Cast & Crew
Harry H. Daniels Jr.
With less than an hour before the state is set to execute convicted killer Joan Alris Ellis, her psychiatrist, Dr. Bergson, thinks back to the time when Joan's psychological deterioration first became apparent to others: At a party held in honor of Joan's recent engagement to Bob Arnold, Joan hears a voice inside her head and faints. Joan's parents and Bob quickly dismiss her fainting spell as a sign of love and attribute it to nervousness about her upcoming wedding, and Bergsen does not know what to make of it. Joan tries to ignore the episode, but the sinister voice, calling itself "Karen," haunts Joan once again and she collapses. Late one night, Joan tries to escape the torment of Karen's voice by wandering through the danger-filled streets of her town, but Karen's voice returns, this time with instructions to leave Bob. Compelled to obey Karen's wishes, Joan leaves a farewell note for her parents and goes to another city, where she changes her name to "Joan Smith" and finds work behind a hotel cigar counter. At work one day, Joan meets an attorney named Eric Russell, who instantly falls in love with her, and they begin dating. Their romance quickly flourishes, but it is brought to an abrupt conclusion when, on a ferryboat ride, Joan loses control of her body, and Karen forces her to kiss Eric passionately. This proves too much for Joan to bear, and she flees in tears to her boardinghouse room. Joan is happy to find Bob waiting there for her to take her back home, but tragedy intervenes when Karen forces Joan to kill Bob with a pair of scissors. Eric acts as Joan's attorney at her trial, and he nearly succeeds in gaining her acquittal until Joan's body is possessed by Karen and she screams "I'm guilty!" Convicted of murder, Joan is placed on death row, but while she awaits her execution, her parents try desperately to persuade Dr. Bergson to help them win a last-minute stay of execution from the governor. Bergson, at first, does not know how he will argue Joan's case, but while interviewing her in her prison cell, he discovers that Joan is suffering from a rare case of dual personality. With only hours to spare, Bergson succeeds in getting the governor to stay Joan's execution so that he can prove that Joan is clinically insane. Joan is then brought into the governor's office, where Bergson hypnotizes her and forces Karen's personality to leave Joan's body forever. When she is awakened from her sleep, Joan convinces the governor that she is completely free of Karen's torment, and her life is spared.
Harry H. Daniels Jr.
Peter P. Decker
Standish J. Lambert
Charles Salerno Jr.
Robert W. Shirley
John A. Williams
Edwin B. Willis
Bewitched (1945) on DVD
He adapted Bewitched (1945), his second film as a director, from his own radio play, "Alter Ego," a drama about a young woman haunted by a voice in her head grows into an alternate and ultimately aggressive personality. Phyllis Thaxter, a young, fresh-faced ingénue newly contracted by MGM, stars as Joan Ellis, a bright, hopeful young bride from a good family with a history of "unease" that erupts in sudden assaults by the disembodied voice in her head. And they are assaults, spoken with a charge and a ferocity (not to mention a desire for "transgressive" pleasures) that overwhelms the meek good girl. The voice (by an uncredited Audrey Totter) becomes stronger and more aggressive and Joan makes a deal with the increasingly powerful personality: she will run away, leave her life behind for the excitement and possibilities of New York City, if the voice will leave her alone. It's only a temporary reprieve.
Bewitched is a psychological thriller that delivers a murder, a dramatic courtroom trial, and a psychiatrist to provide exposition, but it is also an attempt at a serious approach to multiple personality disorder. This is long before such psychological concepts became more known through productions like The Three Faces of Eve (not to mention Hitchcock's Psycho) and he presents therapy as less a process than a psychological exorcism, but if the terms and explanations are naïve, his commitment to the real case history that inspired his drama is genuine. Joan's story is framed by the case notes of Dr. Bergson (Edmund Gwenn), a psychiatrist who recalls her case file while Joan sits in prison awaiting her fate: "In 59 minutes, the clock will stop for her." Gwenn plays the voice of authority as a kindly, professorial doctor, gentle and understanding, pulling out a pipe to puff thoughtfully as he explains psychological concepts in layman terms.
It's no surprise that Oboler take an expressionistic approach to the soundtrack, overlapping the voice until it becomes a chorus that overwhelms Joan. But his images and narrative editing are often just as creative. After the voice drives Joan to murder, she imagines the trial in a rapid-fire montage that increases in tempo while her face, superimposed over the sequence, shows her growing horror. Then Oboler cuts directly to the trial. What we experienced as her nightmarish anticipation has, in a single striking edit, become a sketch of the actual trial and we rejoin her as she awaits the verdict. It's quite audacious and as conceptually ingenious and emotionally dynamic a cinematic invention you'll find in 1940s Hollywood.
Oboler finds creative solutions to creating mood and suggesting a scope on a small B-movie budget. He stages one man's persistent courtship of Joan through a montage of bouquets in a vase on a cigar counter, the flowers changing with each new visit, and sends Joan and her new beau (Henry H. Daniels Jr.) on a cruise around the harbor with little more than a simple railing, an elevated deck, a low-angle camera, and plenty of mist. The resulting atmosphere is both romantic and oddly unsettling and claustrophobic. Joan has fled her past life for the big city, yet her world still seems to be closing in on her.
