This is the film that heralded Sirk's astonishing end-career run of gloriously over-the-top women's pictures
Reviewed by Kimberley Jones, Fri., Feb. 6, 2009
Magnificent ObsessionCriterion Collection, $39.95
It's easy to take restoration for granted as nothing more notable than a pop of color and a crisper soundtrack, but filmmaker Allison Anders – a Douglas Sirk fanatic and contributor to this Criterion Collection two-disc release – puts the power of restoration in perspective. She describes her own eureka moment as when Rock Hudson's hospital pajamas – dishwater-colored and forgettable as rendered on tinny late-night TV – suddenly transform, post-restoration, into the richly detailed silk jacquard lounging clothes of a spoiled playboy. You can bet Sirk selected those pajamas as exactingly as he did everything else, from lighting design to an outré color composition that flew in the face of the Technicolor proscriptions of the day. Magnificent Obsession (1954) heralded Sirk's astonishing end-career run of gloriously over-the-top women's pictures; it was certainly his most ludicrously plotted (what Sirk called a "combination of kitsch and craziness and trashiness"). Hudson plays Bob Merrick, a ne'er-do-well whose speedboat crash inadvertently leads to the death of the town's beloved Dr. Phillips. Merrick's wrongheaded attempt to make amends results in the accidental blinding of Phillips' widow, Helen (Wyman, who would reunite with Hudson the next year in Sirk's superior All That Heaven Allows, where their age difference played more notably). Merrick, posing as a stranger, then woos Helen while devoting his life to becoming an eye surgeon, fulfilling the title's m.o. (sort of a Judeo-Christian idea of doing good works without demanding approval or reward). Sirk didn't get enough credit at the time for the artistry of his weepies, an artistry made even more apparent when put up next to John M. Stahl's 1935 version (also adapted from Lloyd C. Douglas' New Testament-heavy novel and also included in the Criterion release). Stahl's black-and-white take, starring Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor, is positively screwball by comparison. After 80 minutes of their light lifting, one practically moans for Sirk's celestial-sounding orchestrations and Hudson's granite good looks. As if we needed reminding.
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