Salvador Dalí Creates a Dream Sequence for Spellbound, Hitchcock’s Psychoanalytic Thriller

Alfred Hitch­cock made so many time­less films, but Spell­bound, alas, has­n’t held up quite so com­fort­ably. Most of the prob­lem has to do with its theme: psy­cho­analy­sis, which enjoyed a trendy moment in the mid-for­ties and may have attained enough rel­e­vance at the time to dri­ve a plot, but now seems a rather weak engine. That era’s ther­a­py craze swept up pic­ture’s pro­duc­er, old-Hol­ly­wood titan David O. Selznick, with such force that he per­son­al­ly asked the direc­tor to take it on as a sub­ject. Hitch­cock grudg­ing­ly agreed, set­ting the pro­duc­tion gears turn­ing on Spell­bound. Selznick arranged for his own ther­a­pist to both act as the movie’s tech­ni­cal advis­er and to cause Hitch­cock a num­ber of on-set headaches. So if Spell­bound seems faint­ly un-Hitch­cock­ian, we can chalk it up part­ly to Selznick­’s psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic zeal, but some of the cred­it must also go to Sal­vador Dalí.

Hired to craft a dream sequence, the Span­ish sur­re­al­ist painter and film­mak­er report­ed­ly pro­duced over twen­ty min­utes of footage, four and a half min­utes of which appear in the clip above. “I can’t make out just what sort of a place it was,” Gre­go­ry Peck mut­ters, reclined on the ther­a­pist’s couch, as the shot dis­solves into his mind and into Dalí’s imagery. “It seemed to be a gam­bling house, but there weren’t any walls, just a lot of cur­tains with eyes paint­ed on them. A man was walk­ing around with a large pair of scis­sors, cut­ting all the drapes in half. And then a girl came in with hard­ly any­thing on and start­ed walk­ing around the gam­bling room, kiss­ing every­body.” Sure­ly those days offered no more ide­al can­di­date for the job of real­iz­ing such a vision than Dalí. The light­ly theremin-ed score comes from Mik­lós Rózsa, but Hitch­cock did­n’t like that either. Though the famous­ly con­trol­ling auteur may have found his pow­er com­pro­mised in its pro­duc­tion, Spell­bound does end up being a rare thing indeed in the his­to­ry of cin­e­ma: dream sequences com­pelling enough not to put you to sleep.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch 20 Free Hitch­cock Movies Online

Alfred Hitch­cock Recalls Work­ing with Sal­vador Dali on Spell­bound

A Soft Self-Por­trait of Sal­vador Dali, Nar­rat­ed by the Great Orson Welles

A Tour Inside Sal­vador Dalí’s Labyrinthine Span­ish Home

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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