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Disc Spotlight: Brian De Palma’s Obsession

By  · Published on July 26th, 2011

Arrow Video has quickly made a name for themselves as one of the top labels for genre cinema in general and Dario Argento’s films in particular. Their Blu-ray releases of Argento’s work have seen their fair share of ups and downs though with some being near reference quality and others showing real issues in the video and/or audio departments. Now Arrow has released a new Blu-ray from another well known director, their first from the man many critics (inexplicably) appointed the heir to Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense-filled throne. Will their first foray into Brian DePalma’s films fare better than some of Argento’s?

The Movie:

Michael Courtland (Cliff Robertson) is a well to do businessman living in New Orleans with his beautiful wife Elizabeth (Geneviève Bujold) and daughter. A party winds down and the family settles in for the night, but Courtland soon discovers his wife and child missing and a ransom note demanding cash. He pays what’s asked of him, but a botched rescue attempt by police leads to the death of both his wife and daughter. Years later the still bereft widower finds himself in Italy on a business trip and wanders into the church where he had first met Elizabeth… and where he meets a young woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to his dead wife.

Courtland strikes up a relationship with Sandra Portinari (Bujold again) against the better judgement of his friend and business partner Robert Lasalle (John Lithgow) and soon Courtland and Sandra are engaged to be married. She seems impressed with Courtland and his wealth but wonders at the locked room he’s kept the same since he lost his family. Is he entirely sane? Does he think this is simply a second chance at love… or does he really believe her to be the reincarnation of his deceased wife?

And is she?

DePalma’s early to mid career found him labeled alternately as someone who crafted homages to Hitchcock and someone who blatantly stole from the portly British master of suspense, but none of his films fit that mold as well as Obsession. The male lead is caught up in a mystery beyond his control and understanding, a mysterious femme fatale is at the center of it all, and the whole shebang is scored with an energetic and bombastic Bernard Herrman (Vertigo, North By Northwest) score.

Paul Schrader’s script does a fine but serviceable job doling out the mystery with the pace of a dream, and De Palma shoots it accordingly. The entire film has a soft focus about it, and certain scenes are presented with a shimmering that helps to meld the real and unreal of what we’re seeing. That mellow sheen creates a false sense of security as the tension and overall unease grows, and this is nowhere more visible than the end when the story reaches some surprisingly dark places.

Robertson does solid work as a man buried in grief but given the chance at joy once again. He’s never been an especially emotional actor, but both his pain and love are believably presented here. Lithgow normally shine in anything, but he doesn’t come off quite as well here due in large part to an unconvincing Southern accent. And Bujold is fine but unremarkable. The fourth character of note here, and perhaps the most impressive, is Herrman’s score. It’s a powerful and sweeping creation that often overwhelms everything else onscreen, but it works to enhance the doomed romance at the heart of De Palma’s film.

Obsession has fallen to the unfortunate ranks of forgotten De Palma due to several factors, most notably its timing which saw it released a mere month or two before the much higher profile Carrie. That Academy Award nominated film was quickly followed with The Fury, Dressed To Kill, Blow Out, Scarface, and Body Double… and that was all they wrote for this dreamily paced mystery and its quietly killer ending.

The Blu-ray:

Arrow Video’s Blu-ray only release is playable in all regions on any Blu-ray player, and it looks fantastic. The film’s image is intentionally soft and dreamy, and the disc follows suit while still appearing clear and bright. The disc features a new high-definition transfer with both the original LPCM Mono and a new 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio option. The special features include:

I was sent a disc-only review copy of Obsession, so I can’ t speak to the physical extras included in the release other than to list them. They include:

Bottom Line:

Like most directors Brian De Palma’s resumé is an inconsistent mix of films that work and films that just don’t. The same man who made Carrie, Casualties Of War, and the incredibly fun The Untouchables also squeezed out ridiculously bad flicks like Raising Cain and The Black Dahlia. His ode to Hitchcock’s Vertigo though sits closer to the former group of films than the latter and deserves a spot on every film lover’s shelf. Obsession has never looked better than it does in Arrow Video’s newly released, beautifully packaged and presented edition, so what are you waiting for?

Buy Brian De Palma’s Obsession on region-free Blu-ray from AmazonUK

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.