What Kind of Romantic Lead is this Guy, Anyway?
Whether he goes by Edwardes, Ballantyne, JB, John Brown, or Captain Carror, you don't usually expect to find a Hollywood dreamboat flitting about a psychiatric institution.
But when Green Manors throws open its doors, that dreamboat sails in. Out with Dr. Murchison, the old, stodgy, administrator-looking guy. In with Dr. Edwardes. He's young. He's brilliant. He's charming. He looks like Gregory Peck. No wonder Constance swoons when he takes her away on a picnic to look at "sane trees, normal grass, and clouds without complexes." Dr. Edwardes is eminently swoonable.
But then there are problems. Dr. Edwardes looks like a Hollywood romantic lead… but he gets all snappish and weird when Constance makes a mark on the tablecloth with a fork. He doesn't seem to know anything about the research that made him famous. In fact, he doesn't know anything about himself at all.
As Dr. Brulov tells him,
BRULOV: You've got amnesia, and you've got a guilt complex. You don't know if you are coming or going from someplace.
In short, "Edwardes" is a big old mess.
After that brief, romantic whoosh at the beginning, "Edwardes" doesn't act like a romantic Hollywood lead at all. He's often peevish and mean; when Constance tries to analyze him, he suddenly stops being all lovey-dovey and instead starts insulting her.
BALLANTYNE: Stop it! Babbling like some phony King Solomon. Sit there full of half-witted devil talk that doesn't make sense.
That's hardly the kind of romantic love you expect from your dashing Gregory Peck.
When Brown isn't sniping, he's passing out. Every time he is forced to confront his past, he literally falls over in a faint. At one point he sleepwalks with a straight razor and looks like he's going to kill someone. Instead of the hero saving Constance, he's the weak convalescent in need of saving, or the dangerous villain.
The dating profile seemed good on the app, but in person? Constance, girl, dump this guy. Okay, he looks like Gregory Peck, but you can do better.
Here Comes the Hero
So, yes, Edwardes/Brown/Ballantyne is a mess in a pretty package. In most Hollywood films, the hero saves everyone. Here, though, Constance has to save the man—by turning him into a hero.
Ballantyne's all confused and conflicted; he doesn't even know who he is. In fact, he isn't himself —which is to say he's not the hero he's supposed to be. It's up to Constance to give him back his Hollywood heroism by reminding him that he is… Gregory Peck. (Or someone who looks just like him.)
And Constance does it; she figures out that Ballantyne's suffering from a guilt complex, and her analysis restores him to himself. The final treatment is taking Ballantyne out to the ski slopes where he saw Edwardes fall to his death, prompting his psychosis. Ballantyne and Constance replay the scene… and Constance almost falls over the cliff on the ski slope. Ballantyne rescues her, and by doing so he returns to his "real" self as the manly hero.
CONSTANCE: The accident happened at the spot where you saved me.
BALLANTYNE: Now let's not have any confusion about who saved whom.
The confusion is precisely that Ballantyne's saved by being turned again into the person who can do the saving. Whiny, whimpering, fainting, weak-willed, baby-man—away with you: Super Ballantyne is back in business.
Who's that Hero Again?
And what does Super Ballantyne do? He marries Constance and sweeps her into a kiss at the close of the film, just like a real hero should. Hooray.
The thing is though… isn't Super Ballantyne kind of… anonymous? The dashing dude who kisses the leading lady could be any dashing dude.
Edwardes/Brown (who didn't even know who he was)—that guy was distinctive, if unpleasant. He was snippy, he was confused, he was unpredictable, and he kept passing out when he should have made a daring escape. He had weird dreams with eyeball curtains and giant scissors. Yeah, you wouldn't want to date him, but he's way more memorable than all those heroic what's-their-names.
Ballantyne ends up being a lot more interesting, and memorable, when he's not himself, and can't remember who he is. Spellbound's a memorable movie because the star isn't who he should be. You almost want to bop him on the skull at the end there and see if you can bring back that weird "Edwardes" guy.