‘Planned?’ the incredulous victim asks our protagonist ‘You planned this?’
‘Oh yes, weeks ago. It’s all part of my perfect murder.’
Well, introductory lines don’t get much better than that. It’s always a treat to see a well planned crime so a perfect murder is truly something to behold. Obsession tells the story of a comfortably well off London doctor who reaches the limit of his tolerance with his wife’s infidelity so makes plans to do away with his competition. There are shades of last week’s Archive Discovery The Earrings of Madame de… here as the good doctor, mirroring that film’s leading man does not necessarily object to his wife’s flirtations, even if they are returned in kind but when faced with humiliation? Well, in Doctor Riordan’s own words that is enough to reduce a husband “to the most insensible and uncivilised behaviour.”
It soon dawns on us, the audience, that this is to be no ordinary revenge. The ingenious plan is to spirit the adulterer away to a basement in a bombed out part of the city, chain him to a wall and wait for the hubbub around his disappearance to die down. Of course the doctor must make regular visits to furnish his prisoner with food, coffee, newspapers and even booze but all the while he is also making ghoulish preparations in an unseen bathroom just out of his prisoner’s sight. For in this mysterious room is a bathtub that Dr Riordan is slowly filling with acid, and will soon have a enough to completely dissolve his rival’s body, leaving no trace of his crime whatsoever.
Over the course of what turns out to be months we follow Riordan through his routine of acid preparation and food parcel visits and over time a rather peculiar relationship begins to develop between prisoner and jailer. While there is no doubt Riordan can project terror he can also turn on the charm and within the locked walls a respectful, at times even intimate, warmth grows between them.
The trapped man is Bill Kronin, an American (as is the film’s director) and their relationship also plays on this angle well, projecting a battle between the insouciant calculation of Imperial Britain and the impetuousness of the cousins across the water. Indeed the plan only begins to shake apart when the two slowly switch positions: Kronin becomes more meticulous with his eye towards escape while Riordan is made more and more frustrated by the delay to his day of revenge….and as ever with such meticulously planned crimes it’s the criminal’s blindness to random chance that finally undoes him.
This is a very enjoyable film that screens occasionally on television and is only commercially available on a pretty substandard DVD, which might explain why it’s not as well known than it should be.
Obsession aka The Hidden Room – directed by Edward Dmytryk (1949)
A cuckolded husband decides he can take no more embarrassment so imprisons his wife’s latest suitor, holding him hostage until the heat dies down…so he can kill at his leisure.