23 July 2005 | Michael27-1
The Glossy Facade Gives Way To A Studio Classic
Looking back on the abbreviated career of Douglas Sirk, "Magnificent Obsession" rises above being just another "woman's film" or "weepie". It actually serves as a notable turning point as it is the first in a string of Technicolor melodramas Sirk helmed at Universal-International, as well as one of his most popular. It also kick-started the malnourished career of Rock Hudson and sent his fame into another realm. Despite the film's lame-brained premise and endless implausibilities, Sirk takes the material and dishes out a sweet, moving drama that is a thinly disguised tale of Christianity.
Hudson stars as Bob Merrick, a millionaire playboy with no cares in the world. His lavish and self-serving lifestyle inadvertently leads to the death of a prominent local doctor, Wayne Phillips. Dr.Phillip's widow, Helen(Jane Wyman)tries to pick up the pieces of her shattered life, while at the same time resisting the advances of Bob Merrick. His persistence results in an accident in which Helen goes blind. In a convoluted and corny twist, Bob tries to redeem himself by giving selflessly to others and devoting his life to medicine to find a way to restore Helen's eyesight.
Every stereotype of every soap opera convention is used in overwhelming doses to tell the story of "Magnificent Obsession". The "alternative lifestyle" of Christianity that Bob learns is a mish-mash of psychobabble that even the most detail-oriented viewer would find boring and confusing. And the seriousness in which the actors take the material is eye-rollingly unbelievable. But this film is saved by the always-savvy direction of Douglas Sirk(who himself hated the plot)and an elegant, understated Jane Wyman who brought her own brand of sophistication to every role she played - and was Oscar-nominated for this role. Even Hudson is able to overcome his nerves in his first leading, A-list role to give a performance that is convincing. Sirk's use of reflective surfaces and a dominating color palette give this movie a look that is undeniably sheen. And Frank Skinner's classical score takes the ordinary material to an emotional level; although the choral "oohs and aahs" on the soundtrack are a bit pungent for such a quiet film. This is not Sirk's best work, but it is definitely solid enough to engage first time viewers and a must for fans of the German-bred director's work.