Director: Edward Dmytryk
Screenplay: Alec Coppel
Based on a Novel by: Alec Coppel
Starring: Robert Newton, Sally Gray, Naunton Wayne, Phil Brown
Country: UK
Running Time: 98 min
Year: 1949
BBFC Certificate: PG

The Canadian-born director Edward Dmytryk was famously one of the ‘Hollywood Ten’, a group of filmmakers who refused to testify to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) during the ‘McCarthy witch hunts’. Like the rest of the ten, he had to serve a short stint in prison and was blacklisted by Hollywood following the affair.

Like many of those who faced problems during the ‘red scare’ however, Dmytryk managed to find work in Europe during his ‘exile’ from Hollywood. He moved to England and made a couple of films there before eventually deciding to ‘name names’ and resume his career in the States.

One of the films Dmytryk made in the UK was Obsession, a noirish thriller that was released in 1949 (and in 1950 in the US under the title The Hidden Room).

Based on a novel with the much wittier (though decidedly British) title of ‘A Man About a Dog’, the film almost didn’t get released after a similar real-life crime to that depicted took place close to the setting of the film before it was finished and caused a chain of events that landed the production in legal troubles.

It eventually did get released though and went down fairly well both in the UK and the US. Now, Obsession is getting released on Blu-ray in both countries, courtesy of Indicator. I got hold of a copy and my thoughts follow.

The film is set in then-contemporary London, where a wealthy psychiatrist named Clive Riordan (Robert Newton) discovers his wife Storm (Sally Gray) is having an affair with American Bill Kronin (Phil Brown). This is one of many infidelities and Clive has had enough. So he sets into motion a plan for the “perfect murder.”

After confronting the couple, Clive kidnaps Kronin at gunpoint and imprisons him in a hidden room underneath a ruined area close to home. Clive plans to wait until media attention and police interest in the missing person case has blown over, then he will kill Kronin before disposing of the remains in a grisly fashion that will leave no trace. This way, if he does get caught he’s done the deed, he won’t have to hang as Kronin will still be alive.

However, the situation takes a turn when Superintendent Finsbury (Naunton Wayne) visits Clive, hinting he’s aware of the crime thanks to an anonymous tip. A tense psychological battle ensues, with Finsbury using his detective skills and Clive’s own expertise in psychiatry against him. Meanwhile, the desperate Kronin fights for survival from his hidden cell.

I enjoyed Obsession a great deal. It strikes the perfect balance between film noir and Hitchockian thriller, serving up a distinctly British blend of ghoulish yet reserved horror with pitch-black humour. I found a couple of details and twists a little hard to swallow at times (an Americanism slip-up, in particular) but overall this is a sharply written and expertly directed treat.

Though you see no violence or gore on-screen, many of the grim details of murder are discussed in grisly detail, making for a pitch-black thriller that lets our imaginations fill in the gaps. Clive’s preparations for his ‘perfect crime’ are shown in meticulous detail too, making his actions all the more chilling, even when there are splashes of humour in these scenes.

The stuffiness of pre-60s British films can be a turnoff for some, instantly dating them, but here this ‘politeness’ is played very effectively by once again enhancing the coldness of our villain. It also adds a subtle macabre humour to the delivery of this otherwise disturbing tale. It also suggests there are horrors lying under the surface of the squeaky-clean façade of the middle/upper classes – something David Lynch would explore in his work decades later.

The cast is excellent too. Robert Newton is best known for larger-than-life performances like his Long John Silver in Treasure Island (in which he practically invented the tone of ‘pirate speech’ by embellishing his West Country accent) but here he plays things down with a disturbingly calm and controlled take on the murderous Clive. Reportedly, Newton was a known alcoholic and was required to post a £20,000 bond to guarantee that he would remain sober throughout the production. He supposedly kept to his word up until the final day of shooting, when he began drinking at lunchtime.

