Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Technically, it's not the woman who's obsessed here

Tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM, FMC is showing the Susan Hayward movie Woman Obsessed. As we'll see later, Hayward isn't the character who has the obsession in this movie.

Hayward stars as Mary Sharron, a farmer's wife somewhere in Canada at a time that's never quite made specific. Based on the scenery, I'd guess the foothills of Alberta, although other commenters say the movie is supposed to be set in Saskatchewan. As for the time, the Sharron farm has a log cabin, without electricity, while the town doctor drives a jeep, which would have to set the movie later than the early 1940s. Although a movie like Wild River showed us that even a less sparsely-populated country like the US didn't achieve rural electrification until the late 1930s, I find it hard to believe that a farm like the Sharrons' wouldn't have any mechanization whatsoever. After all, the dirt-poor Joads in The Grapes of Wrath were able to get a truck. Anyhow, Mary lives happily with her son Robbie (Dennis Holmes), and a husband who isn't seen much because he gets killed early on in the movie.

Now that she's a widow, Mary is unable to run the farm all by herself, and Robbie isn't old enough to do it. So, Mary needs a farm-hand, which she obtains in the form of Fred Carter (Stephen Boyd). Fred had been working in one of the nearby logging-camps, and apparently earned a reputation in town, as his presence at the Sharron farm causes some gossiping amongst the townfolk who are prone to such gossip. That, and he's quite the hot-head. This, even though the relationship between Mary and Fred is strictly professional, with Fred living in a room set up out in the barn. Sure enough, though, Fred and Mary discover that they've got human desires, as they fall for each other and decide to get married -- at least, if Robbie is OK with it. He assents, and Fred and Mary get married and live happily ever after....

Or do they? Of course, you know that a movie like this isn't going to end at the marriage, as there wouldn't have been enough drama. The tension rises already on the wedding day, when, at the reception, Fred kisses Mary. This really makes Robbie angry. He reacts not in your typical eight-year-old boy way of, "Eewww, kissing is gross", but instead with a "How could you possibly kiss my mother" way. Clearly, he's got something against his step-father.

That feeling, it turns out, is mutual. When one of the predatory animals out in the wild goes on a rampage and injures a deer, Fred has to shoot and dress it to keep the predators away. Robbie is sickened by the sight of blood, and Fred hates Robbie for that, as it makes Robbie a coward and not a real man. Fred's hatred toward Robbie, and especially his ill-treament of his stepson, gets Mary angry, and their relationship starts to go sour. This is a problem considering that Mary has beome pregnant by Fred....

Woman Obsessed has a lot of melodrama, and sometimes that melodrama can go over the top. And, to be fair to Hayward, she's not the one with an obsession in this movie. It's clearly Boyd's character Fred who is obsessed with what he perceives as the lack of manhood in Robbie; in fact, the issue goes all the way back to an incident in Fred's own childhood. To be fair, though, it's difficult to imagine somebody who grew up on a farm, somebody who would have seen the death of animals up close, getting that uncomfortable at the sight of the deer having to be dressed. Hayward, for her part, rides an almost hilarious roller coaster of emotions. And the movie has a happy ending that seems bizarrely tacked on. Despite all this, Hayward isn't bad, and Boyd is good enough. Rounding out the cast are Theodore Bikel as the doctor, and Barbara Nichols as the gossipy owner of the general store.

Woman Obsessed has some script flaws, but there are also visual flaws. The movie seems at times stitched together, having beem made from a mélange of location shooting, soundstage shooting, and archival footage of wildlife. All of these have their own visual look, and the change from one look to another can be quite jarring at times. Also, when FMC last aired this, it seemed mostly panned-and-scanned from the Cinemascope aspect ratio of 2.35:1 down to 16:9, something very obvoius in the credits. A couple of scenes, however, were panned-and-scanned down to the 4:3 old-style TV ratio.

Woman Obsessed, as far as I know, is not available on DVD.

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