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Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Didja Know these two artists came together on a very important project?
Ingrid Bergman and Salvador Dali enjoy a chat during Spellbound.

"Film as art" was not an easily accepted credo. Nevertheless, great innovators of the business, particularly those who combined social subtext with stimulating presentation, were able to take creativity and the social impact of cinema to a much more respectable level than ever expected. As "genius" is sometimes read as "madness," some of our greatest, historic auteurs were prevented from bringing their compelling concepts to fruition. It is not a simple thing to get the guy holding the money to believe in your out-of-the-ordinary premises. Hence, some of the greatest cinematic moments were those that never made it to the big screen, whether they were laid to rest on the cutting room floor or buried on the page before being given a chance to breathe. Orson Welles is a perfect example, as the majority of his countless film ideas were labeled DOA: Don Quixote, Cyrano de Bergerac, Heart of Darkness, etc.

One director that seemed to escape these frustrations, at least at the height of his career, was the "Master of Suspense," Alfred Hitchock. Before his films and his sanity took a nose-dive post-Marnie (what was Topaz about exactly???), Hitch seemed to artistically, subliminally, and criminally get away with pretty much everything. His box-office receipts and cunning with studio execs-- he would shut off the camera because it was 'acting up' whenever David O. Selznick appeared on his set-- gave him a pretty impressive exemption from most censorship rules or reconstituted, pre-packaged production standards when it came to making his final cut. He didn't always win his arguments, however. Case in point: Spellbound.


The Salvador Dali-designed dream sequence in Spellbound remains perhaps the most memorable thing about the film. If anything, the collision of motion pictures with Dali's immobile yet liquid artistry is a stunning and perfect example of aesthetic fusion. (Of course, the acting and chemistry of the amnesiac Gregory Peck and the psychologically and sexually ignited Ingrid Bergman didn't hurt matters either). The Hitch-Dali combo created a perfect blend of structured surrealism that was evocative of the mysteries of the human subconscious when in an unconscious state. (Whoof). It was also nice to look at. However, there is an impressive piece missing from the final film. Originally, Hitch planned on having Ingrid in the dream sequence, as she was a dominant sexual focus in the dreamer's-- Gregory Peck's-- psyche. The plan was to have her appear in her beautiful glory before being miraculously cemented as a statue-- with an arrow piercing her neck, no less (left). Ants were to swarm about the exterior of the frozen entity. Oh, the psychological implications... 

Naturally, Ingrid was game. She endured the make-up process, the staging, and the obvious discomfort of tiny, scattering insects all over her body, because of her pure fascination for the concept and her desire to be a part of such a groundbreaking moment: art in motion (right). First, Ingrid was given a straw through which to breath, and this was placed through the plaster literally being built around her. Then, the sequence was filmed in reverse, with Ingrid breaking from the impromptu statue. Thus, played backwards, the statue appeared to be materializing. The entire length clocked in at twenty minutes. Unfortunately, while the scene was successfully filmed, it was never shown. This was a result of yes-man contamination. Someone, whom Ingrid did not name, approached Selznick and convinced him that the breathtaking imagery was complete and utter nonsense. Selznick, of course, demanded that piece de resistance be cut from the film. Tactical interference too often murders the best of ideas. Perhaps even more than Hitch, Ingrid mourned the loss: "It was such a pity. It could have had that touch of real art." Damn the editing!


Ingrid's complex but devoted relationship with Alfred Hitchcock was made all the richer when her co-star of Notorious, Cary Grant, came into the picture. Together, they all represented Hitchcockian cinema at one of its grandest moments. Their contradictory natures as people blended well in the realm of professional collaboration, and their alliance outlasted the shoot. Hitch, as the eternal observer was able to watch the friendship of Ingrid and Cary with a certain amount of envy, which he brought to life on the screen. Through Cary, he got to hold Ingrid, kiss her, and dismiss her with a strange coagulation of frigid, sexual taunting. Ingrid's "Alicia" became the woman in heat yearning for deliverance from the erotic torture of Cary's "Devlin." In life, the roles were opposite, with Hitch being the suffering and lovelorn gent fawning over Ingrid, and she being the less cold but still unresponsive lover out of reach. What resulted from the complicated and intricate threesome was the birth of a classic.

