Film Highlight: Spellbound

Gregory Peck in Spellbound
courtesy of Criterion

The St. Paul Central Library kicks off its summer series of outdoor films (all based on books, plays, or comics) with Alfred Hitchcock's classic. This 1945 thriller is justly famed for its symbol-strewn dream sequence, based on contributions from surrealist Salvador Dalí. Stranger still is the moving target that is Hitch's heroine. Ingrid Bergman's sharp-eyed psychologist Dr. Petersen takes flak from every man in (and behind?) the film. "Stupid" and "smug," "crazy" and "frozen," she dares to be a creature of both emotion and intellect—as the men who "love" her pull at her balanced arms, attempting to force a choice. The stirrings of a postwar propaganda that pushed working women into the home ensure that the doc uses her smarts here to "save" her shell-shocked lover. What's odd is how small—mentally and physically—the men look beside Petersen; even towering Gregory Peck is often shot gazing up at Bergman from chair or floor. (J.B., Peck's amnesiac character, is constantly fainting.) Some of this is pandering: Only you, American woman, can relieve the horror of the returning warriors. Some of it, as J.B. sneers, is Freudian "hooey." And some of it continues to resonate as a mystery having to do with misogyny and, in Petersen's repeated phrase, a "guilt complex going back to childhood."

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