trip, due to being overworked; it was also the final few days of Murchison's six-month mentoring of Dr. Petersen
Dr. Petersen's Immediate Attraction to Dr. Edwardes
  • Dr. Petersen was immediately attracted to the new young director of Green Manors, Dr. Edwardes, a reknowned expert on guilt complexes; Dr. Petersen succinctly described his own theory to him: "People often feel guilty over something they never did. It usually goes back to their childhood. The child often wishes something terrible would happen to someone, and if something does happen to that person, the child believes he's caused it. Then he grows up with a guilt complex over a sin that was only a child's bad dream" - her words neatly foreshadowed the problems that would surface for Dr. Edwardes
Images Causing Traumatic Reactions - Related to Dr. Edwardes' (or JB's) Past

Fork Tracks on a Tablecloth at the Institution

The Dark Parallel Lines on Dr. Petersen's Robe

The Vertical Bars at the Penn Train Station Ticket Office

Parallel Train Tracks On the Train Trip to Rochester, NY

Lines on a Bedspread at Dr. Brulov's Guest Room

Parallel Sledding Tracks in Snow Outside Dr. Brulov's Window
  • director Hitchcock featured set-pieces to depict the crazed and phobic mental state of Edwardes - represented by MacGuffins that needed to be interpreted or solved; Dr. Edwardes frequently saw disturbing images shortly after his arrival; the first image to cause an anxiety attack was parallel fork lines drawn by Constance on a tablecloth; why did the lines or patterns haunt and agitate the sanity of the young Dr. Anthony Edwardes? -- was it due to childhood trauma, or a forgotten murder from the past?
  • during an afternoon picnic, Dr. Edwardes and Dr. Petersen's love affair deepened as they ascended up a hillside, and she returned to the institution - with a distracted, slightly disheveled look and tossled hair; that evening, after being unable to sleep that evening, she ventured to the institution's library, where she located Dr. Edwardes' personally-autographed book (Labyrinth of the Guilt Complex)
The Growing Strength of a Love Affair Between Dr. Edwardes and Dr. Petersen
  • she entered Dr. Edwardes' living quarters, claiming she wanted to discuss his book with him, but then was embarrassed to admit " a distracted child" that it was only an excuse to see him again; he admitted that he had fallen for her that afternoon: ("It was like lightning striking. It strikes rarely"); he approached her, causing her to shut her eyes as she submitted to him: ("I don't understand how it happened"); a double-exposed image of multiple doors opening down a hallway appeared as they kissed and embraced
  • but then as they closely hugged each other, parallel stripes on her white robe (all lines on a white background) caused him extreme anxiety and he briefly became dizzy and panicked (theremin sounds accentuated his acute reaction) at the sight of the dark lines
  • she realized that he had some unusual and mysterious deep-seated problem; he was called away to conduct an emergency surgery in a subterranean operating room on a violent patient who attempted to slit his own throat; Dr. Edwardes reacted with another panic attack, disorientation and physical collapse after complaining about the dark corridor without lights
  • while Dr. Petersen cared for him that evening as he slept, she realized that the signature on a note slipped to her earlier by him was markedly different from his autograph in his book; she suspected he was a fraud; when he wakened, she confronted him directly: "Who are you?"
  • as a result of Dr. Petersen's probing, Edwardes admitted that he was an imposter, had no memory, and also expressed fears that he may have killed the real Dr. Edwardes, and then taken his place at Green Manors: ("I remember now. Edwardes is dead. I killed him and took his place. I'm someone else, I don't know who. I killed him. Edwardes")
  • Dr. Petersen became even more concerned about Edwardes' mental state, involving delusions and paranoia, neurosis, and memory loss (amnesia); he tried to explain the reason for his amnesia: ("A trick of the mind for remaining sane. You remain sane by forgetting something too horrible to remember"); when he assumed he had committed murder, she responded: "That's a delusion you have acquired out of illness"
  • he explained two incidents that caused him to realize he was being confused with Dr. Edwardes; the previous day, his office assistant Norma Cramer had called and didn't recognize his voice, and another connection to his past reality was the discovery of his monogrammed cigarette case with the initials "J.B."; although she was still falling in love with him, Dr. Petersen began to rationally suspect that Dr. Edwardes was delusional and homicidal, and might have murdered the real Dr. Edwardes (Edward Fielding)
  • after his confession, Edwardes fled that night from the institution to the Empire State Hotel, leaving behind a love note for Constance under her door about his whereabouts; the next morning, the police arrived after being alerted to the possibility that 'Edwardes' was a fraud - due to accusations by the office assistant Norma Cramer and her copy of Edwardes' actual photograph
