(Sir) Alfred Hitchcock James Agee - Essay

James Agee

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"Spellbound," Alfred Hitchcock's surprisingly disappointing thriller about psychoanalysis, is worth seeing, but hardly more…. I felt that the makers of the film had succeeded in using practically none of the movie possibilities of a psychoanalytic story, even those of the simplest melodrama; and that an elaborate, none-too-interesting murder mystery, though stoutly moored to the unconscious, merely cheapened and got in the way of any possible psychological interest. To quite an extent the psychological pretensions cluttered up the murder mystery too…. There are some frightening shots of the kinds of striated whiteness which mysteriously terrifies the patient—the mark of forktines on a table cloth, for instance; the remembrance of the initial trauma is excitingly managed; and in one crisis of mental dereliction, in which the camera flicks its eye forlornly around a bathroom, you get a little of the unlimited, cryptic terror which can reside in mere objects. But these are practically the only suggestions of the hair-raising movie this had every right and obligation to be. As for the dream designed by Salvador Dali, it is as frankly irrelevant to dream reality, and so to criticism for its lack of reality in that direct sense, as Markova is for not growing a four-foot larynx for "Swan Lake." The trouble is that this decision in favor of unreality was mistaken in the first place. In the second, the dream is none too good in its own terms…. "Spellbound" is just so much of the Id as could be safely displayed in a Bergdorf Goodman window.

James Agee, "Films: 'Spellbound'," in The Nation (copyright 1945 The Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 161, No. 19, November 10, 1945, p. 506.