The Space Between: Literature and Culture 1914-1945

Still Spellbound by Spellbound

Elliott H. King
Washington and Lee University

For decades questions have circulated concerning the degree of Salvador Dalí’s involvement in the famous dream sequence included as part of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1945 thriller, Spellbound. Although Dalí worked directly with Hitchcock on the production, it is well known that the episode was largely reshot by art director William Cameron Menzies after both Dalí and Hitchcock were off the set. Co-star Ingrid Bergman further fanned speculation when she described in an interview that the dream sequence originally lasted over twenty minutes. While nearly all the footage on which Dalí worked directly was cut from the finished picture, based on my examination of Spellbound’s early working scripts and drawing heavily upon producer David O. Selznick’s archives at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, it appears that Dalí’s prop designs and backdrops were left relatively intact despite extensive edits and reshooting. This investigation has also revealed, however, that contrary to popular lore, most of the dream sequence’s content—including certain “surrealistic” elements widely ascribed to Dalí—originated with Hitchcock’s screenwriters and were a part of the script before Hitchcock brought the artist aboard the production. 

Keywords:  Salvador Dalí / Alfred Hitchcock / Spellbound / Surrealism / Hollywood / David O. Selznick / Rhonda Fleming


The most puzzling “whodunit” in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1945 thriller Spellbound is not the mysterious fate of the film’s murder victim, Dr. Anthony Edwardes, but who should be held responsible for the film’s famous two-and-a-half-minute dream sequence. The film’s opening credits wryly and obliquely describe it as “based on designs by Salvador Dalí,” though for decades questions have circulated concerning the degree to which the final sequence adheres to Dalí’s artistic vision, having been reshot by art director William Cameron Menzies after both Dalí and Hitchcock were off the set. Co-star Ingrid Bergman fanned speculation in 1975, when she described, in conversation with Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto, a museum-quality dream sequence that had originally lasted over twenty minutes before being sacrificed to the cutting room floor (158). The dream sequence was certainly cut back, though as James Bigwood argues convincingly, probably not by more than a few minutes;1 a twenty-minute dream sequence, he contends, would have been impractical in a standard-length motion picture. Still, tantalizing rumors of a “lost” twenty-minute dream sequence abound. As for the discarded episodes, at least part of their history is relatively clear: Dalí had designed an elaborate ballroom scene that was to culminate in Bergman transforming into a winged statue—preferably one festering with ants, though Hitchcock assured him early on that this was impossible. While nearly all the footage on which Dalí worked directly with Hitchcock in August and September of 1944 was cut from the finished picture, based on my examination of Spellbound’s early working scripts and drawing heavily upon producer David O. Selznick’s archives at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, it appears that Dalí’s prop designs and backdrops were left relatively intact despite extensive edits and reshooting. Further and importantly, however, it also seems that most of the dream sequence’s content—including some imaginative aspects widely ascribed to Dalí—were already part of the script before Hitchcock brought the artist aboard the production. 

The Spellbound storyline is based unrecognizably loosely on the 1927 novel, The House of Dr. Edwardes, by Hilary A. Saunders and John Palmer writing under the pseudonym Francis Beeding. Hitchcock had procured the screen rights to the novel and, in 1943, proposed a filmic adaptation to Selznick, with whom he had his first American success in 1940 with the movie Rebecca. Both the novel, The House of Dr. Edwardes, and what would become Spellbound focus on murder and a case of mistaken identity, though after copious rewrites by Angus MacPhail and later Ben Hecht, the commonalities effectively end there. The Spellbound film opens with the head of Vermont’s Green Manors Mental Asylum, Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll), retiring following a mental breakdown. He is succeeded by Dr. Anthony Edwardes, played by Gregory Peck, though almost immediately Edwardes begins exhibiting unusual behaviors: he becomes catatonic at the sight of parallel lines against a white background, and he passes out while conducting a surgery. It is soon revealed that this Edwardes is an imposter, and the real Dr. Edwardes has been murdered. This man—an amnesiac who knows himself only as J.B. (initials he retrieved from a cigarette case)—is the prime suspect. J.B. (later revealed to stand for John Ballantyne) presumes his own guilt, as he cannot otherwise explain why he would have put himself into Dr. Edwardes’s place. By the time his ruse is revealed, however, he has developed a romance with one of the other staff psychiatrists, Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman). Peterson is convinced that J.B. is not the killer, and so she attempts to treat his amnesia and thereby prove his innocence. Peterson and J.B. escape Vermont for Rochester, New York, where they connect with Peterson’s former instructor, the eminent psychiatrist Dr. Alex Brulov (Michael Chekhov), who encourages J.B. to subject his dreams to psychoanalytic interpretation—“the more cockeyed, the better for the scientific side of it,” Brulov tells him. Thus begins the dream sequence around which most of the film’s storyline unfolds: 

