Spellbound has one of those plots that scurries here, scurries there… and then forgets where it's going and trips over a love story with giant scissors. The twists and turns are fun, but don't think about it too hard, or the psychiatrists will come for you.
The film starts at Green Manors, a psychiatric institution. One of the psychiatrists, Dr. Constance Petersen, looks like a movie star (Ingrid Bergman, specifically), improbable as that seems. The director of Green Manors, Dr. Murchison, recently had a nervous breakdown, and the board is forcing him to retire. His replacement is Dr. Anthony Edwardes… who also, against all the odds, looks like a movie star (Gregory Peck, in his case).
Constance and Anthony fall in love almost as soon as they see each other. That's always a risk when you've got people who look like Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck hanging out together. (And yes, Peck and Bergman did have a real-life affair during the filming.)
There's something weird about Dr. Edwardes, though—and it's not just that he looks like a movie star. He doesn't seem to know anything about psychiatry. He freaks out when Constance makes lines with a fork on the tablecloth. Also, his signature doesn't match Dr. Edwardes' signature. Constance confronts him, and he says he has amnesia. Then he forgets and says he has amnesia again. Then he forgets and says he has amnesia again.
In fact, after he says he has amnesia, Fake Edwardes says he must have killed the real Edwardes, though he doesn't remember doing it. Constance thinks he just has guilt issues, because no one who looks like Gregory Peck could commit murder. She tells him to stay put and she'll help him.
But Edwardes does not stay put. He thinks he's no good for Constance, so he bolts, leaving her a note that says he's going to New York. Just in time too, as everyone suddenly realizes he's an impostor… and begin to suspect him of murder. The plot thickens, and also begins to thrash about.
Constance sneaks off to the Empire State Hotel, where she finds Edwardes (or whatever his name is—they decide to call him "John Brown"). She begins to analyze him in order to dispel his amnesia. Whenever she tries to analyze him, he gets really cranky and calls her names.
But name-calling isn't the worst of it. A few police officers start nosing around, so Constance and JB skedaddle to Rochester, where they meet up with Dr. Brulov, Dr. Peterson's teacher. Brulov is a wily old curmudgeon, who figures out that JB is an amnesiac with serious mental problems even though no one tells him. (He's maybe tipped off when JB sleepwalks around his house holding a straight razor.)
Brulov and Constance analyze one of JB's dreams. The dream has a ton of weird sexual imagery, but they ignore that. Instead, they read it as if it's a coded message. They figure out that Brown was on a ski trip with Edwardes when he died. Brown's fear of parallel lines on white, like the lines on the napkin, is a fear of ski tracks. The analysts decide that Brown should go to the site of the ski accident to jog his memory. (Warning: real psychoanalysis works nothing like this.)
Constance and Brown go skiing, and Brown regains his memory just like that. He recalls seeing Edwardes go over the precipice. He also recalls a moment from his childhood when he kicked his brother off the roof and onto a sharp fence post, killing him. That's where the guilt comes from. John Brown remembers that his name is John Ballantyne. With the mystery all solved now, everyone is happy… except for Edwardes and the dead brother, of course.
But wait; there's more plot. The police follow Ballantyne's directions and find Edwardes' body… but it's got a bullet in it. It looks like he was murdered after all. Ballantyne whooshes off to prison in a melodramatic, sad montage. Is this the end for our hero? Probably not, or he wouldn't be played by Gregory Peck.
Constance isn't as confident as we are, though. She returns to Green Manor filled with sorrow and fear. But then she has a brief conversation with Dr. Murchison, in which he accidentally reveals he knew Edwardes. So why didn't he mention that Ballantyne was an impostor? Hmmm.
Constance starts to think, and then re-analyzes Ballantyne's dream. She realizes the killer is really (spoiler spoiler spoiler) Dr. Murchison. She confronts him in his office, which seems like a dumb thing to do. And, yep, sure enough, he pulls a gun on her.
But she convinces him that he could get off with an insanity plea for killing Ballantyne, but that killing her would set him up for the death penalty. So he lets her go… and then shoots himself. Which isn't very logical, but then, he's not exactly supposed to be in his right mind.
Either way, Ballantyne is freed, and he and Constance marry. Happy ending. Except for Murchison and Edwardes and the dead brother. Oh well.