Magnificent Obsession (1935)

“He’s dead, I’m alive — we’re both out of luck.”

Synopsis:
A wealthy playboy (Robert Taylor) pursues the beautiful widow (Irene Dunne) of a beloved doctor, accidentally prompting an accident that causes her to lose her sight. He conceals his identity and befriends her as she adapts to a world of blindness; soon the two fall in love.

Genres:

Review:
Primarily remembered today as the original version of Douglas Sirk’s 1954 Technicolor remake, this romantic melodrama is notable as the film which gave matinee idol Robert Taylor his breakthrough role — and it’s easy to see why audiences went gaga over him. Tall, charismatic, and impossibly handsome (his nickname was “The Man with the Perfect Profile”), he nicely handles his character’s transformation from reckless playboy to chastened suitor (and eventually to mature doctor). The “spiritual” element of his transformation — made much more overt in Sirk’s version — is toned down here; indeed, director John Stahl exercises admirable restraint with the undeniably melodramatic material, doing his best to make the storyline feel relatively believable. (With that said, some will naturally prefer the direction in which Sirk took the material, which provides an entirely different cinematic experience altogether.) Dunne, interestingly, isn’t all that memorable here. Unlike Wyman’s counterpart in the 1954 film, she’s at least appropriately young and beautiful — but she really functions as Taylor’s foil; it’s his film all the way.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Robert Taylor as Bob Merrick

Must See?
No, though it’s strongly recommended simply to see Taylor’s star-making turn. Listed as a film with Historical Importance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Magnificent Obsession (1935)”

  1. Not a must.

    ~tho it’s better than its remake for several reasons.

    Most importantly, it’s devoid of camp value.

    Even tho it’s the same melodrama, it’s a lot less syrupy than what Sirk served up. For one thing, except for the opening theme and a short romantic interlude, the wise decision was made to keep music out of it. Nothing is there to help jerk your tears. Director Stahl apparently realized it’s soapy enough as is.

    Also, unlike Sirk’s version, early on we get insight to Robert Merrick’s character – which brings on needed empathy for him. Taylor does a fine job (even if his makeup seems a tad sharp). I’m not bothered much by Dunne here – she gives a delicate, restrained performance (somewhat reminiscent of Mary Astor in quality).

    Ralph Morgan (Frank’s brother) registers well in a small but pivotal role.

    The overall message of the film (which I don’t think is diluted, really, in comparison with the remake) is an admirable one – I personally respect this take on ‘God without religion’. But it’s tricky territory, and it does play out a bit awkwardly at times. Still, the idea is a solid one. The theme’s sidebar reveals the power of forgiveness.

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