Arch Oboler has been compared to Orson Welles for obvious reasons - they both have a storied history creating inventive radio drama, wrote the films they directed, experimented with new approaches to telling cinematic stories, and traded away big budgets for creative control of their films. But I can also see affinities with Jacques Tourneur's horror films with Val Lewton in Oboler's symbolic approach to expressing psychological states and anxieties. The struggle between Joan and her voice (who ultimately reveals her name as Karen) is also the conflict between id and superego, and Karen could be the repressed sexual hunger of the good girl fighting back with desire and an almost feral aggression. It's not that far from the struggle of Irena in Cat People. Oboler hasn't the visual elegance or subtlety of Tourneur -- he hasn't learned to create a mood with light and shadow and performance or sustain an atmosphere of unease or mystery for more than a sequence -- but he shares an interest in finding visual motifs and techniques to project the emotions, anxieties, and fears of the characters to the screen.
Bewitched is more conceptually inventive and creatively ambitious than visually evocative. Oboler hasn't an eye for expressive composition or framing at this point in his filmmaking evolution (Five, his 1951 drama, is more subtle and affecting), and his symbols tend to the literal. When Joan tries to outrun the voice, she ducks into a concert hall where a singer delivers an operatic rendition of the spiritual "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," which becomes the soundtrack of her breakdown. (That this operatic rendition robs the spiritual of its pain and anguish is just another of Oboler's well-intentioned missteps.) And when our kindly paternal doctor brings both of the two psyches vying for control of Joan to the surface, they emerge as literal doppelgangers who line up beside the hypnotized body of Joan like the angel and devil sides tempting a hero.
Oboler's cinematic ideas, however, are compelling and adventurous, and the ambition of his project invests the film with a dynamism missing from the vast majority of B-movies and low-budget programmers. The B-movie unit was ostensibly a place for a creative young talent to learn on the job and experiment with technique. Oboler was one of the few who took the opportunity to push the medium in different directions and try out dramatic ideas on the screen. He makes Bewitched one of the most interesting B-movies of the 1940s.
Bewitched is released on the Warner Archive line of manufacture-on-demand discs from a preserved print. The level of grain is prominent but not distracting and the print is remarkably clean and quite beautiful. The images are sharp and the contrasts or strong. It's another fine disc from the Warner Archive. Also features the original trailer.
Thanks to the work by Matthew Rovner on Arch Oboler's filmmaking career in general and Bewitched in particular, published on Parallax View, which provided background on the filmmaker and helped guide some of my observations.
By Sean Axmaker
Bewitched (1945) on DVD
For a MGM film, even a 'B' movie, Bewitched had an extremely low budget. But Oboler's radio expertise made the most of it, and he filled the picture with stylistic flourishes that came from radio. The use of sound effects, editing, stylized dialogue, and heightened, punchy music all reveal the radio influence. The music, in fact, was so important to Oboler that he fought to get a good composer who was actually scoring 'A' movies - Bronislau Kaper, who had just finished scoring Gaslight (1944) and Without Love (1945). Finally, Oboler gave Thaxter's evil personality its own voice, well supplied by an unbilled Audrey Totter, a film noir fixture (Lady in the Lake (1947), Tension, 1950) whose career began in radio in 1939.
Psychiatry-themed movies were all the rage in the 1940s, expressing anxieties and fears that reflected the mood of WWII-era America. The easy reassurance provided by many of the psychiatrist characters perhaps also filled a need felt by moviegoers for reassurance themselves. Be that as it may, the subject soon permeated nearly every genre. The specific issue of multiple personalities had been tackled in earlier movies like The Curious Conduct of Judge Legarde (1915), The Brand of Satan (1917), The Untameable (1923), and less clinically, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920 and 1931). But in the new trend of psychiatry movies, schizophrenia as a clinical matter was something quite different, and in that sense Bewitched was ahead of its time, anticipating by over a decade the more famous The Three Faces of Eve (1957) and Lizzie (1957).
This was only Thaxter's second movie. She would go on to appear in several fine films including Act of Violence (1948), No Man of Her Own (1950) and The Breaking Point (1950) before turning to television. She returned to the big screen in Superman (1978) as Superman's adoptive mother, Ma Kent.
Oboler directed eight more pictures, specializing in gimmicky dramas including Bwana Devil (1952), the first feature-length 3D movie and the one which ushered in the 3D craze, and the post-nuclear holocaust melodrama, Five (1951), filmed in Oboler's own Frank Lloyd Wright-styled home.
Producer: Jerry Bresler, Herbert Moulton
Director: Arch Oboler
Screenplay: Arch Oboler
Cinematography: Charles Salerno, Jr.
Film Editing: Harry Komer
Art Direction: Malcolm Brown, Cedric Gibbons
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Cast: Phyllis Thaxter (Joan Arlis Ellis), Edmund Gwenn (Dr. Bergson), Henry H. Daniels, Jr. (Bob Arnold), Addison Richards (John Ellis), Kathleen Lockhart (Mrs. Ellis), Francis Pierlot (Dr. George Wilton).
by Jeremy Arnold
Bob, do you hear... someone talking?- Joan Alris Ellis
Joan... Joan... I've been fighting with you all your life... Listen, you, I've waited a long time for this. You've gotta let me live!... I won't go back in the dark. I'll live! I'll live!- Karen
Did you think you could run away? Why don't you let me take over now?- Karen
The scissors. Pick them up. Kill him! Lift your arm. Higher... higher... higher. Now -- strike!- Karen
Once in many, many millions of births, a body can have two divergent personalities living in the same brain.- Dr. Bergson
Working titles of this film were Alter Ego and The Crime of Joan Ellis. The film marked radio personality Arch Oboler's first directorial effort. The Oboler story on which this film is based, "Alter Ego," was originally produced for radio broadcast. Though the date of the original radio broadcast has not been determined, a book on Oboler's radio plays published in 1940 indicates that Bette Davis starred in a broadcast of "Alter Ego" that was directed by Bill Bacher. Hollywood Reporter production charts list actor Tim Murdock in the cast, but his appearance in the released film has not been confirmed.