Burning Long, Burn Strong
Some artists burst from the womb spewing poetry and awesomeness, and then flame out almost instantly.
But not our man Hitch.
It took the Master of Suspense a long while to get up to speed on the whole being-the-greatest-director-ever thing. When he started out as a twenty-something filmmaker in the 1920s, he wasn't anything special—just another guy making silent movies.
But slowly Hitchcock picked up steam. He had a couple of successes in the 1930s with the talking pictures The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and The 39 Steps (1935). In 1940, his first film in the United States, Rebecca, won a Best Picture Award. Moving into his 40s, he was considered one of the premier Hollywood directors working in the studio system.
Old Dudes Forever
That's where Spellbound fits in. Hitchcock directed it in 1945 as part of his contract with producer David O. Selznik. (See our "Production Studio" section for details.)
Like all of Hitchcock's films in the studio system, Spellbound was a work of compromise. Hitchcock had originally wanted a longer dream sequence with more Salvador Dali-designed footage. Hitchcock also didn't want a murder mystery; the original script was mostly set in the asylum. But even as a successful and admired director, Hitchcock didn't have control over his own movies.
Make that, he didn't have control yet. Spellbound was one of the last films Hitchcock did with another producer. His greater autonomy resulted in the films that made Hitchcock the real Hitchcock—movies like Rope (1948), which had one long take after another, or Psycho (1960), which kills off the main character halfway through.
Spellbound, then, is a transitional movie for Hitchcock. You can see some of his weirdness peeping through the cracks, like the giant eyes on those curtains in the Dali dream. But he's not quite in a position to really swagger. At 46, Hitchcock was still getting revved up. Sometimes, like John Ballantyne, artists take a little while to figure out who they are.