  • an important revelation - important later - was that Murchison claimed, after looking at the photo, that he had never met the real Edwardes; he also accused the "imposter" of killing Edwardes: "He killed Dr. Edwardes and took his place in order to conceal his crime by pretending the victim was still alive"
  • Dr. Petersen set out in pursuit after him, and located 'Edwardes' in his NYC hotel where he had taken the name 'John Brown'; once she found him, she stated her intentions: "Take care of you, cure you, and remain with you till that happens"; he repeated his fears that he was being regarded as a criminal for assuming Edwardes' identity as an imposter; she added: "I'm here as your doctor only. It has nothing to do with love" - but they kissed passionately, betraying her thought
  • she psychoanalyzed him in the hotel room, hoping "if we can unlock one tiny memory, it will give us a key to the others"; they determined that he had medical knowledge and his real occupation was as a medical physician; he also noted one thing he was logically certain of - that he had been a patient (suffering from war-related "nerve shock") of the real Dr. Edwardes at a Cumberland Mountains resort and was with him on the day that he disappeared (or died?) (during a skiing incident); he also imaginatively feared that he might have hidden the body; she surmised that he may have been in an accident
  • she noticed third-degree burns (and recent skin-grafts) on his left hand, but he couldn't recall their origin; their conversation was interrupted by the delivery of the recent newspaper with an illustrated article about Dr. Constance Petersen "Believed Aiding Madman Wanted in Edwardes Mystery"; when recognized by the bellboy, they were compelled to leave the hotel immediately (a familiar 'innocent man on the run' plot); as they fled together to the Pennsylvania Station, he fainted when pressured to remember at the ticket counter (with vertical bars) where he might have been going when he left the Cumberlands and bought tickets with Dr. Edwardes; she changed their initial ticket purchase destination from Rome, GA, and suggested a diversion - to instead go to Grand Central Station and board a train to visit her previous teacher, mentor and psychoanalyst Dr. Alexander "Alex" Brulov (Michael Chekhov) who lived in Rochester, NY, to diagnose JB's case via dream analysis
  • on the train, he recalled that he had received the burns while flying during a WWII medical transport mission in Italy (over Rome - the reason for his recollection about Rome), when he had to bail out and parachute to safety - subsequently suffering from "nerve shock" (today's PTSD)
  • once they arrived at Dr. Brulov's home, Constance introduced JB as her newly-wed husband "John Brown" and they were on their honeymoon; he congratulated her but also warned: "Women make the best psychoanalysts till they fall in love. After that, they make the best patients"; as they retired to the upstairs guest room that evening (to sleep in separate beds), they kissed each other; JB again suffered an anxiety attack over the parallel lines or patterns on the bedspread; during the night, he also panicked in the all-white bathroom as he attempted to shave; in a trance-like dazed state, the disturbed JB descended the stairs as the camera focused on the straight-edged razor carried in his right hand as he approached the old doctor seated downstairs; Dr. Brulov shared a late-night milk and crackers snack break with JB
  • the next day, the suspicious and wily Dr. Brulov told Dr. Petersen that he had instinctively realized that there were signs that JB might be a dangerous lunatic murderer (he had taken precautions the previous evening by putting bromide in JB's milk as a sedative); he was threatening to call the police, but Dr. Petersen dissuaded him by trying to convince him that she couldn't love a bad man who had committed murder; Dr. Brulov questioned Constance's "school-girl" innocence and cautioned her that she might be in love with a schizophrenic: "We both know that the mind of a woman in love is operating on the lowest level of the intellect....You are 20 times crazier than him. 'She couldn't love him if he was no good.' This is baby talk. Nothing else"; she convinced him to give her a few days so that they could treat and cure him as doctors, and prove his innocence
  • once JB revived the next morning, Dr. Brulov began to interpret the dream he had the night before, explaining: "The secrets of who you are and what has made you run away from yourself, all these secrets are buried in your brain...They tell you what you are trying to hide. But they tell it to you all mixed up, like pieces of a puzzle that don't fit. The problem of the analyst is to examine this puzzle and put the pieces together in the right place. And find out what the devil you are trying to say to yourself"
The Dream Analysis Session with Dr. Brulov and Dr. Petersen

