Magnificent Obsession (1954)

“Once you find the way, you’ll be bound. It will obsess you, but believe me, it will be a magnificent obsession.”

Synopsis:
A reckless playboy (Rock Hudson) involved in a boating accident pursues the widow (Jane Wyman) of a beloved doctor whose life was lost when Hudson was using the only resuscitation device available. When he accidentally causes Wyman to lose her sight, he seeks solace and guidance from a kind sculptor (Otto Kruger), who urges him to adapt the deceased doctor’s spiritual practice of secretive philanthropy. Soon Hudson is pursuing Wyman from a new perspective, under an assumed identity — much to the chagrin of her protective stepdaughter (Barbara Rush) and best friend (Agnes Moorehead).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary argues that while it’s “not prime Sirk”, this “glossy, melodramatic remake of the 1935 John Stahl classic” is nonetheless “an enjoyable tearjerker” featuring “an earnest performance by Hudson” in his breakthrough role. Peary gives away a few too many spoilers in his review for me to quote it more extensively, but suffice it to say that he calls out the film’s Christian/spiritual underpinnings, which were a prominent feature of the source novel by minister Lloyd C. Douglas. In his much-more-cynical review, DVD Savant refers to the screenplay as “a rickety stack of accidents and ironies”, the dialogue as “painfully trite and often unintentionally funny”, and the underlying moral thrust — which he believes is corrupt — as “Presbyterian Guilt, [or] an exaggerated sense of responsibility”; he’s clearly not a fan of the film (or the story). My position lies somewhere in between both perspectives. Unless you buy into Sirk’s unique sensibility, you’re likely to find the entire film just a skosh removed from high camp — which is not to say you won’t enjoy some of its more melodramatic moments. There’s something undeniably moving about seeing a playboy genuinely reformed — and I found Hudson’s attraction to Wyman much more believable here than in their follow-up film, All That Heaven Allows. While this one is ultimately only must-see for Sirk completists, film fanatics will probably enjoy seeing it at least once.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Russell Metty’s rich Technicolor cinematography

Must See?
No, though film fanatics will likely be curious to see the first of Sirk’s most iconic mid-century melodramas.

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One Response to “Magnificent Obsession (1954)”

  1. Not a must – tho quite a few gay ffs will not agree with me there.

    ~That’s mainly because of the entertainment value of the often-ridiculous dialogue (“Write a check for *that*, Mr. Merrick!”). But, of course, a lot of gay interest rests with the fact that Hudson (“earnest” indeed) goes inexplicably gaga for Wyman, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever (although it does become slightly believable as the film progresses).

    This is aggressively commercial soap opera – complete with occasional back-up by an angelic choir. The latter, of course, keeps us in mind of the story’s Christian angle (slight though it is, it is a sort of linchpin here). In the style typical of producer Ross Hunter, ‘MO’ is severely colorful and squeaky-clean. No strand of hair of is out-of-place, there’s not a smudge to be found and no surface needs dusting. Even a cleaning woman looks pristine. It’s all very anal.

    Romantics (and those fond of Kleenex-clutching) are sure to find their fill here. I do personally enjoy the element of an irresponsible character seeing reason to reform. But I don’t really enjoy ‘MO’ for any of the ‘right’ reasons; the whole thing is just a little too silly.

    That said, Sirk’s direction is just as earnest as Hudson’s (in fact, everybody’s) performance.

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