“Magnificent Obsession” (1954)
Based on the Lloyd C. Douglas novel of the same name, Sirk’s “Magnificent Obsession,” is one of the great tearjerkers of the 1950s. In his third film with Sirk, Rock Hudson, plays Bob Merrick, a rich caddish, playboy type, who in a reckless accident crashes his speedboat, and is resuscitated with equipment borrowed from the town saint Dr. Phillips. Phillips then suffers an attack of his own and dies while his equipment is being rushed back too late to save him. Changed by the unfortunate ramifications of his accident and resuscitation, Merrick is guided by an older intellectual and artist, Edward Randolph (Otto Kruger), who helps him in his mission to make things up to Dr. Phillips widow, Helen (played by Jane Wyman). On his quest for contrition there are many twists and turns, which are a touch soap opera-y (he accidentally blinds her, he then pretends to be someone else, then they fall in love and so on.) However Sirk’s aptitude for melodrama makes it all work and gives the high-stakes emotions a deeply accessible poignancy that will have the harshest cynic reaching for the tissues. The crisply-hued Technicolor only serves to make the mix of spirituality and sentimentality feel more heightened, while fantastic performances from both Hudson and Wyman also go a long way, and Wyman was rightfully nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role. “Magnificent Obsession” was a box office hit for Sirk and Universal, and though it has been criticized for its hokeyness, there is no denying its importance and worth in Sirk’s canon.