Gambling House With Eyes Painted on Curtains

Man With Scissors Cutting Drapes in Half

Dealing at Blackjack, and Losing to a Bearded Man

The Bearded Man's Cards Were Blank

Faceless Proprietor Accused the Man of Cheating and Threatened Him

Sloping Rooftop Where Bearded Man Tumbled Down

Proprietor on Sloping Rooftop Behind Chimney With Misshapen Wheel in His Hand

The Wheel Was Dropped On the Rooftop and Partially Slid Down

The Dreamer Was Pursued Downhill by Large Flapping Wings
  • a pivotal, brilliant nightmarish dream-remembrance sequence, conceived by surrealist artist Salvador Dali, depicted JB's recent puzzling dream due to his trauma:
    • there was a room in a gambling house or casino (with disembodied eyes painted on the curtains)
    • a man with a large pair of scissors was cutting the drapes in half
    • a partially-clad girl entered and kissed everyone, starting at the dreamer's table first
    • in the room, as the dreamer was dealing cards during a game of blackjack (or 21) at a long table with an elderly bearded man, he turned up a seven of clubs; the elderly man declared that he had won and hit 21; but when he turned his cards over, they were blank
    • an angry, faceless, masked proprietor entered the scene and accused the elderly gent of cheating
    • the old bearded man was leaning too far over the sloping roof of a high building, and slowly fell head-over-heels off the roof
    • the proprietor appeared again on the sloping rooftop, hiding behind a tall chimney with a small misshapen wheel in his hand; he dropped the wheel on the rooftop
    • after a dissolve, the dreamer found himself racing on foot toward the bottom of a steeply sloped hill, pursued by a giant pair of shadowy, flapping wings
  • at the conclusion of the dream sequence, JB was traumatized when looking out Dr. Brulov's window, viewing a slope of white snow with dark sledding tracks; Dr. Petersen interpreted JB's phobia: "It was the snow. That's the white he's afraid of. Snow and those (sledding) tracks"; the parallel lines represented his partial, corrupted memories of a traumatic ski accident at a ski resort that he had witnessed when he was skiing there with Dr. Edwardes (Dr. Petersen: "Ski tracks in the snow. That's what those dark lines symbolize for him. His horror of them means, of course, that they are immediately connected with the cause of his amnesia"); Dr. Brulov added: "Yes. A murder on skis"
  • Dr. Petersen and Dr. Brulov began to analyze the dream - (1) the sloping roof was a mountain ski area, (2) the older man in the dream represented the real Dr. Edwardes who had died on the slopes while skiing, (3) he had been chased downhill by a shadow over a precipice; they interpreted that the resort's location was in a valley (with sloped hills), and that the wings recalled Gabriel (the winged angel) - thus, Gabriel Valley
  • to re-enact the troubling incident, Dr. Petersen and 'John Brown' (JB) took the train to the Gabriel Lake Lodge ski resort; Dr. Petersen was convinced that the guilt-ridden JB must unlock a key traumatic element from his childhood in order to learn more about Dr. Edwardes' death: ("We'll find out what it was in your childhood that's haunted you all your life. We'll also find out what happened to Dr. Edwardes")
