ARROW IN THE HEAD REVIEWS

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Obsession (1976)
Written by: The Arrow
Director: Brian De Palma

Starring:
Cliff Robertson/Michael
Genevieve Bujold/Elizabeth/Sandra
John Lithgow/Robert
9 10
PLOT-CRUNCH
Michael Courtland’s (Cliff Robertson) wife and daughter are kidnapped and killed when a rescue mission goes wrong. Years later, a still broken man, Michael travels to Italy on business. There he meets a woman named Sandra (Geneviève Bujold) and she looks exactly like his deceased wife. What the? A twisted love story is born and then... it gets tricky…
THE LOWDOWN

I had pretty much seen all of Brian De Palma’s films but somehow his 1976 effort OBSESSION had never been on my film radar. Yes, a glitch in the system. Thankfully a good bud of mine introduced me to the picture recently and being that it had its 40th year anniversary yesterday, I figured I’d do my part and give it some love here, in the hopes that you will also seek it out and tap it for yourself (WATCH IT HERE BTW). 

Both director Brian De Palma and screenwriter Paul Schrader admitted in being inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s VERTIGO, with the latter’s basic premise (dude meets a woman who looks exactly like a dead love interest) being pretty much the same jive here. On that, they did their own warped thing with it and didn’t come off as a copy/paste of Hitchcock’s masterpiece. De Palma did wind up being known for ripping off the master and IMO tossing early Argento spices (gore, TNA, style) in there for good measure! I mean lets face it, without REAR WINDOW, there would be no BODY DOUBLE and without PSYCHO there would be no DRESSED TO KILL. But it all started with this one. Without VERTIGO, there would be no OBESSION. Hitch was actually pissed off when the film was announced as he thought it would be a remake of his classic. Although it wasn’t, De Palma was definitely at his most Hitchcock-ian here!

I was completely mesmerized by OBSESSION! The set up was tantalizing, the tension palpable, the mystery well spun while it’s methodically slow, almost trance like pace and its dream like aesthetics totally won me over! The camera work and the creativity behind the set pieces/shots were simply astounding! I mean top of my head: the 360 transition from the building of the grave monument to it erected 18 years later was phenomenal or the manner in which the big reveal was put out via jumping back and forth betweeb present day footage and flashbacks... jaw dropping! Moreover, De Palma and DP Vilmos Zsigmond’s made the most of their locations (New Orleans and Florence Italy) giving the whole a gorgeous and quasi Gothic atmosphere (all about that scene in the church with Bujold looking like a vision or them neons popping out at the end…wow…). Tag to that Bernard Herrmann’s (yes Hitchcock's often composer) haunting and eerie score (loved the voice choirs) that jacked up the impact of the imagery ten fold and you get an audio/visual masterpiece! The first thing that came to mind when the end credits rolled on this one was: Damn, now THAT’S filmmaking!

Acting wise, I’m not sure what Cliff Robertson was going for during the first act of the movie (sometimes I wondered if he was even directed) as the man emoted next to nothing. Wife kidnapped - stone face. Wife killed - stone face. SHOW ME SOMETHING MAN! It became comical! THANKFULLY the lad eventually came into his own and by the time the picture ended, I esteemed his showcase. On the other hand Canadian actress (and fellow Montrealer) Genevieve Bujold was purely riveting as the wife and her eventual Italian doppelganger. Talk about a bold, affecting and emotionally charged performance! I dare you not to fall in love with her while watching this one. I couldn't take my eyes off of her! Now De Palma regular John Lithgow (in his first film role) rounded out the main cast nicely. With that stabbed, watching this today, being very much aware of Lithgow's “often bad guy” typecast... lets just say, I kept yelling GUILTY when he surfaced onscreen. Was I right? You’ll see…

If I had any real complaints they would be 1- I thought the initial plan in terms of Cliff getting his family back was the WORST PLAN EVER. What kind of police force would go with that type of strategy?! Yeesh! And there was that one dream sequence which felt totally out of the place and did little for me. I did find out after seeing the movie that the dream sequence was initially a real time sequence within the narrative. They turned it into a dream (at the request of Columbia Pictures) because it was a tad too racy in “real time”. I wish they would have stuck to their guns... sigh.  On the whole though OBSESSION was a refreshingly restraint film for De Palma. It played out as a classy and beautiful love story, one born out of tragedy, – and taking into account the “big picture” the film eventually revealed, that was a feat in itself! It’s a seminal viewing for anybody that LOVES filmmaking at its purest form.

GORE
A scissor stabbing and a pool of blood. Low key for a De Palma film!
T & A
Surprisingly none! And the film didn't need it.
BOTTOM LINE
Brian De Palma's Obsession was a classy affair! A spellbinding watch from start to finish! It filled my retinas with sumptuous locations, amazing camera work and an odd dream-ish atmosphere! Suspense was frequent, the mystery compelling, the WHO,WHAT, WHY brave, even by today's standards and the acting was top notch for the most part (Robertson took a while to warm up but Bujold was mesmerizing)! Sure the Police's plan early on was duh and I could have gone without that dream sequence (their initial idea was better), but even them flaws couldn't tarnish this masterpiece. When I woke up the next day, I was still thinking about the darn film! That's a sign of something special! See it!
BULL'S EYE
The film was released in the of summer of 1976 but was eventually buried by De Palma’s breakout hit Carrie which came out in in November.

The third act of Schrader's script was extensively rewritten by De Palma. Knowing what Schrader's third act was (same thing all over again in terms of our lead meeting the gal) - De Palma did the right thing.

The screenplay was initially called Déjà Vu. They changed the title because they thought nobody would know what that meant.
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