Throwback Thursday Review: “Obsession” (1976)



Title: Obsession (1976)
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Posted September 15, 2016 by

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Trivia Question: What do the following movies all have in common? (in no particular order) “Taxi Driver”, “Rocky”, “The Omen”, “King Kong”, “The Outlaw Josey Wales”, “All the President’s Men”, “Marathon Man”, “Logan’s Run”, “Network”, “Assault on Precinct 13”, “Silver Streak”, “Car Wash”, “The Shootist”, and “The Man Who Fell to Earth”… If you answered by stating that they are all iconic Hollywood movie classics, you’d be right, but a better answer would be; they were all released in 1976! What an incredible year for the film industry, and this is only a partial list! Not to be outdone, legendary director Brian De Palma offered us two of his own as well; The Horror classic “Carrie”, which of course requires no introduction, and the subject of today’s review, “Obsession”. Neither the most impressive nor the most important film on De Palma’s resume’, it is nevertheless a fair representation of his work during this period.

Brian De Palma began working on films in the early 1960’s, where he paid his dues by directing mainly low-budget short features and documentaries. Eventually he found his footing, and by the time “Carrie” was released in late 1976, he had definitely arrived. He went on to direct films such as “Scarface” (1983), “The Untouchables” (1987), “Carlito’s Way” (1993), and “Mission Impossible” (1996) to name but a few. He even directed the music video for Bruce Springsteen’s popular ’80’s hit, “Dancing in the Dark” (1984). Incidentally, anyone interested in learning more about his career (or filmmaking in general), should consider watching the excellent documentary , “De Palma”, which was recently reviewed elsewhere on this site.


It is no secret that in his early years, De Palma was fascinated by Alfred Hitchcock, who’s influence can be easily recognized in many of his films. It is worth bearing this in mind while viewing  “Obsession”, which essentially plays as a loving tribute to Hitchcock’s 1958 masterpiece, “Vertigo”. In fact, a fun homework assignment would be to watch both movies back to back. You could make quite a drinking game out of identifying the similarities. They were even scored by the same musical director, Bernard Herrmann. Yet despite the similarities, this movie went a long way towards establishing a number of De Palma trademarks as well. The liberal use of rotating 360- degree camera shots springs to mind.

The story begins at a party where Michael and Elizabeth Courtland (Robertson and  Bujold) are celebrating their 10th anniversary. Michael seems to have it all; a loving wife, beautiful daughter, amazing New Orleans home, and a bounty of wealth from a successful real estate business. His life, however, is turned upside down when later that night, his wife and daughter are kidnapped and held for ransom. He has the money and is willing to pay, but reluctantly decides to let the police handle things instead. This proves to be an ill-fated decision, as after a bungled rescue attempt by the police, both were tragically killed. Michael blamed himself.

obsession2Years later, Michael and his less than scrupulous business partner Robert Lasalle (Lithgow) embark on a business trip to Italy. When Michael decides to visit the church where he had originally met Elizabeth, he is shocked to discover Sandra, a young woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to her. Immediately infatuated, he begins following Sandra everywhere she goes. Eventually they meet, and after a brief courtship, he brings her back to Louisiana so they can be married. At first she is annoyed and uncomfortable that he only seems to love her because she reminds him of Elizabeth, but later embraces the idea, to an unhealthy degree. Of course, nothing is as it seems, and we are lead down a winding, sometimes bumpy road where eventually we discover what everyone is really up to, and why. The improbable ending-which was rather shocking for its time-works well here.

The plot contains enough twists, turns and misdirection to be engaging throughout, and in its best moments, creates the kind of tension and suspense you would expect from a really good mystery. It’s consistently well paced, and explores a multitude of themes, including; love; loss; trust; betrayal; friendship; guilt; greed; revenge; and, as the title suggests, obsession. The cinematography is top-notch–especially the beautifully shot scenes in Florence. The musical score feels a bit overbearing at times, but is generally more of a compliment to the film than a distraction. Robertson’s lead performance seemed a little flat, but the rest of the cast was fine, with the exception of Lithgow, who is superb. His performance alone is worth the price of admission.

At the end of the day, “Obsession” is a very decent effort that unfortunately, will forever live in the shadow of the movie it was seeking to emulate. It is good, but quite simply lacks the originality required to make it  great. Still, when looking for inspiration, one could do worse than Hitchcock. If you can’t find “Vertigo” on the shelf, reach for this one.





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