  • while skiing with her down the steep slope, in a blood-chilling sequence, he vividly remembered his young brother's accidental and tragic death by impalement on a spiked fence. JB had inadvertently killed his brother by sliding down a sloping concrete incline and pushing the boy off the ledge onto the protruding spikes; this event was the initial reason why JB had developed dissociative amnesia and a guilt complex, often with images of downward falling
  • at the same time as he realized it was an innocent accident: ("I didn't kill my brother, it was an accident"), his recovered memory revived him and inspired him to save Constance from skiing down and off the edge of the same steep slope on which his analyst, the real Dr. Edwardes, in JB's presence earlier, had accidentally skied off the steep precipice and fallen to his death, just 50 feet ahead of him; Dr. Petersen was relieved: "You took on the role of Dr. Edwardes to prove to yourself he wasn't dead, so therefore, you had not killed him"; with his memory jarred, he remembered his real name - Dr. John Ballantyne (or "JB")
  • they were jarred when accosted by the authorities, who questioned them about the details of Dr. Edwardes' death; earlier when Ballantyne had told them where the body could be found, the police recovered Edwardes' actual corpse; to their shock, they also discovered a bullet wound in the body's back; they now suspected John Ballantyne of murder; because Ballantyne had confusedly claimed he might have killed Edwardes due to his mental illness, he was convicted of the murder and sent to prison; Dr. Petersen vowed to free him
  • after returning to her position at the hospital in Vermont where Dr. Murchison was still director, Dr. Petersen realized his treachery after he mentioned: "I knew Edwardes only slightly. I never really liked him. But he was a good man, in a way, I suppose." He contradicted his earlier statement that they had never met. She immediately knew that if he had known Edwardes, he shouldn't have mistaken the imposter Ballantyne for Edwardes; his words echoed with increasing intensity in her mind when she realized that Murchison was lying
  • she ascended the stairs to Murchison's office to confront him, but first, she suggested that he analyze and interpret her patient John Ballantyne's dream notes:
    • the scissors-cutting and the scantily-clad, kissing girl represented inmates at Green Manors (symbolized as a gambling house using blank cards)
    • the eyes painted on the curtains in the gambling house represented the guards at Green Manors
    • the bearded man playing blackjack card game (aka 21) was authority figure Dr. Edwardes
    • the mention of "21" (and the 7 of 'clubs') referred to both the exclusive 21 Club in NYC and Green Manors
    • the angry proprietor of the club (or institution) who made accusations of cheating against Dr. Edwardes was actually Dr. Murchison, who ordered him out: ("This is my place, I'm going to fix you")
    • the high sloping roof was the ski slope where the patient saw Dr. Edwardes plunge over the edge to his death, while the angry proprietor who was hiding behind the chimney laughed, holding a misshapen wheel that dropped from his hand
    • the wheel represented the revolver (the weapon used to kill Dr. Edwardes by shooting him in the back from behind a tree just as he was skiing down the slope at Gabriel Valley near the edge of the cliff)
    • in Ballantyne's full view, he had seen a bullet delivered from Murchison's gun, but had repressed the real cause of death [Note: Murchison had used Ballantyne's disabilities to frame him]

Dr. Petersen Describing Ballantyne's Incriminating Dream to Dr. Murchison in His Office