I can’t make out just what sort of a place it was. It seemed to be a gambling house, but there weren’t any walls, just a lot of curtains with eyes painted on them. A man was walking around with a large pair of scissors cutting all the drapes in half. And then a girl came in with hardly anything on and started walking around the gambling room kissing everybody. She came to my table first. […] I was sitting there playing cards with a man who had a beard. I was dealing to him and turned up the seven of clubs. He said, ‘That makes twenty-one. I win!’. When he turned up his cards they were blank. Just then the proprietor came in and accused him of cheating. The proprietor yelled, ‘This is my place and if I catch you cheating again I’ll fix you!’ […] He was leaning over the sloping roof of a high building, the man with the beard. I yelled for him to watch out. Then he went over, slowly with his feet in the air. Then I saw the proprietor again, the man in the mask. He was hiding behind a tall chimney and he had a small wheel in his hand. I saw him drop the wheel on the roof. Suddenly I was running. Then I heard something beating over my head; it was a great pair of wings. The wings chased me and almost caught up with me when I came to the bottom of the hill.


This oneiric narrative proves the key to solving the mystery. Peterson and Brulov deduce that J.B.’s extraordinary fear of dark lines against a white background indicates that the real Dr. Edwardes and J.B. were skiing together at the time of the murder. The wings allude to Peterson’s role as his “angel” and also to the name of the ski resort, Gabriel Valley. The seven of clubs making twenty-one reveals a certain “Twenty-One Club,” where J.B. overheard the real murderer (“the proprietor”) threaten Dr. Edwardes. And finally, the wheel the proprietor drops symbolizes the revolver used to shoot Edwardes during the skiing outing. 

While this dream sequence is now arguably the most renowned part of Spellbound, it was not always included in the film: in MacPhail’s initial adaptations, there was no dream description at all, and when it was first included, it was mentioned only briefly. When Selznick brought Hecht onto the project in March 1944, Hecht immensely elaborated on the dream’s description, though still it was only recounted by J.B. to Peterson and Brulov in the latter’s living room without any accompanying imagery. In one of Hecht’s most bizarre treatments, dated April 3, 1944, J.B. describes fighting on a theatre stage with a Brownie, “a little man about two feet high with a painted head, a big stomach and spindly little legs [...] it wasn’t a dwarf.  It was distinctly a Brownie in a green tattered suit.”2 The battle takes place during a Japanese play titled Nookna. The Brownie keeps winking at an unnamed person J.B. dislikes, and then the theatre set, depicting two cloudy skies, falls down on top of them. J.B. hears a wailing wind that becomes a dog’s howl, and a woman named Carolyn approaches him saying everything he has done has been “registered.” The “psychoanalytic” interpretation of this version of the dream is no more sophisticated: Brulov and Peterson decipher the falling skies to be falling skis, and the name Carolyn leads them to a Canadian ski resort, the Carol Inn, where Dr. Edwardes was murdered. 

By June 14, 1944, following several rewrites, plans were underway to fully illustrate J.B.’s nightmarish recollections, though Selznick expressed concerns with the film’s escalating costs, including Hitchcock’s 57-day shooting schedule and proposed $1.25 million dollar budget.3 Initiating one of the film’s great historical mysteries, Selznick instructed his production manager, Richard Johnston, to estimate the price of the proposed dream sequence, resulting in a $150,000 figure (over $2 million in today’s currency) that came as such a “ghastly shock” to Selznick that he ordered no further work be done until he had personally investigated the matter. “If the dream sequence should cost anything remotely like this amount,” he wrote, “it will have to go out of the picture.”4 

It is at this point that confusion arises over Dalí’s role in the proposed dream sequence. Several historians—myself included—have cited Johnston’s $150,000 sum as potential evidence of Dalí’s grandiose and ultimately unrealized plans, possibly accounting for Bergman’s description of the sequence’s twenty-minute duration. However, there is no archival evidence that the scenes on which Johnston based his assessment came from Dalí. Johnston’s figure was estimated in mid-June 1944—several weeks before Dalí’s name would be mentioned in inner-office memoranda as a possibility for contributing to the anticipated dream episode (first raised in writing on July 18) and the eventual signing of his contract (August 18). In fact, numerous June and July memoranda express Selznick’s frustration over cost estimates that could not provide in detail the contents of the sequence in question. That Selznick continued to fret over additional expenses is confirmed by a July 10 memorandum advising Johnston that the dream sequence—still without mentioning Dalí—should be shot with “no sets whatsoever” and instead employ “99% painting.”5 

On July 18, Selznick wrote to his publicity director, Don King, that he was “thinking about engaging Dali, the famous painter, to design the dream sequence in “THE HOUSE OF DR. EDWARDES.”7 While it is difficult to pinpoint precisely when the studio first reached out to Dalí, it must have been around this date, though again, no solid plans were yet in place, and certainly Dalí had not been involved in scripting any of the proposed sequence. It is with this in mind that Ben Hecht’s June 29 shooting script (with edits to the dream sequence dated July 7) is surprising and significant: presuming these dates are correct, Hecht had entirely laid out the dream sequence’s storyline—and by extension, most of its visuals—before Dalí was officially brought onto the project. Most of this dialogue would find its way into the finished film: 

