Obsession Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Brian De Palma
Written by Paul Schrader
1976, 98 minutes, Rated PG
Released on January 15th, 2019
Cliff Robertson as Michael Courtland
Geneviève Bujold as Elizabeth Courtland/ Sandra Portinari
John Lithgow as Robert Lasalle
Wanda Blackman as Amy Courtland
In the summer of 1959, Michael Courtland, a New Orleans land developer, and his wife Elizabeth are observing their tenth wedding anniversary. A large number of friends and family are celebrating with a festive party and everyone is having a fine time; even their young daughter Amy manages a dance with her parents. The evening ends on a sour note however when mother and daughter are kidnapped after the party. Michael works with the police to get them back, but things go sideways and they are never recovered. Fifteen years later, Michael remains in mourning and his business partner Robert Lasalle encourages him to join him on a trip to Florence, Italy. Michael hasn’t been to Italy since his honeymoon, but agrees to go. It is here that he meets Sandra Portinari, a local art conservator who is a dead ringer for his late wife.
Michael is immediately taken by Sandra’s looks and is determined to start a relationship with her. He takes her on a few dates and introduces her to Robert, who is also shocked by the similarities. Michael stays in Italy for several weeks after Robert has returned home to run the company. His courtship of Sandra is swift and he brings her back to the States and soon he is talking marriage. Is Sandra his second chance at happiness? Michael certainly thinks so. Something is off however, something that is not readily identified. The secret is dark and troubling and will forever shatter many lives if it is discovered.
Director Brian De Palma (Phantom of the Paradise) delivers a quiet, romantic melodrama that carries one hell of a surprise twist. The script, by the acclaimed Paul Schrader (Cat People), tells a dark story that punches audiences in the stomach with its powerful conclusion. Everything that comes before is upended and thrown into doubt with a single revelation. De Palma masterfully lures viewers into a false sense of security by disguising his harrowing thriller as a simple love story. Knowing the ending to Obsession makes repeat viewings all the more gut-wrenching and powerful. The most damning footage was altered to appear as a harmless dream sequence, but in hindsight remains troubling. This is a haunting film that grows more powerful with each visit.
Cliff Robertson (Spider-Man) stars as Michael, the man obsessed with the memory of his former life. He delivers a strong performance and lends the picture a sense of gravitas as the aging lovesick protagonist. Geneviève Bujold (Dead Ringers) plays former wife Elizabeth and new love interest Sandra and does a marvelous job bringing both women to life. She and Robertson work really well together and make a decent couple. John Lithgow (Blow Out) co-stars as business partner Robert Lasalle, a man looking out for his friend’s best interest. Robert is another anchor in Michael’s life, but he comes with a few secrets of his own. He plays the role perfectly and is both charming and encouraging with his Southern style and large personality.
De Palma’s early career was frequently criticized for the amount of influence he borrowed from Sir Alfred Hitchcock. The shadow is a big one and it is quite prevalent here as we see echoes of both Rebecca (1940) and Vertigo (1958). Another connection to the Master of Suspense comes with the presence of frequent Hitchcock composer Bernard Herrmann (Psycho), whose orchestral score for Obsession is mesmerizing. It gives the film a big Hollywood feel with sweeping themes and wonderful arrangements. Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) creates a beautiful landscape for our story and fills it with stylistic lighting and encroaching shadows. This was De Palma’s third studio picture and he approaches the material with a confidence not always found in young filmmakers.
Obsession is a heartbreaking film that comes down to greed and revenge, both of which are at odds with the central love story. People do crazy things when they can’t let something go and the players in this tale are caught in the thick of it. The picture is filled with strong performances, directed by a man quickly approaching the top of his game and told by a legendary storyteller. There’s a lot going for it and it succeeds more often than not, although don’t look too closely at the major revelation, as it doesn’t always hold together. De Palma completists will definitely want to pick this one up.
Video and Audio:
Obsession is presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio and is satisfying in appearance. This does not appear to be a new transfer and is likely the same one used for the Arrow Blu-ray released a few years ago. Colors are strong and black levels are deep and beautiful.
The original audio recordings are well represented in this DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. Music cues are rich and sweeping while dialogue levels are clean and free from distortion.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Author Douglas Keesey (Brian De Palma’s Split Screen: A Life in Film) delivers a thorough albeit a bit stilted audio commentary that delves into the themes of the picture. He provides a lot of information about the production and never lapses into on screen narration, though there are a few gaps of silence throughout.
In the 2018 interview Producing Obsession (26 minutes), producer George Litto reflects on how he became a figure in the industry. He is a jovial guy who knows how to tell a story and shares many behind-the-scenes tales about the production. Litto loves the movie and the cast and has nothing but kind words to share.
Editing Obsession (20 minutes) catches up with editor Paul Hirsh, who shares quite a few tales of his own including some harrowing anecdotes about working with Bernard Herrmann.
The vintage documentary Obsession Revised (38 minutes) features interviews with Brian De Palma, Paul Hirsh and George Litto and actors Cliff Robertson and Geneviève Bujold. This is a solid retrospective that covers a lot of ground and is quite informative.
The theatrical trailer has been included.
A collection of radio spots provide a further look at the marketing campaign for the picture.
An image gallery of production stills, lobby cards, behind-the-scenes photos and international poster art play as a silent slideshow (6 minutes).
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