First, an apology/disclaimer… there WILL be classic literature reviews coming soon!! I often watch movies/TV in batches, so this is one of those phases for me. 🙂
Spellbound is a twisted tale of the romance between an ambitious young doctor (Ingrid Bergman) and her unlikely boss (Gregory Peck). The two work as psychoanalysts in the same mental health facility, and in spite of the office gossip, Constance finds herself falling in love for the first time. Anthony, on the other hand, begins to show signs of mental distress, haunted by fears he cannot remember nor explain. When Anthony becomes implicated in a crime, Constance – terrified of losing him – decides to apply all her knowledge on mental health to try to discern the truth from his scattered memories.
Laura (Gene Tierney), a charismatic young businesswoman, is found dead in her apartment one morning, brutally shot in the face. Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) arrives on the scene and begins to question everyone who was close to Laura, from her shady fiance Shelby (Vincent Price) to her jealous mentor Waldo (Clifton Webb). From getting to know these various characters and reading Laura’s letters and diary, Mark begins to form a picture of the obsessions which surround her – obsessions which begin to affect him personally.
The Weaknesses of Strong Women
These two films were released within a year of each other, and, perhaps as a result, they share many themes.
The one which stood out to me most was the fatal flaw in both of the “strong” female protagonists. Dr. Constance Petersen’s biggest weakness is not her sacrificing her career to Anthony (though that is hardly commendable in this plot’s context); rather, her biggest weakness is sacrificing her identity for him – identity in both the literal and metaphorical senses. Laura, also an ambitious and driven woman, will not distance herself from toxic relationships, and she suffers for it.
I was struck by the portrayal of the older generation between these two films. In Laura, the older gentleman Waldo is portrayed as a witty but arrogant fop, lovable in his quaint manners but questionable in the pursuit of his young protege. By contrast, in Spellbound Hitchcock brings us the wonderful character of Dr. Brulov, Constance’s mentor and an honorable father figure. Both types exist in the real world, of course.
The Better Story?
Spellbound is a much more chilling movie; Laura has far more humor and less macabre. If you are looking for thrills, you’ll find Spellbound to be fairly adequate, if not so unnerving as Vertigo.
That said, of the two movies I preferred Laura by a wide margin. Spellbound is disappointing in that the crux of the story – could you fall in love with a murderer? – is not developed to the extent that it drives home a point or even the question. For all its failures as a thriller, Laura is a hardboiled who-dunnit that will keep you guessing to the end, and its message/moral remains intact and fully developed.