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    Susan Obsessed

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    The Snow Birch was the bucolic title of a 1958 novel by Canadian theatrical actor/director John Mantley – later to thrive as a producer/scribe for such series as Wild Wild West, Gunsmoke and How the West Was Won – about a strong-fibered frontier widow, whose struggles to make her Saskatchewan farm work against the hardships regularly inflicted by Mother Nature are complicated by the tempests of human nature, namely managing her growing romantic attachment to a newly hired hand against the needs of her sensitive son. When Hollywood brought it to film, directed by outdoors specialist Henry Hathaway, the casting of Susan Hayward in the lead role of Mary Sharron – fresh off her fierce, tough-as-nails Best Actress Academy Award®-winning performance as condemned murderess Barbara Graham in I Want to Live! – brought about a name change roiling with intensity: Woman Obsessed (1959), which opened 57 years ago today. Hayward and Hathaway had already teamed for Rawhide, White Which Doctor and Garden of Evil (1954, just out on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray) and their partnership guaranteed that the result would not be a mere “woman’s romance” picture but also a dramatic thrill ride against an eye-popping Cinemascope/Deluxe Color canvas. Stephen Boyd, who would enjoy a year-end big bang with The Best of Everything (1959, also on TT Blu-ray) and the colossus known as Ben-Hur, co-starred as the stranger whose mix of passion and hardness brings out the fire and the flint of the overprotective mother and triggers emotional turmoil to rival that of the unforgiving elements on her isolated spread. You want it even more tough? The adaptor/producer was Sydney Boehm, the screenwriter of TT’s badass Blu-ray gems The Big Heat (1953) and Violent Saturday (1955). Also in the cast are Barbara Nichols and Theodore Bikel, the latter also an invitee to the recent Oscar® ceremony as a Best Supporting Actor nominee for The Defiant Ones. Looming large as well are the rugged and ravishing locations (shot by William C. Mellor – who would capture his second Best B&W Cinematography Oscar® for the same year’s The Diary of Anne Frank – and an uncredited Leon Shamroy) in Big Bear Lake, CA, (standing in for Canada) that served Hathaway well 23 years earlier for his The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, only the second Hollywood feature shot in three-strip Technicolor. Supremely serving this romantic melodrama well throughout is its legendary star, finally feeling the Oscar® vindication after three previous nominations for playing gutsy and driven women. In The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, David Thomson writes: “Susan Hayward was a trooper who never saw any reason to do anything other than sock it to us….It is a credit to her determination and uncompromising directness that she lasted so long.” Talk about your ideal movie titles. Woman Obsessed is available on TT DVD here: http://www.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/15420/WOMAN-OBSESSED-1959/.