Saturday, June 21, 2014

Magnificent Obsession (1954 film)

Based on the book by Lloyd C. Douglas, Magnificent Obsession is the story of a playboy who pretends to be a doctor to help a widow he had recently hurt. Directed by Douglas Sirk and screenplay by Robert Blees and Wells Root from screen story by Root, Sarah Y. Mason, Victor Heerman, and Finley Peter Dunne, the film is a melodramatic take on an unlikely relationship between a spoiled playboy and a troubled widow. Starring Rock Hudson, Jane Wyman, Barbara Rush, Agnes Moorehead, and Otto Kruger. Magnificent Obsession is an extraordinarily rich film from Douglas Sirk.

The film is a simple story about redemption in the form of a playboy whose boating accident led to the death of a renowned doctor and later cause trouble for the doctor’s widow. At the same time, it’s about this rich playboy wanting to make a change for himself and atone for all of the sins he created. Especially to this woman who lost so much as she becomes lost following her husband’s death. The film’s screenplay does show what kind of man Bob Merrick (Rock Hudson) is at the beginning as he is this careless playboy who likes to ride fast cars, drive fast boats, and do all sorts of things without a care in the world as he would use money to fix things. When he is injured in an accident and was unconscious, he was revived by a resuscitating machine that belonged to a doctor as he suddenly died. When Merrick learns about what happened and the disdain he had been treated by the people at the hospital, he becomes haunted by his actions as he tries to apologize to the widow Helen Phillips (Jane Wyman) only to cause more trouble.

The first act is about Merrick forcing to see himself for what he really is and the things he had squandered as he was once a gifted medical student who gave up his chance to become a doctor in favor of throwing away the inheritance he gained from his father. The second act is about Merrick trying to atone for his sins by pretending to be another man to the already blind Helen in the hopes that he can help her and not suffer as much. Still, he gains the suspicions of her stepdaughter Jane (Barbara Rush) and longtime nurse Nancy (Agnes Moorehead). Yet, Merrick is encouraged by Helen’s longtime friend Randolph (Otto Kruger) who would guide Merrick into the ideas of philanthropy that Helen’s husband was all about. Merrick, under an alias, would do whatever to help Helen and gain the trust of those he hurt yet things become complicated as it becomes clear that Merrick still needed to find his own path in life as it would eventually play into his journey for redemption.

Douglas Sirk’s direction is truly intoxicating in the way he creates this film that explores the world of a man obsess with trying to right the wrongs that he created but also present it with a high degree of style. Much of it involves some unique compositions in the medium shots and close-ups along with a few wide shots. Sirk isn’t afraid for creating this heightened sense of drama since there is a lot that goes on where many who are close to Helen and her husband have a huge distrust towards Merrick since he already has a notorious reputation. Sirk takes his time for Merrick and Phillips to develop into something much more as does the supporting characters as it would play into the drama. Particularly as Sirk would add more stakes to the drama for its third act once it becomes clear that, despite Merrick’s efforts to be there for Phillips, it wouldn’t be enough as she becomes burdened by her blindness. Sirk however, would find ways to create something that does play to the aesthetics of a melodrama but not be afraid to take a few risks and be unafraid to delve into schmaltz. Overall, Sirk crafts a very genuine and exhilarating film about a man trying to find redemption in helping a widow.

Cinematographer Russell Metty does amazing work with the film‘s rich and colorful Technicolor-based cinematography from the beauty of the locations in Lake Tahoe to some of the array of lighting schemes and sceneries created in some of its interior and nighttime exterior scenes. Editor Milton Carruth does nice work with the editing with a few aspects of style in its dissolves and fade-outs while maintaining something much straightforward through its transitions and rhythmic cuts. Art directors Bernard Herzbrun and Emrich Nicholson, with set decorators Russell A. Gausman and Ruby R. Levitt, do fantastic work with the set pieces from the look of the Swiss hotels and sets created during Helen‘s trip to the country for possible eye surgery to the look of the homes that the characters live in.

Costume designers Bill Thomas does excellent work with the design of the gowns and dresses many of the female characters wear as it plays to the film‘s evocative look. The sound work of Leslie I. Carey and Corson Jowett is terrific for the way the boat engine sounded early in the film to some of the more sparse moments when Helen is alone in her room. The film’s music by Frank Skinner is truly phenomenal for its lush and evocative orchestral score that swells with its soaring string arrangements to play into the melodrama as it also includes some choir arrangements that just adds more punch to the tone of the film.

The film’s marvelous cast includes some notable small roles from Richard H. Cutting as the Phillips’ associate physician Dr. Dodge, Sara Shane as Merrick’s girlfriend in the beginning of the film, Paul Cavanaugh as Merrick’s former mentor Dr. Giraud, and Gregg Palmer as Joyce’s fiance Tom who helps handle the Phillips family business. Barbara Rush is terrific as Helen’s stepdaughter Joyce who is aware of Merrick’s reputation and is suspicious of his helpful intentions only to realize how much he cares for Helen and wants to do right. Agnes Moorehead is wonderful as the Phillips longtime family nurse who is also suspicious of Merrick’s intentions while keeping an eye on Helen as well as being the close friend that she has. Otto Kruger is excellent as Randolf as this painter who is a longtime friend of the Phillips family who realizes what kind of man Merrick really is as he helps guide him into finding redemption.

Finally, there’s the duo of Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson is truly magnificent performances in their respective roles as Helen Phillips and Bob Merrick. Wyman exudes a sense of beauty and anguish to her role as a woman that just lost her husband as she tries to make sense of the tragedy that she endures while clinging to some idea of hope. Hudson brings this swagger to his role early in the film only to be grounded with a sense of humility and sensitivity that would allow Merrick to find redemption. Wyman and Hudson radiate with chemistry from the way Wyman tries to dismiss him to the growing sense of warmth they would have for each other.

Magnificent Obsession is a phenomenal film from Douglas Sirk that is highlighted by the splendid performances of Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman. It’s a film that explores not just a man trying to redeem himself in helping a widow but also a film where an unlikely love story emerges despite all of the complications that emerges. In the end, Magnificent Obsession is a sensational film from Douglas Sirk.

Douglas Sirk Films: (t Was een April) - (The Court Concert) - (To New Shores) - (La Habanera) - (Boefje) - (Hitler’s Madman) - (Summer Storm) - (A Scandal in Paris) - (Lured) - (Sleep My Love) - Shockproof - (Thunder on the Hill) - (No Room for the Groom) - (Has Anybody Seen My Gal?) - (Meet Me at the Fair) - (Take Me to Town) - (All I Desire) - (Taza, Son of Cochise) - (Sign of the Pagan) - (Captain Lightfoot) - All That Heaven Allows - There’s Always Tomorrow (1956 film) - (Never Say Goodbye) - Written on the Wind - (Battle Hymn) - (Interlude) - (The Tarnished Angels) - (A Time to Love and A Time to Die) - Imitation of Life (1959 film)

© thevoid99 2014

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