DVD Article

Summer Psyche Dramas

Movies with psychological themes -- ''Spellbound,'' ''Ordinary People,'' and ''Nuts'' are some of the titles that made the list

Ah, August-that time of the year when psychiatrists everywhere take their vacations. So, for those who miss their therapists' couches (Bill Murray in What About Bob? being a prominent example), here are six videos with psychological themes to stretch out with on your own. And even if you don't have a therapist, these top-shelf films make for compelling summer video rentals.

Spellbound (1945)
Alfred Hitchcock said he wanted to ''turn out the first picture on psychoanalysis,'' and this Freudian doozy has it all: Shrink Ingrid Bergman and amnesiac murder suspect Gregory Peck are lovers pursued by the police, with a race-against-time cure of his guilt complex the only way out. The Salvador Dalí-designed dream sequence is still a dazzler, and deciphering it points to the real killer. Analysis the way it oughta be! A

Repulsion (1965)
You might want to skip over this one if you're home alone and feeling really vulnerable. Roman Polanski's first English-language film, a scorching psychological study of a young, sexually repressed woman (Catherine Deneuve) left alone to disintegrate emotionally in her sister's London flat, has lost none of its shocking power. You've been warned. A+

The President's Analyst (1967)
An ahead-of-its-time satire about the state of the world filtered through the title character (James Coburn), a therapist who after a few sessions with the President decides to quit and is immediately pursued by several foreign-government agents, the CIA, and the FBI, among others. Part of the fun is that Coburn's laid-back shrink is the kind of guy who immediately gets to the heart of everyone's problems — including those of the world's nations — even when he is ''off-duty.'' Though we never see the President, Coburn reports the chief of state is more concerned about Libya (!) than about Russia or China. A-

The 4th Man (1979)
This not-for-the-prudish Dutch treat by Paul Verhoeven (Total Recall) concerns a gay Catholic writer with an overactive imagination. Will the troubled author, prone to bloody and highly symbolic visions (premonitions?), be the next victim of a sensuous, thrice-widowed beautician? Watching someone losing his mind — and possibly his life — has never been as perversely thrilling. A

Ordinary People (1980)
One of the few recent movies to examine a contemporary dysfunctional family, this drama boasts Mary Tyler Moore's stunning against-type turn as the ice-queen mom who subconsciously blames son Timothy Hutton for the death of her ''favorite'' son. Judd Hirsch is the Jewish shrink who must smash the bottled-up we-don't-talk-about-such-things WASP mind-set. A

Nuts (1987)
Barbra Streisand is an intolerably belligerent, high-class hooker from a ''good'' family whose parents want her declared mentally unfit to stand trial for the murder of one of her johns. As her tenacious attorney, Richard Dreyfuss gets to the bottom of it all during a gripping courtroom competency hearing. Streisand's troubled but sharp prostitute serves as a kind of Rorschach test for the men around her, revealing any hang-ups they might have. Eli Wallach's stubborn, old-fart shrink is as dangerous in his own way as Dr. Hannibal Lecter. B+

Originally posted Aug 09, 1991 Published in issue #78 Aug 09, 1991 Order article reprints