I can’t make out just what sort of a place it was—although it was supposed to be a gambling house. There weren’t any walls— just a lot of curtains hanging. With eyes painted on them. They were sitting at tables playing cards. But the cards were blank. And there was one man who came in holding a large scissors. He started walking around the room cutting the drapes in half. And then a girl with hardly anything on—came into the gambling room and started walking around kissing everybody… I was sitting in a corner playing cards with—with a man who had a beard. I was dealing him cards, turning them up one at a time. And he said, “I’ll take another.” “That makes twenty-one. I win.” Just as soon as he said this the proprietor came in and accused him of cheating. The proprietor yelled, “I won’t allow you to play here. This is my place. And if you try any more cheating, I’ll fix you.”… I was standing on a high place—a sloping roof on top of a high building. The wind was blowing a gale. And he was there. The man with the beard. He was standing on the edge of the roof leaning over into the space as if he were going to plunge over any minute. I was frightened stiff. I couldn’t move. I yelled at him to watch out. But the wind swept the words away. He stood there leaning over more and more. I knew he was going to fall but I couldn’t do anything. Then he went over slowly—his feet in the air. I saw a man hiding behind a tall chimney. He had a mask on. And he laughed. He was holding a small wheel in his hand. I watched the wheel drop on the roof and I tried to yell at him. But he laughed and disappeared… I remember him yelling at me, before he disappeared, that everything was now fixed… I don’t remember how I got there, but I was in a ballroom. The dancers were dressed in white suits—and pretending to dance, but not moving. An orchestra was in the corner—dressed in white fur hats. And Dr. Brulov was leading it. They were playing, “The Snow Maiden,” by Rimsky-Korsakov. I was talking to Constance, and asking her to dance. She had a dance card and asked me to write my name on it. I refused, and grabbed her and started dancing—rather wildly. We danced out of the ballroom and I kissed her… The dance card kept getting bigger—It was full of names and addresses. And Constance seemed to turn into a statue. I started running, and the statue started chasing me. I ran down a huge slope. And I heard something beating over my head. It was wings. The statue had wings. I couldn’t see them—but a shadow kept hitting me. The statue was flying after me and holding a big book out in its hands. It was almost ready to grab me when I came close to the bottom of the hill and stated running up another hill.6

Even if Hecht and Hitchcock were already entertaining Dalí’s potential involvement in the dream sequence, none of these visuals—the masked man, the orchestra in white fur hats, or even the eyeball curtains cut in half (Fig. 1), a clear reference to Un Chien Andalou—could have come from Dalí.

Hecht—presumably in collaboration with Hitchcock—effectively conceived a “Dalí-esque” dream narrative upon which the artist could elaborate—a move possibly intended to establish a Surrealistic “air” to the sequence without providing Dalí a carte blanche that might go well beyond Selznick’s budget. While the style of the dream sequence would be largely up to Dalí, then, the content was already in place.

Portions of Hecht’s script presumably were shared with Dalí by July 18 to gauge his interest—a “nightmare ordered by telephone,” to paraphrase the artist’s own later description of the commission (Dalí 2). It is around this date that Dalí’s “movie agent,” Felix “Fe-Fe” Ferry, began impatiently urging Selznick to bring the painter onto the project. One can imagine that the script, still titled The House of Dr. Edwardes, promised Dalí the opportunity to finally bring a part of his Surrealistic bravado to Hollywood, an ambition he had held since the mid-1930s when he tried unsuccessfully to collaborate with the Marx Brothers on a film script titled Giraffes on Horseback Salad. Another disappointment had followed in 1941, when Twentieth Century Fox contracted him to design a three-minute nightmare sequence for Moontide—a scenario that director Archie Mayo cut from the picture after taking over the film from Fritz Lang. The invitation to work with the both experimental and commercially successful Hitchcock, then, surely excited Dalí, who described the director in 1945 as “one of the rare personages I have met lately who has some mystery” (Dalí 2).

As for Hitchcock’s motives, when later asked why he had sought Dalí’s participation on Spellbound, Hitchcock answered that he was after “the vividness of dreams”:

[A]ll Dalí’s work is very solid and very sharp, with very long perspectives and black shadows. Actually I wanted the dream sequence to be shot on the back lot, not in the studio at all. I wanted them shot in the bright sunshine. So the cameramen would be forced to do what we call stop it out and get a very hard image. This was again the avoidance of the cliché. All dreams in the movies are blurred. It isn’t true. Dalí was the best man for me to do the dreams because that is what dreams should be. (Jenkinson)

Although Hitchcock’s motivation for involving Dalí seems to have been predominantly stylistic, Selznick clearly viewed Dalí’s participation as little more than an elaborate publicity stunt—one he was skeptical would pay off. “The price we would have to pay [Dalí] would be considerably in excess of what it would be worth to us strictly for production purposes,” Selznick wrote to Don King on July 18. “We should make the deal with Dalí only if there is an important publicity value to be obtained.”8 The next day, Cameron Shipp replied to Daniel O’Shea that he had confidentially inquired with LIFE and Look magazines, neither of which was “excited over the prospect of more Daliesque art”9 (Dalí had already appeared six times in LIFE magazine over the past twelve months). With this in mind, it would not be worth the money in terms of pure publicity, Shipp concluded, adding, “I am not certain that Dalí’s Pahllic [sic] frescoes would be nice in juxtaposition with our Christmas tree, Miss Bergman.” A few days later, on July 25, Selznick informed O’Shea, Johnston, and Ernest Scanlon that “[i]f this sequence runs more than $25,000 or $30,000 it should not be shot until the picture is finished and no deal with Dalí should be made.”10 

Within the week, however, plans were advancing to bring Dalí onto The House of Dr. Edwardes. Fe-Fe Ferry wrote a letter to Selznick on August 2 saying that he had enjoyed a “very constructive meeting with Dalí, Hitchcock, [and] your artistic, technical and scenic departments and everything is all set to everyone’s satisfaction.”11 The only contested issue were the sketches, which Ferry insisted Dalí should retain due to their “great commercial value.” As Sara Cochran notes, Dalí’s previous contracts for ballet and theatre productions, as well as his 1941 contract with Twentieth Century Fox for Moontide, had uniformly granted him full ownership of all his paintings and sketches (176). Selznick balked:

I think the Dalí deal is absurd, that we have been jockeyed into a silly position and that this is probably the first time in History that an artist has been paid more than top price for his work in order for him to keep his work […] none of Dalí’s work, or very, very little of it, will remain in the finished picture and it is my fear that he will only lead us astray and into a lot of expense over and above what he gets for film that will wind up on the cutting room floor […] I suggest that you get Basevi and Kern to assit [sic] you in coming to a conclusion as to whether this is just a smart aleck stunt that has no practical value or whether merely a publicity stunt for Hitchcock or whether it has a practical value. If it is a publicity stunt, this is all right with me provided we actually can get the publicity…12

A compromise was reached whereby Dalí and Selznick Studios would divide the works 50/50. Dalí would receive a flat sum of $4,000 for his work ($1,000 less than the anticipated cost), for which he would be responsible for four distinct sequences: “The gambling sequence,” “two men on a roof,” “the ballroom sequence,” and “the down-hill – up-hill sequence.” On August 18, 1944, only twelve days before the dream sequence was scheduled to begin shooting, Dalí signed his contract.

Parsing through memoranda, then, it becomes increasingly clear that most of the storyline and even key “Dalí-esque” images were decided before Dalí was approached to contribute to the Spellbound dream sequence. Other revisions followed that compromised his artistic vision. An especially early edit from the film—before Dalí was even on set—was an enormous pair of pliers that he had planned to be in the background of J.B.’s flight from the ominous winged statue (Fig. 2).

This decision originated with the film’s “technical psychiatric advisor,” Dr. May E. Romm, Selznick’s own professional psychoanalyst whom he had hired to ensure the film’s psychological credibility. According to Romm’s memorandum to Selznick, dated August 23, had a patient dreamt of such gigantic pliers, he would have mentioned it to his analyst, and the pliers would have had a phallic explanation. “This one issue, which would loom large from a psychiatrist’s point of view, might prevent whatever possible endorsement we might otherwise get from the psychiatric society,” she offered.13 The pliers were duly cropped out of the motion picture.

On August 30, Dalí attended the shooting of the first of the four dream episodes, the ballroom scene. Again, Hecht had already described the orchestra dressed in white fur hats in his earlier script, though to this Dalí ordered his own creative additions: fifteen lavishly sculpted grand pianos that were to be hung low over the heads of the dancers “to create the impression of a nightmare. Heavy weight and uneasiness are hanging over the guests in a ballroom” (Dalí 2). Dalí also positioned the orchestra overhead rather than in the corner of the room, as Hecht’s script had specified. When the artist arrived to the set, however, he discovered that the grand pianos were apparently too difficult or heavy to suspend from the ceiling and therefore had been replaced by miniature pianos. To make the pianos appear larger in relation to the dancers and force the perspective, the studio had hired about forty little people to dance underneath them (Fig. 3). “I thought I was dreaming,” Dalí later wrote in a much-quoted passage from his faux-newspaper, Dalí News. “…In truth, the imagination of the Hollywood experts will be the only thing that will ever have surpassed me” (Dalí 2).

On September 13, after exactly two weeks of production, Richard Johnston notified the studio that Hitchcock was satisfied with Dalí’s efforts and arrangements should be made to pay the artist’s $4,000 fee. Dalí and Gala departed for Pebble Beach, and soon afterwards Hitchcock left Los Angeles as well for New York. Dalí, however, remained fixated on the disappointing ballroom scene and immediately sent a communication through Fe-Fe Ferry informing the studio that he had additional sketches and would be eager to reshoot the ballroom episode if Hitchcock were amenable.14 Hitchcock concurred, and in October 1944, an agreement was reached for Dalí to provide an additional ballroom painting at no extra charge. The studio had other, more pressing concerns, however. On September 15, Johnston reported to Selznick that the statue scene, too, was unsatisfactory. Though no footage of this famous episode is extant, several black and white photographs record Bergman in Grecian garb with a choker of Dalí’s design pressing an arrow against her throat (Fig.4). According to Bergman, Hitchcock had filmed her breaking out of a plaster body cast  (Fig. 5), and this footage was screened in reverse so that she would appear to turn to stone (Spoto 158).

Johnston reported to Selznick that the shutter of the camera had been closed or was not working during filming, something he attributed to the camera crew’s “negligence,” and this difficult scene would require reshooting.15 By September 22, the scene had been reshot at least twice.

The House of Dr. Edwardes was previewed in Pasadena on September 27, and while audiences were generally enthusiastic, several extensive edits were delivered to the production team: these included reshooting the gambling hall sequence, cutting the ballroom scene entirely, and adding new dialogue to cover up the jump to the statue scene (Bigwood, "A Nightmare"). The statue scene, then, as well as at least portions of the ballroom sequence still figured into the film as late as September 1944. On October 13, Gregory Peck recorded a new voiceover to accommodate for the now-omitted ballroom sequence but still including the statue sequence: “I don’t know how I got there, but I was chasing Constance through some weird deserted place. I caught up with her and kissed her. She pushed me away and then she turned into a statue” (Bigwood, "A Nightmare"). Finally, the title was changed from The House of Dr. Edwardes, Hitchcock’s choice, to Selznick’s preferred Spellbound.

Even with these modifications, however, Selznick was disappointed. “The more I look at the dream sequence in SPELLBOUND, the worse I feel it to be,” he wrote in a memorandum dated October 25: 

It is not Dalí’s fault, for his work is much finer and much better for the purposes than I ever thought it would be. It is the photography, set-ups, lighting, et cetera, all of which is completely lacking in imagination and all of which is about what you would expect from Monogram [a studio known for producing B-movies]. I think we need a whole new shake on this sequence, and I would like to get Bill Menzies to come over and lay it out and shoot it.  I’d appreciate it if you’d find out immediately it Menzies is available.16

Selznick had previously worked with William Cameron Menzies on Gone with the Wind, for which both won Academy Awards—Selznick for Best Picture and Menzies an honorary award for “outstanding achievement in the use of colour for the enhancement of dramatic mood in the production of Gone with the Wind.” By November 27, Menzies had laid out a new storyboard that matches virtually shot-for-shot what would become the film’s final dream sequence. 

It is often presumed that Menzies’s edits were substantial—again, based on Johnston’s $150,000 June estimate and Bergman’s description of the dream’s original twenty-minute duration. While it is impossible to determine the degree to which Menzies’s version deviated from Dalí and Hithcock’s shoot without access to those lost cuts, the most significant edits were the aforementioned ballroom sequence and, under Menzies, the much-troubled statue sequence, which became a scene of J.B. running in the “weird deserted place” (based on Dalí’s painted backdrop) towards Bergman, who was now simply seated at a desk. Beyond these, according to inner-office communications, “the chief changes [were] by way of introducing transitional elements, moving from one painting to another, throughout which the camera is constantly moving forward.”17 As the dialogue was already established before Dalí’s arrival, it seems likely that the content of the sequence was relatively unscathed by Menzies, though the transitions and specific camera angles were almost certainly modified. Surely, however, these elements owed more to Hitchcock’s direction than to Dalí’s. In short, given that Hecht established the narration and Hitchcock the direction, Dalí’s primary contributions were the painted sets and prop designs, which, based on the artist’s sketches, seem to have stayed intact for those scenes that remained in the film. In the gambling hall episode (Fig. 6), for instance, while the description of the eyeball curtains seems to have come from Hecht, sketches confirm that Dalí contributed the idea of tables with mannequin legs, each of which would hold four metronomes with eyes pasted to the pendulums.

These appear, albeit peripherally, in the film’s final cut. Indeed, the only significant omission from Dalí’s gambling hall design—and it is unclear when this decision was made—appears to have been the cockroaches he requested to have eyes pasted to their backs. The props otherwise followed Dalí’s drawings precisely. This was also the case of the proprietor’s covered head, described in the script only as “masked” but which Dalí covered with a full cloth resembling characters from certain paintings by René Magritte and the masked dice-players in Man Ray’s 1929 film, Les Mystères du Château de Dé

Selznick forwarded Menzies’s new plans with sketches to Dalí and Hitchcock, who were both staying at the St. Regis Hotel in New York, though there is no record in the Selznick Archive of either's immediate reply. On December 5, Menzies’s team re-shot the man cutting the eyeball curtains with the oversized pair of scissors, and on December 19, the card game, too, was re-shot. On December 20 and 21, the rooftop scene was redone using a miniature set with puppets set against Dalí’s painted background. Fe-Fe Ferry sent a concerned letter to Selznick, dated December 19, offering Dalí’s additional participation at no extra charge. “I want you to realize how anxious [Dalí] is that his first American picture should be perfection…He is so anxious that the entire work have the usual Dalí quality.”18 Selznick recognized the promise of having Dalí’s continued input without incurring any additional expense and responded with a memorandum to Johnston: 

Please write Mr. Ferry, explaining to him that unfortunately Mr. Dalí’s return to the coast in six or eight weeks will be too late to be of value to us […] if Mr. Dali can get together with Mr. Hitchcock in New York and discuss the new treatment, for which purposes you have forwarded Mr. Hitchcock detailed sketches, perhaps something may come of it in the way of further suggestions from Mr. Dali that will be of value to the sequence, and would therefore serve the mutual advantage of Hitchcock, Dali, and ourselves […] However, you had better caution Mr. Dali that it may be that any additional ideas will be received too late to be of use, since the sequence is already so far along and its very technically complicated production, but that if Mr. Hitchcock thinks highly enough of Mr. Dali’s additional ideas, we will be very glad to do everything we can to make use of them.19

With no proposed changes from Dalí or Hitchcock forthcoming, Menzies reshot the remainder of the dream sequence the following January, though he ultimately declined credit for his work; Selznick wrote on February 14: “Whatever reasons Bill may have for not wanting credit, as far as I am concerned the sequence is a severe disappointment.”20 The new dream sequence was previewed as part of the film on February 16 in Huntington Park, California, but still work continued over the next seven months under James Basevi, who discarded the “weird, deserted place” scene as well.21 The film was released with only Basevi credited as Art Director. The dream sequence, which had been formerly listed as having been “designed by Salvador Dalí” was modified slightly but significantly to “based on designs by Salvador Dalí.”22

Although Bigwood and others in his stead have concentrated their research on the discarded ballroom and statue sequences, memoranda between Selznick and the production team hint of other scenes that also failed to make it into the film. One communication concerning the ballroom sequence, for example, refers to Dalí’s plans to hang sacks of coal from the ceiling, an unacknowledged reference to Duchamp’s installation of 1,200 coal sacks at the 1938 Exposition Intérnationale du Surréalisme that Dalí had already re-created for his 1941 Hollywood party, “Night in a Surrealist Forest.”23 The on-hand psychiatric advisor determined that the sacks did not contribute to the story, though they equally did not interfere with it and were therefore permissible.24 Another missive, sent by Carl Agnew, business manager for R.L. Grosh & Sons Scenic Design, in early August 1944 requested the “return of all artwork related to special effect dept. including painting of multihued standing woman with castle, underwater eyes and ski miniatures.”25 Were these designs from that initial $150,000 proposal or aspects of a different project? Another note from Agnew to Grosh’s head of production, Robert Garwin, asks that Dalí’s sketches for Spellbound be returned to project manager Anthony Revilis and that the “painted scene showing fish with large eyes should be returned to […] Vanguard Productions.”26 There are no fish in any of the scripted dream sequences, again leading one to wonder if and how these might have fit into the motion picture.

There is also the mysterious case of Rhonda Fleming. Fleming features in Spellbound as a mental patient—a nymphomaniac—and again in the dream sequence as the “kissing bug.” Dalí worked for two hours on Fleming’s “kissing bug” costume (Fig. 7)—a $400 Dior negligee that he so shredded with scissors that the Story Department demanded a more modest costume for the actress (Bigwood, "Solving" 39).  However, most of Fleming’s scenes, including one in which Dalí instructed her to “float down the stairs,” were cut from the finished picture.

In the end, Fleming’s “kissing bug” appears only briefly and at a distance so as to be unrecognizable, and when Brulov asks J.B. if he is able to identify her, he responds, per Hecht’s script, that she looked “a bit like Constance.” One wonders why, then, Fleming—and not Bergman—was cast as the “kissing bug” at all. It seems likely that Fleming’s part as a film’s nymphomaniac was originally significantly larger and was diminished during editing. Indeed, when Bergman endorses her alleged role as the “kissing bug” by commenting that at least J.B. had not dreamt of her as an eggbeater, Fleming is neatly erased from the sequence altogether. 

