Magnificent Obsession (1954)
Thursday, June 12th
An over-the-top 1950’s Hollywood melodrama, describes Douglas Sirk’s 1954 remake of the film Magnificent Obsession which originally stared Irene Dunn and Robert Taylor. In this version, playboy Robert Merrick (Rock Hudson) lives a reckless and fast paced life; he works hard and plays harder. When involved in a life threatening speedboat accident, Merrick’s life is saved. However, in exchange for Merrick’s life, the saintly Dr. Wayne Phillip’s dies lacking the medical equipment that is being used to save Merrick. From this point on the story revolves much around Merrick and his encounters with Dr. Phillip’s widow Helen (Jane Wyman), but the story also involves the late Dr. Phillip’s and his philosophy in helping others. Merrick will receive the divine message, but it will make little sense to him till Helen is made blind because of his own clumsiness. Despite all of this, Helen will fall in love with Bob, but not without more tragic and emotional bumps in the road. After all this is a Douglas Sirk melodrama.
During his association with Universal-International which lasted from 1952- 1959, Sirk made a name for himself with lush, colorful melodramas which featured the top actresses of the time. Sirk believed himself an artist and that the film screen was his medium, he used lighting, color and music to accentuate the over dramatic plots he presented to audiences. Under Universal-International Sirk was able to find the freedom to make his types of films. Despite being at the top of his career in 1959 with the release of Imitation of Life (another remake of an earlier classic), Sirk left Hollywood to settle in Switzerland never to make another movie again.
Magnificent Obsession was Rock Hudson’s breakthrough role as a leading man in Hollywood, and solidified his career for the rest of the 1950’s and throughout the 1960’s. The popularity of his teaming with Jane Wyman would be repeated the following year in All that Heaven Allows (1955). Ironically, this next film would center on the May-December romance of the Hudson and Wyman characters. The eight year age difference, though noticeable on film, was not mentioned in the prior film. Magnificent Obsession focused more on the changes Hudson’s character must undergo to be “worthy” of taking his place in the world which inevitably meant he would become the replacement of Dr. Phillips in philosophy, career, and love.
Beyond the story line of the typically Sirkonian melodrama is the central message of achieving success with one’s own destiny. In order to find fulfillment with one’s own self, one must be a servant to those that are in need. The character of Merrick has always been able to stay out of trouble though monetary exchange. However, he learns that with this philosophy it is not about what a person gets out of it, but doing kind things for others without recognition or repayment. Helping others should be about doing the right thing because you have the resources to do so and in return the universe will reward you.
Images from: Magnificent Obsession Dir. Douglas Sirk. MGM, 1954. DVD.