Friday, November 9, 2012
Obsession (released in the US as The Hidden Room) was the first film directed by Edward Dmytryk after he relocated to England after being blacklisted. Made by Independent Sovereign Films in 1949, it’s a superb British psychological thriller with a definite tinge of noir to it.
Dr Clive Riordan (Robert Newton) is a middle-aged doctor with a young and attractive wife named Storm (Sally Gray), a wife who is none too faithful. Her latest dalliance, with a young American named Bill Kronin (Phil Brown), is the last straw for Dr Riordan. He informs Bill that he has decided to murder him.
Dr Riordan has made a study of crime and he is determined not to make the mistakes that have led other murderers to the gallows. The big problem for any murderer is of course the disposal of the body. Clive has found a solution to this. He has also come up with a very clever insurance policy to make sure he can never be charged with murder. This is a great movie so I’m not going to give away any spoilers
The murder turns out to be a kind of battle of wills, but not in the way you generally expect. In other words the battle of wills is not between the murderer and the detective. The detective, Superintendent Finsbury (Naunton Wayne), does not enter the picture until quite late in the movie, by which time the psychological battle has been underway for some considerable time. Months in fact.
Clive’s plan seems fool-proof but as Superintendent Finsbury points out to him, all murderers are amateurs. The only people in this game who are professionals are those who hunt the murderers.
The screenplay was written by Australian writer Alec Coppel, based on his own novel A Man About A Dog. It’s an ingenious and original plot. Coppel also adapted the very underrated Mr Denning Drives North from one of his own books - and that’s a fantastic movie that is well worth seeing out. Coppel had a knack for wickedly clever plotting.
Robert Newton was a British actor renowned for his scenery-chewing but in this movie he demonstrates his ability to be both subtle and sinister. Phil Jones does well as Bill. Sally Gray is more than adequate as the straying wife white Naughton Wayne (better known for his comic performances) is excellent as the patient and rather kindly detective. The acting is strong, which is important as this is a very character-based movie (which is one of the things that qualify it for the film noir tag).
Cinematographer C.M. Pennington-Richards gives proceedings some definite noirish touches with skillful use of shadows. The movie was shot in black-and-white. Edward Dmytryk’s noir credentials were already well established and he keep things tense and very taut as you would expect.
British noir doesn’t get the attention it deserves, even from fans of film noir. This movie of course can be described as a transatlantic noir, with both the director and one of the stars being American, but it has a distinctively British flavour to it. It’s light on action but has more than enough suspense to compensate for this.
The British DVD from Fremantle Home Entertainment is region-free and the transfer is excellent. The only extras are biographies of the main players and the key members of the production team.
Obsession is a fine example of high-quality British film noir, well-made and extremely well-acted, and both the movie and the DVD are highly recommended.