Hitchcock’s thriller still holds fans ‘Spellbound’
PG in nature
For me, there’s no greater pleasure in DVD than a deluxe new package of an all-time favorite, loaded with extras including an audio commentary by a noted historian.
Alfred Hitchcock scholar Marian Keane provides a dry, but observant, commentary for the new Criterion Collection edition of his “Spellbound,” one of the most psychology-driven of the maestro’s thrillers. (“Rope,” “Vertigo” and “Marnie” were to follow.)
“Spellbound” is a much-revised adaptation by screenwriter Ben Hecht, with state-of-the-art Freudian dream analysis, of Francis Beeding’s novel, “The House of Dr. Edwardes.”
For a role Hitchcock had hoped to give to his “Shadow of a Doubt” star, Joseph Cotten, producer David Selznick assigned his extremely popular new contract player, Gregory Peck, to play the troubled new chief of staff at a mental institution.
Opposite Peck to offer dream analysis and romance was the hottest female star of the 1940s, Ingrid Bergman.
Peck’s haunted past, triggered by images such as fork marks on a white tablecloth, lead to dreams illustrated by surrealist artist Salvador Dali, the most remarked-about aspect of the movie for 57 years, and to a chilling dual climax.
Keane’s analysis includes a typically comical Hitchcockian portrayal of detectives, who are invariably clueless that what they’re looking for is under their noses, the of-its-day depiction of psychoanalysis and the fact that several characters are busily role-playing with the intent to deceive others.
“Spellbound” was nominated for six Oscars, including best picture, winning for Miklos Rozsa’s classic score.
The DVD’s many extras include a shot-by-shot dissection of the dream sequence, a 1948 “Lux Radio Theatre” adaptation with Cotten and Alida Valli, hundreds of documents chronicling production and publicity, essays by Hitchcock scholars Lesley Brill and Leonard Luff and a 1973 interview with Rozsa, who notes that Hitchcock never complimented him on his contribution.
“In the Bedroom” (2001)
R in nature
Tenderness and tension alternate like a pumping heart in “In the Bedroom,” Todd Field’s exquisite first feature about a family wafting toward and from a catastrophe.
Good New England people, Sissy Spacek and doctor-husband Tom Wilkinson have provided a stable home for their sensible, sun-lighted son Nick Stahl.
They’re apprehensive about Stahl’s relationship with single mother Marisa Tomei, mainly because she can’t shake loose from the previous man in her life, William Mapother.
“In the Bedroom” looks without flinching at the way people cope with circumstances that only seem to be beyond their control — how regrets fester and turn from guilt to blame and how corrosive pain can be.
Surprising and touching, it contains one of 2001’s great ensemble performances, three of which (Spacek, Wilkinson, Tomei) should have collected Oscars for a work that somehow also lost best picture to the more mainstream, feel-good “A Beautiful Mind.”
“The Onion Field” (1979)
R in nature
Director Harold Becker adds an audio commentary and a “Ring of Truth” documentary to the DVD of his strongest movie, “The Onion Field.”
Based on a novel by East Pittsburgh native Joseph Wambaugh, who invested much of his own money in the picture, it concentrates most of the action and much of the suspense into the first half and then pursues psychological twists.
Idealistic, conscientious Los Angeles cops John Savage and Ted Danson have a chance convergence with two criminals, the confused and easily cowed Franklin Seales and the unpredictable, maniacally clever James Woods.
The collision triggers a fascinating backwash of guilt and crime all the while Woods, in a star-making performance, manipulates the law and its guidelines through study, cooperation and a keen understanding of human nature.
“The Rocking Horse Winner” (1949-50)
PG-13 in nature
A durable example of the well-made British film, “The Rocking Horse Winner” is a craftily expanded adaptation of a 1926 story by D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930) about greed, luck and self-sacrifice.
Gambling father (Hugh Sinclair) is unemployed. Extravagant mother (Valerie Hobson) spends compulsively. Perfect son Paul (John Howard Davies from “Oliver Twist”) stumbles into a solution.
By riding his new rocking horse into a trance-like frenzy, he can hear the names of winning ponies on whom he can place bets through the family’s new handyman, Bassett (John Mills, who also produced).
The boy wants money only to relieve his family’s stress, but the rocking horse has an agenda of its own, like Hans Christian Andersen’s demented red shoes.
The DVD contains a radio broadcast, excepts from the chamber opera version, a booklet containing Lawrence’s story and Michael Almereyda’s 20-minute Pixelvision version.
“The Railway Children” (2000)
G in nature
The most famous of the 44 novels by Edith Nesbit (1858-1924), “The Railway Children” (1906) became a British TV series in 1967 with Jenny Agutter as Roberta/Bobbie, the oldest of the three Waterbury children.
Agutter then starred in the same role, but with a different supporting cast, in a 1970 feature film. She returned a third time, but as the mother, in the 2000 adaptation, making its debut on DVD and video.
When the prosperous Mr. Waterbury is arrested on a false charge of treason, his wife, two daughters and son lose their home and possessions and move to a cold flat near a railroad, where the children spend much time playing and befriending two male employees, most notably the proud Perks (Gregor Fisher).
The children mark time in poverty with their ailing mother, awaiting their father’s vindication and release.
The latest version is too formally acted (memorize, pose, over-enunciate) and too nicey-nice. And because the three siblings always speak and act as one, two become redundant. The material is sound, though, and warm performances help, including those by Agutter, Fisher and, as a benefactor, Richard Attenborough.
“The Long Goodbye” (1973)
R in nature
When Robert Altman released his revisionist interpretation of Raymond Chandler’s “The Long Goodbye,” I was a bit too taken with how he did it — flouting the conventions of the genre — to mind that he did it so ineffectively.
Taking the role of a tough private eye played by at least 10 other actors — most notably Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell and Robert Mitchum — a hopelessly miscast Elliott Gould plays with strident insouciance, one of the most labored examples extant of hip.
As Marlowe, Gould becomes involved in a murder case involving an alcoholic (Sterling Hayden), an unfaithful wife (model Nina Van Pallandt), a volatile and natty Jewish mobster (sometime-director Mark Rydell) and an old friend (former baseball star and novelist Jim Bouton) who might have murdered his wife before vanishing in Mexico.
There’s a lot of loud ambient noise, which was to be an Altman trademark, and a brief appearance as a muscular henchman by a then-barely known Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The DVD has a “Rip Van Marlowe” featurette with Gould and Altman and a feature on cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond.