Spellbound (1941) **** Talking Pictures TV

April 13th, 2020
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: John Harlow. Wri: Miles Malleson | Cast: Derek Farr, Vera Lindsay, Hay Petrie, Felix Aylmer |  UK Fantasy drama. 82 mins.

Another extraordinary find lurking in the early morning schedules of ‘Talking Pictures’ is this fanciful drama reflecting the anxious mood prevailing in Britain during the early years of the war when the ability to communicate with the dead again became a live issue as it had done after the Great War.  Initially banned by the censor, it was eventually cleared for exhibition with the addition of a prologue by the pro-spiritualist journalist Hannen Swaffer. (Missing from the print shown on Talking Pictures).

Based on a 1909 novel by the Anglican priest Robert Hugh Benson called The Necromancers’, it takes a remarkably even-handed view of both the spiritualists led by Frederick Leister in a wing collar and the rationalists led by Felix Aylmer in tweeds (who enlists the assistance of a very eccentric Hay Petrie). The elegant costumes came courtesy of British design house Worth, considered by many to be the pioneer of haute couture.

The change in a young Derek Farr (in his first film lead) strongly anticipates that that takes over Ralph Michael in the Haunted Mirror episode of Dead of Night (1945), and like Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961) it remains ambiguous as to whether the malign spirit summoned up is of supernatural or psychological origin. Richard Chatten


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