Criterion are bringing us two Douglas Sirk films this month, both starring Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman. The first of which is ‘Magnificent Obsession’ based on the novel by Lloyd C. Douglas. It is a preposterously plotted, trashy melodrama that somehow—in the hands of Sirk and cinematographer Russell Metty—is elevated to somewhere in the realm of high art.
Gorgeously staged, and shot in sumptuous Technicolor, ‘Magnificent Obsession’ tells the story of a rich playboy named Bob Merrick (Rock Hudson) who injures himself in a terrible speedboat accident. The ambulance crew need a resuscitator to save him, and the nearest one is located at the house of the beloved local doctor who lives across the lake. Whilst the kit is being used to save Bob’s life, the doctor collapses and dies.
Bob feels terrible that his own reckless behaviour led to a good man dying. He tries to make things right with the doctor’s widow, Helen (Jane Wyman), by giving her money, but she wants nothing to do with him. He keeps trying though, and clumsily attempts to win her affection. In trying to avoid him on one of these occasions she ends up being hit by a car, and suffers an inoperable lesion on the brain which causes her to lose her sight.
Consumed by guilt, and now madly in love with Helen, Bob dedicates his life to making amends. And in all honesty it just keeps getting crazier from that point on. ‘Magnificent Obsession’ is a wildly plotted and twisty romance, and its influence can be seen all over the works of Almodovar, Todd Haynes, John Waters, and perhaps most notably, Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
It’s kitsch, excessively styled, and everything about it is heightened and over the top. From the script, the set design, the performances, and of course the lush Technicolor cinematography. It’s not a subtle film, in any way shape or form. At times it feels like an opera, pitched at an almost histrionic level, and if you’re not tuned in to what they’re singing you might find it all a bit much.
Personally, I loved it. Anchored by two thoughtful and emotionally sincere performances from Hudson and Wyman, ‘Magnificent Obsession’ is a shot of unfiltered, glossy, visually striking Hollywood melodrama. You can take your gritty realism and barely visible natural lighting and shove it! This is what movies are supposed to look like.
Beautifully packaged in a two-disc special edition, the first disc comes with an audio commentary recorded in 2008 by film scholar Thomas Doherty, and an interview from 2009 with the film’s screenwriter Robert Blees. There’s also a feature length documentary on Sirk from 1991 which includes rare interview footage with the man himself.
There’s a great featurette with filmmakers Allison Anders and Kathryn Bigelow sharing their admiration for Douglas Sirk in separate interviews. The first disc is rounded out with the original trailer. In a very unexpected bonus feature, the second disc includes the original adaptation of the novel from 1935, directed by John M. Stahl, starring Irene Dune and Robert Taylor.
Cast: Rock Hudson, Jane Wyman, Barbara Rush Director: Douglas Sirk Writer: Robert Blees Released By:Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Certificate: U Duration: 108 mins Release Date: 13th March 2023