Capitalizing on the Oscars handed out for the 1958 season, the trailer for Woman Obsessed begins with the acceptance speech delivered by Susan Hayward for her award winning role in I Want To Live! before morphing into scenes of her latest big screen adventure opposite Stephen Boyd from 20th Century Fox and director Henry Hathaway.
Supposedly taking place in Saskatchewan, Canada though filmed in the director’s previously used Big Bear, California for Trail of the Lonesome Pine, Woman Obsessed is for me a misleading title. I had no idea this was a frontier adventure with a very Shane like opening. Hayward is married to Arthur Franz and they have a son played by Dennis Holmes. As the film begins, Holmes, much like Brandon De Wilde is interested in the animals and nature that surround the farm his parents operate. The boy is apt to explore the forested area and rocky hills when not helping with chores around the homestead. It’s from his viewpoint that we’ll see a forest fire heading in their general direction. This prompts the men who live in the region to battle the raging fire.
It’s at this point the plot’s direction will be set in motion. Our leading lady Susan will end up a widow when Franz is killed during the blaze.
Always known as a tough gal on screen, Hayward will carry on operating the farm but is in over her head at keeping the day to day operation up and running and with a young son to care for is badly in need of help. An ad in the local paper hasn’t yielded anyone applying for a job either. That is until she hears someone chopping firewood the next morning. It’s Stephen Boyd in a role he mostly underplays coming off as an uneducated yet well meaning handyman.
Any wagers on whether or not he’ll become Miss Hayward’s second hubby?
Give it time but yes it’s going to happen. Hayward sees him as a good man and her son likes Boyd which makes it seem a good fit. That is until the script takes a sudden turn that I hate to say doesn’t sit well with me. The caring Boyd suddenly turns violent and abusive beginning with the boy. The little fellah can’t stand violence and the killing of animals. When Boyd puts down a badly injured deer, he wants the boy to watch him skin the deer and the kid freaks out collapsing. From here on out, Boyd and Hayward are set against each other and the kid is scared to death of Boyd and even contemplates putting a pitchfork through him. When Boyd challenges him to do just that, he sees the kid as a coward for not carrying out his act of revenge. Beyond that there’s even an implied rape of Hayward.
Now even though I’m not entirely sold on the path the movie veered off towards, I’m still a gullible lover of classic films and the film’s conclusion had me stifling a tear. Thankfully no one was watching with me and chuckling at the ease of which I can get overly emotional at a happy fadeout.
There are plenty of reasons to check this one out though and of course Susan Hayward tops the list. Next to her is Boyd who in the same year would play his most famous role opposite Chuck Heston in Ben-Hur. A role that was turned down by Kirk Douglas. Most any film from director Hathaway should be considered time well spent and the color photography of the region is breathtakingly beautiful.
And how many times have we seen a movie where the hero, in this case Boyd, saves the fair lady (Hayward) from near death only to have her awaken the next morning in a warm bed by a fireplace. Minus any clothing I should add and suddenly realizing the compromising situation she’s in and wondering if her virtue is still intact. All this before she accepts his hand in marriage. Honestly, I’ve lost count.
A relatively small cast is called for in Hathaway’s film but it does feature Theodore Bikel as a local doctor who serves as a part time marriage counsellor for the battling stars and as Boyd’s former squeeze, the blonde haired Barbara Nichols.
Yes I’d rather rewatch the Hayward/Hathway western Garden of Evil for probably the tenth time but perhaps on a second viewing I might be kinder here towards the transformation of Boyd’s character from all around friendly farm hand and husband into a raging fireball of anger knowing what I now know about the character’s past. Thankfully I came across a copy of the film in a second hand shop should I wish to give it another go on the DVD edition from Twilight Time.