Released in 1954, Magnificent Obsession was directed by Douglas Sirk. While not the German émigré’s first Hollywood film, it would later be recognized as the first to demonstrate what could be called the “Sirkian” style. By the end of the decade, Sirk would release a series of films–All That Heaven Allows (1955), Written on the Wind (1956) and Imitation of Life–known for their tearjerker, melodramatic storylines and technicolor appearance.
Magnificent Obsession was the first pairing of Rock Hudson (Hornets’ Nest), then a rising star and Jane Wyman, who had won an Oscar for Johnny Belinda (they would work together again the next year in Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows). A remake of a 1935 film based on the Lloyd C. Douglas novel, Rock plays millionaire playboy Robert Merrick. After carelessly racing a speedboat and crashing it, his life is saved because of a resuscitator, but as fate would have it, at the same time, a beloved doctor and philanthropist, has a heart attack and dies. If the resuscitator had been available, he might have survived.
Through a series of events that any soap opera fan would appreciate, Bob crossed paths with the kind-hearted widow, Helen Phillips (Wyman) who understandably wants nothing to do with the young man who caused her husband’s death. Haunted by recent events, Bob is determined to make amends. Through a series of plot machinations, he meets Edward Randolph (Otto Kruger), a close friend of the doctor, who shares his secret about a path to a better life: he’s made it his lives work to help others in secret, just as his friend did. Today, we would probably boil it down to the notion of ‘pay of it forward,’ but Magnificent Obsession is much more heavy handed, suggesting a Christ-like connotation.
Bob embraces this new approach to life but doesn’t really understand what it means until tragedy strikes again because of his actions. To say anything more would ruin, the movie, but suffice it to say Bob dedicates his life to caring for Helen and an unlikely romance develops.
Looking it over, in many ways, the plot sounds absurd, and it basically is. A soap opera in the truest sense of the phrase, everything is over-the-top. While the film doesn’t come together as well as several of Sirk’s other films–chief among them All That Heaven Allows–the palpable chemistry between Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson make it work watching. Hudson is particularly effective here, conveying Bob’s inner turmoil and convincing us of his character’s turnaround.
Criterion’s presentation of Magnificent Obsession is presented in the 2.00:1 aspect ratio and struck from a 35mm interpositive. The results are a noticeable improvement over the previous DVD release in 2009. The Blu-ray is brighter, allowing details to show through. Clarity has been improved, allowing textures to shine through. Wider exterior shots look great for a film this age. Overall, Criterion has done a solid job on this transfer.
The remastered lossless one-channel LPCM track sounds fine, offering clean, clear and concise dialogue throughout and a tight rendition of the romantic score by Frank Skinner.
English SDH subtitles are included.
Extras duplicate the Criterion DVD release from 2009:
- Audio Commentary with Film Scholar Thomas Doherty: Recorded for Criterion in 2008.
- From UFA To Hollywood: Douglas Sirk Remembers (HD, 122:37) Produced by Eckhart Schmidt in 1991, this German documentary features a rare interview with Douglas Sirk from the early 1980’s, where he discusses Written on the Wind and Tarnished Angels, which he made for Universal.
- Interview with Screenwriter Robert Blees (HD, 19:19) Recorded in 2009, in Menlo Park, California, Blees discusses his arrival in Hollywood during the 1940’s, his mentors and his collaboration with Douglas Sirk on Magnificent Obsession.
- Tributes to Sirk – Presented here are interviews with directors Kathryn Bigelow and Allison Anders, where they discuss their admiration for the work of Douglas Sirk.
- Allison Anders filmed in Los Angeles, 2008 (HD, 9:10)
- Kathryn Bigelow filmed in Venice, Italy, 2008 (HD, 14:00)
- Trailer (HD, 2:25)
- Magnificent Obsession (1935) (HD, 142:11) The new digital restoration of John Stahl’s film, starring Robert Taylor and Irene Dunne. Optional English subtitles are available. LPCM 1.0
- Leaflet: An illustrated leaflet featuring critic Geoffrey O’Brien’s essay “Magnificent Obsession.”
Magnificent Obsession (1954)
Movie title: Magnificent Obsession
Director(s): Douglas Sirk
Actor(s): Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson, Agnes Moorehead, Otto Kruger , Barbara Rush , Gregg Palmer
Genre: Romance , Melodrama, Drama