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Edward Dmytryk in exile

ďYouíve heard of the last straw, well youíre it.Ē Thatís the welcome a fruity-voiced Robert Newton gives to the latest of his wifeís lovers when he catches them as close to in flagrante as you were allowed to get back in the late 40s. Thatís pretty much the starting point for Obsession one of two films made by Edward Dmytryk in England whence he had fled after the first of Congress’s attempts to get the communists out of Hollywood. The wife is played by the absolutely delectable Sally Gray, an object of desire who stood out even amongst all the Brit beauties then emerging (Jean Simmons, Wendy Hiller, Deborah Kerr, Ann Todd – the list goes on forever). So its no wonder that Robert Newton as the jealous doctor husband is sick of it. The plot, prefiguring Patricia Highsmith’s early novel “Deep Water”, then takes off into a round of threats and moves into the territory occupied by The Vanishing, imprisonment prior to ingenious murder. It all goes wrong of course and there’s something resembling a happy ending, sort of.

This is not what the purists would call film noir. It’s far too British in its conception. But Obsession is great fun, classic detective story stuff though the harder edge that American directors bring to this sort of thing is in evidence. That’s why the detective, played by Naunton Wayne, all pipe and Harris Tweed gets played for more laughs than is usual. As for Robert Newton, well the old scenery chewer is reasonably restrained here and his scenes at his gentleman’s club where all manner of anti-American remarks are bantered around are particularly good. It’s written by Alec Coppel, who adapted his own novel “Man Bites Dog.” Coppel went on from here to script Hitchcock’s masterpiece, his near to greatest film Vertigo and the quality shows through.

Obsession has been released on DVD in Britain and if you wanted to import it I would suggest you try www.blackstar.co.uk. I have always found their service and their prices very good.

Dmytryk made one more film, for the same producers, in the UK, Give us this Day. The influence of Italian neo-realism is apparent. It’s based on a novel by Piero di Donato titled “Christ in Concrete” and set among building workers in New York. When the film was released in the US it was re-titled Christ in Concrete which is the title on the recently released US DVD even though the transfer is clearly taken from a British print which has at the start a British censorship certificate passing Give Us this Day for release.

Though set in the New York it’s clear that only a bit of location filming was done, the rest of it was made on sets and locations in Britain. The look of the British exteriors just doesn’t register as the US. The story, centres on building workers working for low wages and in dangerous conditions in New York, the attempts to join collective forces, the bosses resolve to stop such activity and the inevitable tragedy which occurs which brings both sides to their senses. Good strong left-wing melodrama and Dmytryk handles it pretty efficiently without turning out an On the Waterfront (I know that’s right-wing melodrama, don’t ring up or email, you should get what I mean). The disc has some good extras including audio commentary tracks from some of the friends and descendants of the principals who included the actors Sam Wanamaker and Lea Padovani and the writer Ben Barzman

These films were made when Dmytryk was at his best I think. I tend to think that as he got older and after being rehabilitated following his prison sentence for refusing to squeal before HUAC, (though he recanted later) his films got more and more stolid. David Thomson describes his period at Fox in the 50s as making “one dud after another…polishing meanings until they were blunt and usually passing on his own solemnity to his players” and I think that pretty much suns up his later career for me

Christ in Concrete can be obtained from the usual US sources at www.amazon.com or www.dvdplanet.com among others. I have also been recommended www.cduniverse.com but have never used its services.