Saturday 29 January 2022

Movie Review: Magnificent Obsession (1954)

An emotionally bloated romantic melodrama, Magnificent Obsession is a love story inflated by religious pretensions and a close-to-ridiculous narrative.

Playboy millionaire and medical school drop-out Bob Merrick (Rock Hudson) crashes his power boat. His life is saved by a resuscitator, but at the same time the respected Dr. Phillips suffers a heart attack and dies because the life-saving device is unavailable. Bob meets the deceased doctor's widow Helen (Jane Wyman) and immediately falls in love with her, but she rejects him as opportunistic and crass.

Helen's friend Randolph (Otto Kruger) mentors Bob about empathy, charitable work, and doing good for others without asking for anything in return. But Bob is clumsy in applying these lessons, and causes an accident that leaves Helen blind and in the care of her loyal nurse Nancy (Agnes Moorehead). Bob adopts the personality of Robby and again tries to prove his love for Helen. He arranges for top medical experts to review her case, but Joyce's step-daughter Joyce (Barbara Rush) remains sceptical.

It's difficult to take anything that happens in Magnificent Obsession seriously. The film is dominated by plastic characters over-emoting at successive contrived crises, and director Douglas Sirk comes dangerously close to delivering an unintended comedy of dreck. The film adapts a 1929 book by Lutheran minister Lloyd C. Douglas, but this is still no excuse for the choral choir to blare onto the soundtrack every ten minutes, triple underlining holier-than-thou awakenings of the spirit.

The love story spends a long time in stalker territory, with stars Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman sharing no chemistry. Sirk does deliver gorgeous aesthetics, sparkling use of colour, and dreamy locations, and the one idyllic evening Bob and Helen spend together in Switzerland finally catches some magic. But then irrational behaviours burst back to prolong the mushiness and trample the mood, the final act striding into plain silly territory.

Rock Hudson is dramatically upright as his character navigates an unlikely arc, but Jane Wyman is mostly bland. Agnes Moorehead and Barbara Rush add quality in the supporting roles. Otto Kruger is saddled with a holiness just short of a visible halo, Sirk even finding a late angle for Randolph to hover over Bob in a physical representation of spectral influence. 

Magnificent Obsession means well, but lacks the sophistication to sell its own beliefs.

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