Movies

Magnificent Obsession (1954, Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson)

Rock Hudson, Jane Wyman in Magnificent Obsession

Magnificent Obsession, together with All That Heaven Allows and Imitation of Life, is one of Douglas Sirk’s finest lush big-budget melodramas, enhanced by the lavish colour photography of Russell Metty. Rock Hudson, in his first big Hollywood role, plays playboy Bob Merrick. Involved in a speedboat crash, his life is saved by a resuscitation unit that could have saved the life of a respected doctor. Attempting to make amends, he approaches the doctor’s widow Helen Phillips (Jane Wyman) but she, and her family refuse to have anything to do with him. When he approaches her again, fleeing his advances, she is knocked down by a car, an accident that renders her blind.

Merrick, now doubly torn by grief, sends her to the finest doctors in Zurich but they are unable to cure her. Merrick travels to meet her and they enjoy a brief idyll but when he proposes, she flees again. Merrick decides to assuage his guilt by taking up his abandoned medical studies and becomes a famous brain surgeon. Then word reaches him that Helen is in New Mexico and near to death. He travels to her side, operates and she, successfully cured and sight restored, realises he has become as good a man as her late husband and they are happily reunited.

Rock Hudson in Magnificent Obsession

This second version of this film (the first was in 1935) relies on coincidence, suspension of belief (Hudson just happening to be the one man who can cure Wyman’s condition) and the knowledge that there will, of course, be a happy ending. Sirk’s assured hand and the performance of the two leads (particularly Oscar-nominated Wyman) make this a genuine melodrama and compares, for example to Orphans of The Storm or Letter from an Unknown Woman, as classics of the genre.

USA / 1954

Director: Douglas Sirk
Writer: Robert Blees

Cast: Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson, Barbara Rush, Joyce Phillips, Otto Kruger