What's a Selznik?
The first thing you probably think when you see the name Selznik International is: "...Selznik?" Paramount, Universal: these are good, solid names for a production company, suggesting as they do the production of films that are paramount in importance and/or universal.
But what is a Selznik? What does it have to do with quality, excitement, and general wonderfulness, anyway?
The answer is that Selznik isn't a what, it's a who. David O. Selznik is maybe the most famous, most successful producer to ever show up in a film credit. He worked on films like King Kong (1933) and A Tale of Two Cities (1935) before forming his own production company and producing the mega-super-giant-holy-cow hit Gone With the Wind (1939), which remains the highest grossing film of all time (adjusted for inflation)… and won a Best Picture Oscar to boot (source).
Selznik is also famous for his collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock. In 1940, he produced Hitchcock's Rebecca, which also won Best Picture.
Don't Say Those Names Together
The Hitchcock/Selznik collaboration was super successful. But was it harmonious? Try saying "Hitchcock/Selznik" over and over, and you'll get a sense of the answer there. You'll also probably startle your cats.
That about says it all. (But if you want more, the collaboration is discussed in exhaustive detail by critic Leonard Leff here.)
Selznik had a lot of input into his pictures, sometimes to the irritation of Hitchcock. The director probably would have tried to go elsewhere for his next film, but Selznik paid well… and had Hitchcock under contract. So, Hitchcock suggested using the novel The House of Dr. Edwardes as the basis of a psychological thriller.
Selznik agreed; he'd undergone therapy for depression himself, and so was interested in a psychoanalytic film. But not too interested—as he read the script by Ben Hecht, he was worried that audiences would be bored by the story of an impostor replacing the head of a mental institution. So he said, "Hey, let's add a murder mystery."
Look at the final movie and you can see who won.
Selznik is also reported to have been uncertain about the use of artist Salvador Dali to design the dream sequences. Dali was famous and famously controversial; there were some fears that the artist's highbrow, scandalous reputation would scare off folks in rural Nebraska.
But in the end Hitchcock won out on that one —though here there were adjustments too. The original sexy kissing bug girl in the dream sequence was deemed too sexy—she had to be reshot in a costume that didn't reveal quite so much. Hitchcock was also forced to shoot the scene on cheaper interior sets—Selznik was all about less sex for less money.
Plus, Selznik just liked to tinker. He re-cut and reworked some scenes himself, like the downhill ski sequence. He also chose the title. Hitchcock wanted to call the film The House of Dr. Edwardes or Hidden Impulse, both of which would have been directly related to the plot. Selznik, though, wanted "Spellbound." So if you finished watching the movie and wondered why it was called Spellbound—well, Hitchcock would agree with you. (See "What's Up With the Title?" for details.)
Spellbound (or whatever you want to call it) did well. It grossed $6 million in 1945, or about $79 million in 2015 dollars, and it received six academy award nominations. But despite the success, Selznik and Hitchcock were sick of each other. They made one more movie together (The Paradine Case in 1948), and that was it.
Hitchcock went on to make his most personal and famous movies in the 1950s and 1960s. On the other hand, the most famous part of Selznik's career was over, though he made a couple more films and then did some work in television.
We told you there was a reason that "Hitchcock-Selznik" sounds like a tongue-twister.