Dr. Morey Bernstein (Louis Hayward) has taken an interest in hypnosis. After learning how powerful it can be, he decides to continue studying it… by using his friends and their wives as test subjects.
Ruth Simmons (Teresa Wright), wife of Morey’s best friend Rex (Kenneth Tobey), agrees to be one of his experinmental lab rats. All is going just as planned until, under hypnosis, Ruth regresses into a past life and speaks as “Bridey Murphy,” an Irish girl.
Morey holds several sessions with Ruth, tracking the progression of Bridey’s life and death in the 18th and 19th centuries through the tales Ruth tells when she’s under hypnosis.
Thinking he may have struck gold and found proof of past lives, Morey then attempts to find out whether or not Bridey Murphy really existed.
Noel Langley directs The Search for Bridey Murphy, a supernatural drama from Paramount Pictures. The film is based on an actual case. The real Morey Bernstein wrote a book about his experiments in hypnonsis, and in addition to directing, Langley adapted the book for the screen.
The premise of The Search for Bridey Murphy is incredibly interesting. Hypnosis! Past life memories! And best of all, it is based on actual events. In real life, Morey’s lab rat was a housewife named Virginia. It was eventually revealed, after much scrutiny of the case, that Virginia had likely constructed her “Bridey Murphy” tales from repressed childhood memories that emerged while she was under hypnosis.
The case revealed a larger problem with hypnotic therapy: can the information from the patient ever be trusted, or are they just saying what they think is expected of them? Can they be easily led to certain paths of information by the doctor’s questioning while under hypnosis? (This practice came under criticism once again in more recent history when it was revealed that doctors were inadvertently “planting” memories of childhood abuse in the heads of some of their patients by asking leading questions.) Nevertheless, it still captured the minds of many when Bernstein’s book was published.
Introduced by the great hypnotist himself, The Search for Bridey Murphy feels very much like an extended episode of an anthology mystery series. Though it has a feature-length running time of nearly 90 minutes, the film follows the same structure and type of story as we see in series like “The Twilight Zone” or “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” Since the running time is longer the story is able to be fleshed out more than one of those short television episodes, but fans of anthology series will likely enjoy the film due to the similarities.
Solid performances are given by the entire cast here. No one jumps outside of the realm of believability, and there are no real “big name” stars whose off-screen reputation distracts from the story. Everyone is buy-able in their characters, from the hypnotist to the hypnotized, and their delivery is consistently natural. This definitely works in the film’s favor, because such an odd and unbelievable premise could have easily led the film to take a hop off of the corny cliff. (This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing — a corny filma bout hypnotism would be a whole lot of fun and right up my alley — but I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was not a cheesefest.)
The Search for Bridey Murphy is not a film that moves at break-neck speeds, but for anyone interested in mysterious stories and psychological phenomena, it is a fascinating film that never loses the viewer’s attention. While it somewhat ignores the fact that all of Virginia/Ruth’s claims were debunked in the real world, the story opens the doors for a curious mind to look into past-life regression and similar phenomena. The score (slightly boosted by my interest in anything related to psychology): 4.5/5
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