Dr. Murchison Pulling Out His Revolver

Dr. Murchison Pointing His Gun and Threatening Dr. Petersen As She Calmly Exited From His Office
  • Murchison pulled his murder weapon from his desk, and held it toward her, while threatening her because of her knowledge of his crime; Dr. Petersen tricked Murchison into admitting that in a "state of panic," he had confronted Dr. Edwardes having lunch at the 21 Club in NYC with Ballantyne, where he threatened to kill him to prevent him from taking over his job at Green Manors; he then followed the doctor and Ballantyne to the ski slope and shot Dr. Edwardes from behind; witnessing the death, Ballantyne had then subconsciously assumed the guilt of the murder and substituted himself for Edwardes at the sanitarium; it was very obvious that the murderer of Dr. Edwardes was the jealous and treacherous Dr. Murchison, who had framed imposter-Ballantyne for the murder of Edwardes
  • even before Dr. Petersen had stated any factual evidence that could convict Dr. Murchison, he attempted to discount Dr. Petersen's accusations: "A love-smitten analyst playing a dream detective"; but she countered him, saying there would be numerous witnesses to his actions: ("There will be no dreams necessary for this case")
  • he appeared unworried about the consequences of murdering her: "The punishment for two murders is the same as for one." She struck back: "You're not going to commit a second murder, Dr. Murchison." He made it clear that he had deadly intentions: "I hadn't planned to, but you're here. You're not leaving"
  • using psychoanalysis, Dr. Petersen cautioned him to not murder her; she asserted that his previous crimes might result in a life sentence or a prison term due to extenuating circumstances, but that he would undoubtedly get the death penalty (electric chair) for her cold-blooded, pre-meditated murder: "A man with your intelligence does not commit a stupid murder. You're thinking you were not mentally responsible for that other crime in the snow. They'll find extenuating circumstances in the state of your health. They'll not execute you for the death of Dr. Edwardes. You can still live, read, write, research, even if you are put away. You're thinking that now, Dr. Murchison"
  • the conniving murderer pointed his gun at her back and tracked her (from his subjective POV) as she stood up and calmly moved toward the exit door, after revealing his treachery. She continued: "If you shoot now, it is cold, deliberate murder. You will be tried as a sane murderer, convicted as a sane man, and killed in the electric chair for your crime." She announced that she was leaving the room to phone the police
  • Dr. Murchison memorably committed suicide in the conclusion by slowly turning the gun on himself (toward the camera) and pulling the trigger after she left his office and shut the door. It was a shocking first person point-of-view shot, with a fraction-of-a second splash of red color (in the B/W film)
Dr. Murchison's Suicide - With a Split-Second Splash of Red
  • in the film's epilogue, JB and Constance had been married and were preparing to board a train at Grand Central Station, and saying goodbye to Dr. Brulov; they kissed each other after handing their tickets to the same wide-eyed conductor who recognized them from their previous trip to Rochester, NY

Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman)

On Dr. Petersen's Therapy Couch: Patient Mary Carmichael (Rhonda Fleming)

Dr. Fleurot's Rebuffed Romantic Advances Toward Cold Dr. Petersen

Outgoing Director Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll) - Mentor to Dr. Petersen

Asylum's New Replacement Director Dr. Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck)

An Afternoon Hillside Picnic - A Growing Love Affair

Dr. Edwardes' Panic Attack During an Emergency Surgery

Comparison of Two 'Edwardes' Signatures - Was He a Fraud?

'Edwardes' Disturbed Confession: "Edwardes is dead. I killed him and took his place"

Dr. Murchison's Spurious Claim that He Had Never Met Dr. Edwardes

NYC's Empire State Hotel

Dr. Petersen Pursuit of "John Brown" To Be His Doctor - "It has nothing to do with love"

Dr. Petersen's Psychoanalysis of "John Brown"

What was the Reason for Burn Scars on "John Brown's" Left Hand?


Dr. Alexander "Alex" Brulov (Michael Chekhov)

On Their "Honeymoon" - Hiding Out with Dr. Brulov

JB with a Straight-Edged Razor in His Hand as He Approached Dr. Brulov

Dr. Brulov Cautioning Dr. Petersen about Loving a Possible Lunatic Schizophrenic ("This is baby talk")

JB's Free- Association

Surrealistic Dream

Dr. Petersen's Sudden Revelation: ("Ski tracks in the snow. That's what those dark lines symbolize for him")

Dr. Petersen and Dr. Brulov Interpreting the Dream Together

"We have to go to Gabriel Valley"

Skiing Together

Remembering Traumatic Event of Childhood On Ski Slope

Ballantyne's Memory of His Young Brother's Tragic Impalement Death ("I killed my brother")

Childhood Trauma

Saving Both of Them From Skiing Off a Precipice

The Couple: Relieved to Have Figured Out The Reason For His Guilt Complex

Stunned! - JB Charged With Murdering The Real Dr. Edwardes (Shooting Him in the Back)

Dr. Petersen Vowing to Free JB From Prison For Murder Charges


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