Review by Gordon Justesen
Robertson, Genevieve Bujold, John Lithgow
Director: Brian De Palma
Audio: DTS HD 5.1, DTS Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Shout Factory
Features: See Review
Length: 98 Minutes
Release Date: January 15, 2019
“Oh my god...”
Upon the release of Obsession in 1976, Brian De Palma had yet to reach the status of the master suspense moviemaker that he has reached today. It would be later that same year, however, when De Palma released what many consider to be his breakthrough hit, Carrie. Prior to Obsession, he had broken through with two major releases, Sisters and Phantom of the Paradise. This movie, which was a moderate success, helped build up the reputation as the next master of suspense following the late great Alfred Hitchcock. In fact, it was a viewing of Hitchcock’s Vertigo that inspired De Palma (along with screenwriter Paul Schrader) to make Obsession, as the plot does resemble a bit of the 1958 classic.
The story begins in 1959, at a party hosted by real estate developer Michael Courtland (Cliff Robertson) and his beautiful wife Elizabeth (Genevieve Bujold), who are celebrating their tenth anniversary. After the guests have gone home, the two settle in for the night and begin to make love, when they are interrupted by the screams of their only child, nine-year-old Amy. Elizabeth goes to the girl's room to investigate, and when she doesn't return, Michael follows to find that both mother and daughter have been kidnapped. A ransom note demands that he pay $500,000 for their safe return -- and not contact the police.
Which is where Michael makes a tragic mistake. He's persuaded by a detective to help set up a trap for the kidnappers, then watches helplessly as his family is lost in a disastrous rescue attempt. Tortured by guilt, Michael abandons most of his career ambitions, choosing only to erect a tomb for Elizabeth and Amy on property once planned for commercial development.
Cut to 1975, when Michael's more ebullient partner, Robert LaSalle (John Lithgow), talks him into coming along on a business trip to Florence, Italy -- which, as it turns out, is where he met his late wife 27 years earlier. Visiting the church where he first saw her, Michael encounters a young restoration worker, Sandra Portinari (also played by Bujold), whose resemblance to Elizabeth quickly grabs his attention. Before long, she's all he can think of.
To reveal anymore would be unfair as far as suspenseful movies go. The only thing I can say is that if you haven’t seen Vertigo, you will be on the edge of your seat for the entire viewing. What’s strange is the fact that I have seen Vertigo, and yet I was still amazed by how much the suspense got to me.
This was the first movie that De Palma shot in widescreen format, and you can tell right then that he wanted to use the camera like no one had ever used it. Take one of the key scenes in the opening, which is a 360-degree circle shot, which helps leap the plot from 1959 to 1975. It completely blew me away, and thinking I knew so much about De Palma, I had no idea he ever pulled off a shot like that before. There is also sort of a slight Hitchcock homage as the pulse-pounding music score is done by none other than Bernard Herrmann, who scored many of Hitchcock’s movies, including Vertigo and Psycho. This was one of the final films he worked on before his death.
Obsession simply has to be seen to be believed. I truly think that it is here where De Palma made a name for himself as the master filmmaker that he is today. Since this was his first stab at elevating the work of Hitchcock, there couldn’t have been Blow Out, Dressed to Kill or Snake Eyes if this film wasn’t made, and it is a grand, suspenseful experience to say the least.
I have long been waiting for this movie’s debut on Blu-ray, mainly because the original DVD release contained a presentation that was mostly terrible. I’m happy to report that Shout Factory has delivered a most magnificent upgrade with their release. Whereas the DVD contained an overly grainy and soft looking picture, the 1080p provides one that has kept the right amount of grain intact but breathed a heavy dose of life into image detail. The powerful look and atmosphere that De Palma and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond gave the film looks even grander as a result!
Equal marks for the newly applied DTS HD mix, which helps to heighten the suspense even more so! The main attraction here is Bernard Herrmann’s score, which has never sounded more fantastic than it does here! Dialogue delivery is extremely top notch, as well!
Shout Factory applies their Collector’s Edition stamp with some neat new extras added in for this release. There is a terrific new commentary with Douglas Keesey, author of “Brian De Palma’s Split Screen: A Life in Film”, as well as two brand new interviews with producer George Litto and editor Paul Hirsch. In addition, there’s an additional featurette titled “Obsession Revisited” (ported over from the DVD release), as well as a Trailer, Radio Spots and an Image Gallery.
A pure illustration of how a suspense film is supposed to be made, Brian De Palma’s Obsession is a remarkable breakthrough in a brilliant director’s career. Credit Shout Factory with a making a grand Blu-ray upgrade that was sorely needed and worth every bit the wait!