Naunton Wayne is equally as good as Superintendent Finsbury, with his sharp wit and smooth demeanour making the perfect foil to Newton’s character. Phil Brown (who’s probably best known now for playing Uncle Ben in the first Star Wars film) makes a bold contrast to them both, playing Kronin, the plucky American who’s perhaps the only warm-hearted character in the film. Brown was also under scrutiny by HUAC at the time and was working in the UK due to doors being closed in the US.

Storm, Clive’s wife, is an interesting character, though she’s a little underused, disappearing for lengthy portions of the film. I appreciated how she wasn’t made out to be sympathetic or innocent. She can be cold and cruel too, though not to the levels of her husband.

Nino Rota’s score deserves a mention too, before I tie things up. Like the script, it perfectly balances the dark with the light, offering a fairly unique and enjoyable backing to proceedings.

Overall then, Obsession is a deliciously dark, wickedly humourous and wonderfully British delight.


Obsession is out now on region-free Blu-Ray, released by Indicator. The transfer is excellent. Contrast is perfectly balanced and details are crisp. I noticed some damage in one dark scene but, otherwise, the print is in great shape. I had no issues with the audio.


– New 4K restoration by Powerhouse Films
– Original mono audio
– Audio commentary with film historians Thirza Wakefield and Melanie Williams (2024)
– The John Player Lecture with Edward Dmytryk (1972, 74 mins): archival audio recording of the prolific director in conversation with author and critic John Baxter, recorded at London’s National Film Theatre
– A Man About a Film (2024, 35 mins): academic and author Richard Dyer explores the making of the film, its personnel, and its distinctive tone
– The BEHP Interview with Gordon K McCallum (1988, 99 mins): archival audio recording, made as part of the British Entertainment History Project, featuring Obsession’s sound recordist in conversation with Alan Lawson
– Image gallery: promotional and publicity materials
– New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
– Limited edition exclusive 36-page booklet with a new essay by Fintan McDonagh, archival articles on the making of Obsession featuring interviews with Dmytryk and actor Naunton Wayne, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and full film credits
– World premiere on Blu-ray
– Limited edition of 4,000 copies for the UK and US

Thirza Wakefield and Melanie Williams provide a commentary track. Unlike a lot of commentaries these days, the pair often break down scenes as they play out. As such, it’s a track rich with analysis as well as pointing towards some illuminating details about the filmmakers. They’re a pair I haven’t come across on a commentary before (though I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Williams for a disc extra in the past) but I’ll be keeping an eye out for their names in the future as I enjoyed their track here a great deal.

There’s a lengthy archival audio interview with Dmytryk. He doesn’t say much about Obsession itself but talks in detail about his career and the problems he faced being on the blacklist. Much of the piece is made up of a Q&A with the audience, so a range of topics are covered.

There’s also an even lengthier archival interview with Gordon K McCallum, the sound recordist on Obsession. I always appreciate hearing from the less heralded members of the production crew. He largely just talks about the films he worked on and praises those he worked with but he does have some interesting stories about working during the war and making films with Michael Powell and David Lean, among others. It’s an interview I warmed to more as it went on.

Richard Dyer provides an interview where he analyses the film, talking about how it is keenly British whilst being delivered by an American director. He talks about its black humour set alongside some genuinely disturbing elements. He also talks about its Hitchcockian aspects and how it might be considered a film noir. It’s a valuable and thought-provoking piece.

The booklet is excellent, as is usually the case with Indicator’s releases. Kicking things off inside is an essay by Fintan McDonagh, who provides a coverall piece that offers some background to the film as well as some analysis. There are also a handful of archival pieces about Dmytryk. All provide valuable context to the film. Added to this is a brief archival interview with Naunton Wayne that’s quite enjoyable. Then, finally, you get some customary contemporary reviews of the film.

So, Indicator have put together a well-stuffed package for an excellent film. As such, it gets a hearty recommendation from me.


Obsession (1949) - Indicator
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