2 January 2006 | MCMoricz
Visually stylish but hopelessly silly oddity
I recently saw this film on the large screen after having not seen it for over 10 years. My memories of it were not that fond -- I recalled it as an unusually melodramatic and not very convincing thriller enlivened by a very attractive cast.
What I had forgotten about was how almost impossibly silly all the psychoanalytical claptrap is, especially in the first couple of reels, which thereby make us feel very quickly that we're not quite in the mature, masterful grip of Hitch's usual wit and taste. Yes, I know this was made in the 40's, but the first 20 to 30 minutes of the film have more sexist moments and infantile behavior by supposed doctors than one would ever expect from either Hitch or Ben Hecht.
So who's to blame? One guess -- David O. Selznick! That being said (along with the fact that the story doesn't really add up to much of anything, since all the premises on which it's based seem so shaky, naive and downright goofy), the film has some things going for it. About midway through the picture, when Michael Chekhov appears as Dr. Brulov, the film suddenly kicks into what we might call "classic British Hitch mode," with the kind of understated wit and ensemble playing the director had been doing so well since the early 30's. It almost becomes another (and far more palatable) film at this point. The scenes with Bergman, Peck and Chekhov are the highlight of the film, and I have to admit that I'm even kind of fond of the hotel lobby scene, with the appealingly breezy Bill Goodwin (of "Burns and Allen" radio fame) as the house detective. Peck has never been more handsome, in a strangely fragile way.
Also worth a look are the brief but truly unusual Dali-designed dream sequences. There is something to be said for Miklos Rozsa's score as well: although it edges a bit far into soupy overscoring, the expressive main theme has quality, and his use of the theremin (which he also employed in his score for THE LOST WEEKEND at virtually the same time) is striking and represented "something new" in film music.
One could easily make excuses for this film based on "it was only 1945" or "what people knew about psychoanalysis was still naive", etc., but even taken in context of its time it's a pretty silly film without the kind of sustained surety of style leavened with simultaneous suspense, intelligence, taste and humor that he had already proved he could do so well from more than ten years earlier. Given a standard he had already given us with examples from THE 39 STEPS or YOUNG AND INNOCENT through THE LADY VANISHES in the UK, or FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT and SHADOW OF A DOUBT here in the US, this film seems not up to his true capacities, and like his other Selznick-produced American film, REBECCA, seems both overfussy and filled with emphases and spoonfeeding of details which Hitch himself would never have given us.
You need only compare this film with his very next one, NOTORIOUS, to be painfully aware how much better Hitchcock on his own -- using his own standards of pace, momentum and the ADULT treatment of script themes -- could be when not under the thumb of Selznick. Thank God he didn't have to work for him any more after this.