As the project wrapped up, a string of memoranda indicate Selznick’s apprehension over whether Dalí would have a valid claim if he were credited with designing the sequence even in the event that his drawings were used with substantial changes or if work done by others were included as well. Selznick’s legal counsel, Robert Dann, advised the producer, “There is no necessity of showing the completed Dream Sequence first to Dali or to his representative, and I think it would be a mistake to do so.” Dann added that he thought the studio was on “safe ground, which is of course no assurance that Dalí won’t squawk, but I doubt that he will.”27 

Despite its numerous challenges, Spellbound was generally well received by the public. The film grossed six million dollars worldwide and was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Miklós Rózsa’s haunting theremin soundtrack was awarded Best Original Score by the Academy, and Ingrid Bergman won a New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress. It is perhaps unfair to compare this acclaim to what the international Surrealist movement experienced during these same years, though the disparity is telling: While the 1940s saw important major exhibitions of the Surrealists’ own design in Mexico City (1940), New York (1942), and Paris (1947), Dalí continued to be the unofficial mouthpiece of the movement, particularly in the United States—this despite his formal estrangement from Surrealism since 1939. Among the critical reviews Spellbound received from the artistic avant-garde, former Dadaist Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes wrote in 1946, “For some time now Dalí appears to have downgraded the Surrealist doctrine to the level of fashion; he is now employed in Hollywood, but all he is doing is holding an everything-must-go Surrealist rummage sale, and Surrealism is passé anyway” (Bondil-Poupard 166). Ribemont-Dessaignes’ description of the sequence as “Surrealist rummage sale” highlights the liberties Dalí took in appropriating others’ artworks (e.g., the legged gambling hall tables quoted Surrealist objects that had appeared in the 1938 Exposition Intérnationale du Surréalisme in Paris, specifically André Breton’s Object Chest [1938] and Kurt Seligmann’s Ultra-Furniture [1938], while the eyeball metronome recreated Man Ray’s Object to be Destroyed [1932]). Through such unacknowledged “homages,” Dalí established himself as the unofficial wellspring of Surrealist imagery in America—according to himself, “the most Surrealist of the whole group—perhaps the only Surrealist” (Parinaud 138–39). At the same time, however, as I have sought to chronicle here, it seems that much of Spellbound’s “[e]lementary Freudianism and cheap baubles,” as Ado Kyrou later described the dream sequence (208–209), were not actually Dalí’s doing; the dream sequence was largely a Hollywood invention to which Dalí simply contributed—a role that was, in the end, more modest than the artist had hoped. As Dalí told James Bigwood in 1975 when asked about his participation on Spellbound, “Le best parts in Hitchcock que I like he should keep, that much was cut” (Bigwood, "Solving" 40).

One could fairly argue that Spellbound problematically misrepresented Surrealism in much the same way that it diluted serious psychoanalysis for a mainstream audience, and it is true that Spellbound is absent from nearly all scholarly resources on Surrealism and cinema28 save those focused explicitly on Dalí.29 By most measures, the film is an apt testament to the hollow commercialization of Surrealism that had led André Breton to baptize Dalí with the stinging anagram, “Avida Dollars.” Even so, the fact that the film continues to be lauded in popular—and increasingly academic—circles for “bringing Surrealism to Hollywood (Carrigan) suggests that Spellbound’s place in Surrealism’s history is not inconsequential.30 It may, however, have less to do with the degree to which the film is or is not authentically “Surrealistic” by various gauges than with what it has come to represent: Mainstream American culture’s waning interest in the Surrealist movement’s own ongoing international activities and acceptance—indeed, popular embrace—of Dalí’s particular brand of dream imagery, a style that was recognizable enough by the 1940s that Hollywood could effectively execute it with or without him.


Support for the publication of this article was provided by the Class of 1956 Provost's Faculty Development Endowment at Washington and Lee University. I would like to dedicate this essay to the memory of Hunter Cordaiy (1950–2016).

See Bigwood, “Solving a Spellbound Puzzle,” and “A Nightmare Ordered by Telephone.” 

Ben Hecht, The House of Dr. Edwards’, screenplay, drafted 3 April 1944, pp. 80–81. The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

Leff, “Selznick International’s Spellbound.”

