Case Number 21668: Small Claims Court


Fox // 1959 // 102 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // June 29th, 2011

The Charge

Torn between mother love and human desire!

The Case

The most puzzling thing about Woman Obsessed is its title. If the filmmakers wanted to convey what the film was about a bit more accurately, they might have called it Woman Makes a Handful of Entirely Understandable Mistakes and Then Tries to Deal With Them in a Reasonable Manner. Still, Woman Obsessed is indeed a melodrama, so a bit of wild exaggeration is to be expected in all areas, I suppose.

Our story concerns a woman named Mary Sharron (Susan Hayward, I'll Cry Tomorrow), who is attempting to raise a child (Dennis Holmes, Laramie) after her husband is killed in a tragic accident. Running a farm in rural Canada is no easy task for a single mother, and Mary desperately needs someone to help her out. Fortunately, the quiet, brawny Fred Carter (Stephen Boyd, Ben-Hur) volunteers his services. Fred has a somewhat controversial reputation among the local townsfolk (he was once married to a former prostitute), but Mary finds him kind and appealing. After a while, she decides to marry him. Alas, things take a sour turn after the honeymoon: Fred reveals an angry, abusive streak that causes Mary and Robbie to begin despising him.

Woman Obsessed is a rather predictable melodrama and certainly not a Hayward classic on par with I'll Cry Tomorrow or I Want to Live!, but it's kind of entertaining on its own terms. This sprawling Cinemascope drama offers breathtaking viewings of the Saskatchewan countryside, a remarkable score from composer Hugo Friedhofer, and a fine, atypically understated performance from Hayward. Still, for all of the film's wild developments (which range from a deadly forest fire to a startling miscarriage), Henry Hathaway's passionate tale somehow feels more restrained than it ought to.

Not that the movie is subtle by any stretch of the imagination -- everything is spelled out in sometimes amusingly obvious ways -- but it doesn't deliver its often-lurid material with the vigor the material seems to demand. The film also manages to undercut itself with blatant foreshadowing. In some early scenes, such a big deal is made of the fact that a potentially deadly sinkhole exists on the Sharron property that there might as well be a sign reading, "Somebody's gonna fall into the sinkhole later on!" (I'm reminded of Walk Hard's montage of children engaging in a series of increasingly dangerous activities until someone eventually gets cut in half).

The film also becomes needlessly judgmental and unexpectedly forgiving at the wrong moments, as it occasionally seems as if the filmmakers felt Mary needed to be punished for allowing her desires for Fred to overwhelm her love for her child. It would be a valid point if that were actually what happened, but we're led to believe that Fred is an entirely decent, kind, loving human being who would make a great step-father to Robbie. Only after the wedding does the hunky Fred show his true colors. Equally frustrating is the manner in which the film seems intent on giving the brutish Fred easy redemption; this is a character who demands comeuppance.

Now, a few words on this DVD release: Woman Obsessed is being released exclusively by Screen Archives, a company best-known for distributing the film music releases of Film Score Monthly. Most FSM titles are given limited releases (usually only 3,000 copies will be made of each release) for assorted licensing reasons, which is both a blessing and a curse for film music fans. While film music buffs are now able to access more film music than ever before thanks to the abundance of limited releases, once the releases go out of print newer fans aren't able to get them. Why am I telling you all of this? Because Screen Archives has delivered a limited edition of this DVD, making only 3,000 copies available. If you want a copy, you'd better purchase one quickly.

Thankfully, the film receives a rather attractive transfer, boasting rich, warm colors and sturdy detail (though a few shots seem a bit soft, particularly towards the end). There are some scratches and flecks, but they're not particularly obtrusive. The audio gets the job done nicely, though Friedhofer's score occasionally sounds a bit overwhelmed by the sound design. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout. Extras are limited to a trailer, an isolated score track and a small booklet featuring an essay by Julie Kirgo.

Woman Obsessed isn't a bad film, but it never quite manages to reach its potential. Count this one as an intriguing misfire.

The Verdict

Guilty, but a small fine should be sufficient punishment.

Review content copyright © 2011 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 77

Perp Profile
Studio: Fox
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

* None

Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1959
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Isolated Score
* Trailer

* IMDb