SYNOPSIS:When churlish, spoiled rich man Bob Merrick foolishly wrecks his speed boat, the rescue team resuscitates him with equipment that's therefore unavailable to aid a local hero, Dr. Wayne Phillips, who dies as a result. Phillips had helped many people, and when Merrick learns Phillips' secret, to give selflessly and in secret, he tries it in a ham-handed way. The result further alienates Phillips' widow, Helen, with whom Merrick has fallen in love. Merrick's persistence causes another tragedy, and he must remake his life, including going back to medical school, in an attempt to make amends and win her love.
NOMINATED for 1 OSCAR: Best Actress (Wyman)
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REVIEW:Magnificent Obsession is the first in a series of colorful, melodramatic films from director Douglas Sirk. Made in 1954 and set in a small town, this film goes beyond your wildest soap opera storylines. If you don’t have the capacity to suspend disbelief, this film most certainly is not for you. But if you are willing to be swept away by dramatic twists and turns and beautiful directed frames, this film more than satisfies.
This 1954 Sirk version is a remake of the 1935 film of the same name. The earlier version was directed by John M. Stahl and starred Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor. The story is written by Lloyd C. Douglas and Sirk puts his brilliant Technicolor extravagance to work to bring the narrative to life. The elaborate remake stars Rock Hudson, in his breakout role, as millionaire playboy Bob Merrick. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Merrick believes in living fast and soaking up all the amenities the rich life has to offer. When he crashes his speedboat on a sunny afternoon, he doesn’t just risk his own life but ends up indirectly causing the death of the beloved town doctor.
Jane Wyman co-stars as the doctor’s wife, widowed in the first minutes of the film. Her Oscar nominated performance is fantastic and watching her interact with Rock Hudson is worth the price of admission. At points you find yourself thinking that all the tragedy endured by Wyman’s character Helen might be well worth it if you’ve got Rock Hudson pining for your love and affection. Agnes Moorehead also turns in a noteworthy performance as a town nurse and one of Helen’s caretakers. And Otto Kruger plays the fatherly, god-like Edward Randolph, who shows Bob Merrick the true meaning of life. With Randolph’s help and the relayed teachings of the deceased town doctor, Merrick loses his desire for the material objects he once found significant.
The most visually noteworthy scene in this film is the town festival Helen and Bob happen upon in Switzerland. This is where Sirk really gets to flex his Technicolored muscles, giving us bold costumes and colors to soak up in an ocular frenzy.
It should be noted that Criterion Collection restored the picture beautifully and packaged it along side the original 1935 film. The extras included on the disc make this a solid overall DVD set, with a documentary on Sirk and insightful audio commentary.
While I believe that Sirk’s following films All That Heaven Allows, Imitation of Life and Written on the Wind are a much stronger showing of his cinematic genius this film is well worth checking out. Though I believe it is without question the most over the top narrative in Sirk’s collection, it has all the elements that were mastered in his later works.