4 Memo from David O. Selznick to Ernest Scanlon, Daniel O’Shea, Alfred Hitchcock, and Richard Johnston, dated 21 June 1944.  The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

5 Memo from David O. Selznick to Richard Johnston (CC: O’Shea and Scanlon), dated 10 July 1944. The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

6 Ben Hecht, “The House of Dr. Edwards,” Temporary Shooting Script – Second Draft, 29 June 1944, pp. 120–21. Changes to the dream sequence dated 7 July 1944. The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

7 Memo from David O. Selznick to Don King, dated 18 July 1944. The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

8 Memo from David O. Selznick to Don King, dated 18 July 1944. The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

9 Memo from Cameron Shipp to Daniel O’Shea, dated 19 July 1944. The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

10 Memo from David O. Selznick to Daniel O’Shea, Ernest Scanlon, and Richard Johnston (25 July 1944).  The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

11 Letter from Felix “Fe-Fe” Ferry to David O. Selznick, dated 2 August 1944. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

12 Memo from Selznick to Daniel O’Shea, 4 August 1944. The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

13 May Romm, cited in a memo from Eileen Johnston to David O. Selznick, Alfred Hitchcock, Richard Johnston, Salvador Dalí, James Basevi, Barbara Keon (23 August 1944).  The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

14 Letter from Felix Ferry to Vanguard Studios, dated 13 September 1944. The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

15 Memo from Richard Johnston to David O. Selznick and Daniel O’Shea [15 September 1944]. The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

16 Memo from David O. Selznick to Daniel O’Shea, Richard Johnston, James Basevi, Hal Kern, and Barbara Keon (25 October 1944).  The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

17 Memo from Robert Dann, dated 27 November 1944. The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

18 Letter from Felix Ferry to David O. Selznick, 19 December 1944. The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

19 Memo from David Selznick to Johnston, 26 December 1944. The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

20 Memo from Selznick to Robert Dann, 14 February 1945. The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

21 Memo from Robert Dann to Seznick, 19 September 1945. The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

22 Main title layout, dated 30 October 1944. The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

23 Memo from Eileen Johnston to David O. Selznick, Alfred Hitchcock, Richard Johnston, Salvador Dalí, James Basevi, Barbara Keon (23 August 1944).  The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

24 Ibid.  

25 Memo from Carl Agnew to Anthony Revelis (7 Aug 1944). The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

26 Memo from Carl Agnew to Robert Garwin (12 December 1944).  The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

27 Memo from Robert Dann to David O. Selznick, Daneil O’Shea, and Hal Kern (20 September 1945).  The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas.

28 See Matthews; Hammond; Short; and Richardson.

29 See Bigwood, “Cinquante"; Ades, Dalí, 1982; Ades, Dalí, 2004; Cochran; and King.

30 See, for example, Dalí/Duchamp, Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK (7 October 2017-3 January 2018), in which Spellbound’s dream sequence was paired with Duchamp’s Anémic Cinéma (1926).


Works Cited

Ades, Dawn. Dalí. Thames and Hudson,1982.

Ades, Dawn, editor. Dalí, Bompiani Arte, 2004. 

Bondil-Poupard, Nathalie. “Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On: Hitchcock and Dalí, Surrealism and Oneiricism." Hitchcock and Art: Fatal Coincidences, edited by Guy Congeval and Dominique Paint, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 2000, pp. 155–71.

Bigwood, James. “Cinquante ans de cinéma dalinien.”  Salvador Dalí.  Rétrospective, 1920-1980, edited by Daniel Abadie, Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, 1979, pp. 342–53.

---. “Solving a Spellbound puzzle.” American Cinematographer, 1991.

---. “A Nightmare Ordered by Telephone.” Spellbound.  Dir. Alfred Hitchcock., Perfs. Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck. 1945. Criterion Collection, DVD, 2002.

Cochran, Sara. “Spellbound, 1945.”  Dalí and Film, edited by Matthew Gale, Tate Publishing, 2007, pp. 174–85.

Carrigan, Margaret. “When Salvador Dalí and Alfred Hitchcock Brought Surrealism to Hollywood,” 12 July 2017, Last accessed 14 December 2018.

Dalí, Salvador. “Spellbound,” Dalí News, 20 November 1945, New York, Bignou Gallery, 2.

Gansky, Paul. “Severed Objects: Spellbound, Archives, Exhibitions, and Film’s Material History.” Film History, vol. 25, no. 3, 2013, pp. 126–48.

Hammond, Paul, editor and translator. The Shadow & Its Shadow: Surrealist Writings on the Cinema. City Lights Books, 2000. 

King, Elliott. Dalí, Surrealism, and Cinema. Kamera Books, 2007.

Kyrou, Ado. Le Surréalisme au cinéma. Éditiones Ramsay et Le Terrain Vague, 1963. 

Leff, Leonard. “Selznick International’s Spellbound,” 23 September 2002. Last accessed 14 December 2018.

Matthews, J.H. Surrealism and Film. U of Michigan P, 1971. 

Parinaud, André. Comment on devient Dalí. Robert Laffont, 1973.

Richardson, Michael. Surrealism and Cinema. Berg, 2006.

Short, Robert. The Age of Gold: Surrealist Cinema. Creation Books, 2003.

Spellbound. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Perf. Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck, and Leo G. Carroll. Selznick International Pictures & Vanguard Films Production, 1945.

Spoto, Donald. The Art of Alfred Hitchcock: Fifty Years of His Motion Pictures. Knopf, 1976.


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