Directed by Henry Hathaway
Studio: Twilight Time (Fox)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 102 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo English
MSRP: $ 19.95
Release Date: available now
Review Date: July 20, 2011
After garnering a long-time-coming and much deserved Academy Award for I Want to Live!, Susan Hayward spent most of the remainder of her film career in a series of overwrought melodramas, some (Back Street) better than others (Where Love Has Gone). Henry Hathaway’s Woman Obsessed was the film she made immediately following her Oscar-winning effort, and it’s hardly worthy of her talents. Rather limply written and performed by its stars at a white-hot, hyper-strained peak, Woman Obsessed does no one any favors. Everyone's trying hard to make the quagmire of the poorly realized plot work, but the film really only works in fits and starts.
After her husband dies in a forest fire, Mary Sharron (Susan Hayward) realizes she needs help running her large farm in Saskatchewan. Offering to take over the heavy lifting is local lumberjack Fred Carter (Stephen Boyd). Hard-working and a man’s man, Fred initially impresses Mary and her seven year-old son Robbie (Dennis Holmes). After rescuing Mary and Robbie from certain death in a snowstorm and taking them for fun-filled day at a local carnival, Mary succumbs to his proposal of marriage. Almost immediately, however, Fred’s personality changes as he becomes rough when crossed and short-tempered with both Robbie and Mary. After a series of upsetting encounters, Mary is ready to ask Fred to leave even though she is pregnant and Robbie is openly antagonistic toward him, but a tumultuous thunderstorm during which Mary suffers a miscarriage brings forth a series of unexpected developments in the interpersonal relationships of the three Carters.
Sydney Boehm based his screenplay on the novel by John Mantley, but dialogue scenes, particularly once things start to go sour between Fred and Mary, are especially poorly thought out and constructed. Mistakes made are blown out of proportion when a thorough discussion of the problems could have taken care of much heavy emoting. Fred’s Jekyll and Hyde transformation is incredibly dubious given the little we know about him prior to his monster conversion, and the contrition of all concerned, pretty much necessary in films of this era during the Production Code restrictions, is equally eye-rolling. What works are bucolic scenes of the family at work on their farm, the carnival sequence (undoubtedly the film’s emotional high point), and the many natural disasters (forest fires, blizzards, monsoons) which sweep through this film during the six months or so of its unfolding. Henry Hathaway manages to do a decent job joining scenes shot for the film and a fair amount of vault forest and nature footage integrated into the movie to give it a more believable look of its location. And he shoots a couple of exciting rescues tightly and with an acute eye for involving the audience in the perils being portrayed.
Susan Hayward’s role doesn’t begin to give her the depth of some of her previous award-winning film roles, but she displays a goodly amount of maternal warmth and a protective aura that’s unmistakably one of a fighter. Stephen Boyd is hampered by an impossibly written character, aw-shucks charming one minute and a brutish animal the next, but he’s utterly convincing as a man of the land, ready and eager for hard work and used to scant praise for his efforts. Dennis Holmes is a reasonably effective child actor (someone like Jon Provost might have been better; of course, he was busy filming Lassie for television) though he doesn’t have quite the sparkle that would make him completely winning in the part. Barbara Nichols as the storekeeper who feels jilted when Fred takes up with Mary does her usual reliable job. Even better is Theodore Bikel as kindly, understanding Doc Gibbs who’s full of wisdom and advice though both Fred and Mary are too strong-willed to listen to him until the film’s climax.
The film’s Cinemascope 2.35:1 aspect ratio is delivered in a transfer that’s anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. Sharpness varies throughout from fair to good (some of the vault footage has obviously been cropped and blown up to fit the widescreen ratio and looks very soft and ill-matched to the scenes before and after it). Color is only of moderate saturation and effectiveness; a film representing the wilds of Canada (shot in Lone Pine, California) should likely look a bit more vibrant. Flesh tones appear true to life. It’s a clean transfer, however, with no glaring age-related artifacts. The film has been divided into 8 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack has a nice vitality to it. Hugo Friedhofer’s music score sounds marvelous throughout. Dialogue is assertively directionalized and always easily discernible. There are no age-related artifacts like hiss or crackle to mar the listening experience.
The film has an isolated score track which really brings out the joys of Hugo Friedhofer’s exceptional music.
The film’s theatrical trailer is presented in anamorphic widescreen and runs for 2 ¾ minutes.
An enclosed 8-page booklet contains some stills from the film and reduced poster art on the back page plus researcher Julie Kirgo’s essay on the film.
3/5 (not an average)
As part of Twilight Time’s limited availability program, only 3,000 copies of Woman Obsessed are available. Those interested in experiencing this little-seen melodrama with Susan Hayward’s follow-up performance after her Oscar win should hop to www.screenarchives.com to see if copies are still available. They're also available via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies