It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that the movies of director Brian De Palma can be seen as riffing off of the works of the legendary Alfred Hitchcock; the director has often mentioned this in several reviews. Interestingly enough, one of De Palma’s cinematic nods to the Master of Suspense, Obsession, came out the very same year Hitchcock unveiled what would be his final film, Family Plot. Parallels aside, Obsession stands out as one of the director’s most sustained and stylish homage to Hitchcock in his entire overue. Previously released by Columbia on DVD and Sony as part of their MOD DVD line, Obsession debuts on Blu-ray in a Collector’s Edition courtesy of Shout Factory’s Scream sub-label.
The Production: 4/5
In 1958 New Orleans, businessman Michael Courtland (Cliff Robertson) seemingly has it all: a burgeoning business with partner Robert LaSalle (John Lithgow) and a happy marriage to Elizabeth (Genevieve Bujold) with a lovely daughter, Amy. However, that perfect life is shattered when a kidnapping and extortion attempt ends up going horribly awry when both Elizabeth and Amy presumably end up dead. Flash forward to 1975, when Michael, during a trip to Florence, encounters a young woman named Sandra, who happens to bear an uncanny resemblance to his long dead wife. When the two start to fall in love, it kick starts a chain of events that lead to Michael confronting the demons of his past and a shocking truth behind it all…
If Dressed to Kill (1980) and Raising Cain (1992) were his takes on Psycho and Body Double (1984) his own spin on Rear Window, then Brian De Palma’s Obsession can be considered his own take on Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Vertigo. Backing up this claim is that Paul Schrader’s screenplay makes use of the doppelganger in the similar way that Hitchcock drew upon Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor’s script for Vertigo, except here Schrader uses a neat little twist on the formula that’s better seen than talked about here. Another big connection was utilizing composer Bernard Herrmann for the score; as one of the last films he scored in his career (he earned a posthumous Oscar nomination for his work), he creates a musical atmosphere reminiscent of his time with the Master of Suspense, but very much in keeping with De Palma’s own visual style of storytelling. However, the one key contributor to the film, cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, helps establish this one from the pack with a visual eye that’s more in keeping with the 1970’s style of filmmaking than the 1950’s – diffusion is clear throughout the entire film. So, when one is watching this movie, keep in mind that it has some similarities to Hitchcock, but it’s done in De Palma’s own voice, like a master piano player giving his own unique take on a Chopin masterpiece.
The most crucial reason why this homage to Hitchcock works is the strength of its three lead performers. Cliff Robertson is solid in the lead as Michael Courtland; he basically holds his own when compared to the two leading men that the Master of Suspense worked with the most: Cary Grant and James Stewart (this writer tends to think that Robertson’s performance lies a little closer to Stewart’s in Vertigo than, say, Grant’s in North by Northwest). Genevieve Bujold, in what could be her finest performance (or performances!) since her Oscar nominated turn in Anne of the Thousand Days (1969), is amazing as both Michael’s ill-fated wife and the young woman whom Michael becomes enamored with years later; one can easily see parallels between Bujold’s performance and that of Kim Novak in Vertigo. As Michael’s wily business partner with a secret, John Lithgow makes a memorable impression in one of his earliest roles; this solid work would effectively parlay into a solid working relationship with De Palma, especially with films like Blow Out (1981) and Raising Cain (1992). The solid performances of the three leads gives the film a strong foundation to make the Hitchcock homage truly work.
3D Rating: NA
The original 2:35:1 aspect ratio is preserved on this HD transfer, presumably the same one used for Arrow’s Region B release of the movie. The film has always had a soft look, since it was shot by Vilmos Zsigmond with diffusion lenses, so grain structure is more coarse looking in some scenes but still very organic. Colors and fine details are strong throughout and while some blacks appear to be crushed, again this is likely due to the diffusion used; overall, this transfer surpasses the old Columbia/TriStar DVD and represents the best incarnation of the movie to date on home video.
The Blu-ray comes with two audio options, a Dolby Digital mono track (reflecting the original sound mix) and a 5.1 Surround DTS-HD Master Audio track. Both tracks give great ambiance and fidelity to Bernard Herrmann’s magnificent score while not being too overpowering, while dialogue is strong and clear along with sound effects; hardly an instance of age related artifacts can be detected, making both the best the movie has ever sounded on home video.
Special Features: 4/5
Commentary by author Douglas Keesey – Recorded for this release, Keesey goes over the film and some connections with De Palma’s other movies as well; the commentary does contain major plot spoilers, so please watch the movie first before listening to this insightful track.
Producing Obsession (26:19) – In this newly filmed interview, producer George Litto goes over his involvement with the movie as well as his career leading up to the production.
Editing Obsession (20:30) – Newly filmed for this release, editor Paul Hirsch talks about the movie as well as an interesting anecdote involving him and the legendary Bernard Herrmann on an earlier De Palma film (I’m talking about the movie Sisters, of course).
Obsession Revisited (37:31) – Carried over from the old Columbia/TriStar DVD, this retrospective featurette goes over the film; those interviewed include Brian De Palma, Cliff Robertson, Genevieve Bujold, George Litto, Vilmos Zsigmond, and Paul Hirsch.
Original Theatrical Trailer (1:35)
Radio Spots (5) (0:59)
Still Gallery (6:17) – 85 production, behind-the-scenes, and promotional stills are presented here with some courtesy of Brett Cameron.
Not carried over from Arrow’s Blu-ray release of the movie are a pair of early Brian De Palma short films: Woton’s Wake (1962) and The Responsive Eye (1966).
Obsession would not only further establish Brian De Palma as a master stylist, but it’s also a very good Hitchcock homage that’s entertaining in its own right. Shout Factory has done a solid job with this Blu-ray release, improving upon a great transfer with some quality bonus features – both new as well as previous – about the movie. This is an easy upgrade from the previous DVD release and essential for fans of the movie or De Palma’s work in general.https://www.amazon.com/Obsession-Collectors-Blu-ray-Cliff-Robertson/dp/B07J33Q4VH/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1548891215&sr=1-1&keywords=obsession+blu+ray