Title: Magnificent Obsession
Language: English, German
Genre: Drama, Romance
Director: Douglas Sirk
Sarah Y. Mason
based on the novel by Lloyd C. Douglas
Music: Frank Skinner
Cinematography: Russell Metty
Richard H. Cutting
Douglas Sirk made two remakes of John M. Stahl’s films, one is IMITATION OF LIFE (1934) which his remake came out in 1959, another one is this, Stahl’s original film is made in 1935. Generally acknowledged as the breakthrough vehicle for his star Rock Hudson, who will continue their collaborations in Sirk’s later works, including a reunion with Wyman in ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (1955).
Lloyd C. Douglas’ source novel is a quintessential melodrama markedly at the mercy of fate, there is no single villain-like character in the film, by sheer accidents, Bob Merrick (Hudson), a rakish young man born with a silver spoon in his mouth, have to bear the consequences of his unintentional behaviours.
And being sermonised by the “magnificent obsession” of doing good deeds in a secret way in pursuit of destiny fulfilment through Edward Randolph (Kruger), a painter who is also a beneficiary of such deed. The self-worth upraising process of Bob is motivated by the tragedy inflicts on Helen Phillips, a saintly newly-widowed woman on the verge of bankrupting, then suffers a fatal car accident and has lost her sight, both thanks to Bob Merrick, again it is never his own intention (why on earth there is only one resuscitator is available?), mishap happens, c’est la vie! Eventually he will fully pay the old debt in the most unbelievable way and procure a teary happy ending. Certainly there is a whiff of Christianity preaching overhanging, but Sirk uses a rather light touch to emphasise on it.
The script can be as maudlin as one can possibly imagine, but refuses to capitalise too much on the lies, which could be worse if the identity revelation card being overplayed. Nevertheless it is Sirk’s trademark subdued lighting and graceful composition stands out of the story itself, and Wyman accomplishes an adequate job in her virtuous embodiment of a woman too good to be true in a mundane real world, despite that she is such a fine actress can effortlessly arouse audience’s sympathy with her poised existence, and she is honoured with an Oscar nomination, but one jarring thing is the wanting of chemistry between Wyman and Hudson, like her character, it could only happen in a fairytale that she can be so all-forgiving and altruistic without a moment of lapse.
Hudson, on the other hand, contrives to crystallise a more dramatic formative arc of Bob, it is my first Hudson’s movie, so on a whole, it is quite middling, plus Sirk also teases us with showing Hudson’s brawny bod in a really nonsensical scrubbing scene for our eyes only. Moorehead is brilliant as always against a one-dimensional setting as nurse Nancy, she really shows off her agility and expertise of a proficient nurse, this is truly acting with top calibre. Barbara Rush as Joyce, Helen’s stepdaughter, personifies a more rational profile in her than we might consider in a secondary role. Finally, Otto Kurger, impresses with his sagacity and squeezes as much leverage as possible in a larger-than-life scenario which can feasibly become a laughing stock.
Lastly, Frank Skinner’s schmaltzy score, can be overbearing sometimes, but frankly speaking, it is quite pleasing to my ears, entirely, the film is a competent studio product, but under the helm of Sirk, it imbues a distinctive élan that is inexplicably charming which can overshadow the narrative itself. Maybe Sirk is really the criminally under-appreciated maestro as many critics and devotees fervently contend, and I am just beginning to familiar with his school of aesthetics, yet, the first encounter is hearteningly rosy against all the odds.