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Obsession (1976)

High melodrama, creeping insanity and barely contained delirium abound in this dizzying tribute to the high tension thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock from director Brian De Palma, who would go on to greatness with Carrie (1976), Dressed to Kill (1980) and Scarface (1983).

Michael Courtland is a successful Southern land developer who seems to have everything – until his wife and daughter are tragically killed in a botched kidnap rescue attempt, tearing his world apart and leaving him widowed, bereaved and bereft.

Sixteen years later on a trip to Italy, he meets Sandra Portinari, a woman with an uncanny resemblance to his late wife but all is not how it appears as a twisted conspiracy to re-enact the kidnapping threatens to unhinge his mental shackles, sending him to the edge of madness.

The revelation of Sandra’s identity is saved for the supposed twist at the end. For a time, it seems as though the viewer is not going to find out at all and that the film is to be about the effect of the coincidental meeting on each of their lives.

In other words, the mystery is down-played while we watch Michael’s obsession to infect Sandra with the memory of the dead Elizabeth grow.

This mood does not last long as the plot lurches on to an almost absurdly literal ending, making use of the shady business partner who has lurked in the background for most of the film.

Indeed, the final twist is almost cheating since it depends upon a flashback to the film’s beginning, introducing new information that could not have been deduced from what we
have already been shown.

It all requires a rather laborious explanation which is at odds with what has been the mood of the film up until that point. The rapid descent into melodrama is the film’s greatest weakness and not at all surprising and thrilling as it tries to be.

Nonetheless, Obsession is a classic 70s thriller and a master class in mounting unease and clammy-palmed claustrophobia.

Bernard Herrman’s score is lush and romantic – keeping the film moving when nothing much is
happening on the screen.

Michael Courtland
Cliff Robertson
Elizabeth Courtland/Sandra Portinari
Geneviève Bujold
Robert LaSalle
John Lithgow
Sylvia Williams
Amy Courtland
Wanda Blackman
Inspector Brie
Stanley J. Reyes
Nick Krieger
Doctor Ellman
Stocker Fontelieu
Don Hood
Andrea Esterhazy
Mrs Portinari
Nella Simoncini Barbieri
Justice of the Peace
John Creamer
Loraine Despres

Brian De Palma