Ingrid remained at the center of this awkward love triangle. Aside from her natural warmth and amiability, her acting left both of her male counterparts astonished. For the first time in history, Hitch would be so impressed with a female performance that he did not seek to cut the actress down to size. He was too in awe to be awful. His general commentary to Ingrid at the end of each day was a controlled yet intimidated "It was very good today, Ingrid." In addition, Cary Grant became the number one cheerleader on Team Ingrid. By monitoring her instinctual and raw performance, he learned a lot about the craft of acting, which inspired him to engage and cultivate his own talent with more bravery. Cary had worked with Hitch before on Suspicion, but it was Notorious that held the real place in his heart. So proud was he of the film and the time he had spent on it that, unbeknownst to everyone involved, he swiped the infamous Wine Cellar Key (left) from the prop department and kept it as a good luck charm. He felt it-- as a representation of the film-- was "the key that would open new doors in his career."

Cary held onto the Key for many years. He would work with Hitch as one of his preferred leading men-- he had in fact been the first choice for Spellbound-- and the duo would go on to make To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest together. Their bromance remained a mutually respectful and untainted one (right). Ingrid would happily work with Cary under lighter circumstances in Indiscreet, but her final film with Hitch was less than ideal. Still experimenting with his single-take sequences, which he had captured previously to better effect in the "real time" Rope, their collaboration in Under Capricorn was tedious to film and incredibly frustrating for the actress Some theorize that the grueling behind-the-scenes trauma Hitch inflicted on Ingrid was some version of sexual punishment. By this time, Hitch's school-boy crush had obtained a spiteful edge, and the working relationship between director and actress was not as smooth as it had once been. They would never work together again but were able to maintain their friendship.

The Key became the reminder, therefore, of better days. It represented the cohesion of all concerned at a moment of great triumph, both personally and professionally. The Key locked the three artists together and bound them in an alliance that may have dwindled due to time and distance but never disappeared. Cary had this token to hold onto and keep him grounded for many years. Then, when Ingrid and Cary re-teamed in 1958 to film Indiscreet--after Ingrid's affair, marriage, and separation from Robert Rossellini-- she got a little surprise from her old friend. Having witnesses his friend endure and persevere over the many ups and downs that had ensued during the years since Notorious, Cary felt that the time had come to pass his good fortune along. Thus, at the farewell dinner that he threw in Ingrid's honor, Cary bestowed the Key upon her, telling her that it had served him well over the years and that it was now her turn to take advantage of its magic. Needless to say, Ingrid was deeply touched. She held onto the Key for another twenty-one years, during which she regained her former incomparable status as a great and respected international actress of the stage and screen.

Hitch brings it home.

The trail finally came to an appropriate end in 1976. That March, Alfred Hitchcock was honored with the AFI's Lifetime Achievement Award. As such, the usual banquet and celebratory party was thrown, with many of Hitch's old colleagues and the actors and actresses of his films paying him tribute throughout the evening. Ingrid and Cary were obviously in attendance. When it became Ingrid's turn to speak, she went through the usual drill of gratuitous complimenting, but she cinched her speech with a more personal and heart-warming note. She began reminiscing about Notorious and, most importantly, the infamous crane shot of the Key. She went on to say:

"Cary Stole that key! Yes, and he kept it for about ten years-- and then one day he put it in my hand.... And now, I'm going to give it to you."

With that, Ingrid descended the stage and delivered the Key to the man who was directly responsible for its powers, whether real or imagined. In a very out-of-character moment, the normally stone-faced, wry, and poised director rose, embraced Ingrid and Cary, and all three of them found themselves crying. It was an beautifully sentimental moment for everyone in the audience. Now, the Key locks Notorious firmly into a place of cinematic genius that few other films in the Hollywood lexicon can boast. Hitchcock, of course, has maintained his reputation as the master of his craft.

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