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Douglas Sirk
Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson, Agnes Moorehead
Writing Credits:
Robert Blees

A selfish playboy enamored by a woman he seems to hurt more than he intends begins to understand a deeper meaning to their relationship.

Not Rated

Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1
English LPCM Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 108 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 8/20/2019

• Audio Commentary with Film Scholar Thomas Doherty
• Interview with Screenwriter Robert Blees
• “From UFA to Hollywood” Documentary
• 2 Tributes to Douglas Sirk
• 1935 Version of Magnificent Obsession
• Trailer
• Booklet


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Magnificent Obsession [Blu-Ray] (1954)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 26, 2019)

For the first of two collaborations among director Douglas Sirk and actors Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman, we head to 1954’s Magnificent Obsession. Adapted from Lloyd C. Douglas’s 1929 novel – itself already brought to the big screen in 1935 – we meet Bob Merrick (Rock Hudson), a selfish, wealthy playboy.

When Bob’s carelessness leads to a speedboat accident, he gets rescued via the use of the nearest town’s sole resuscitation device. However, because Bob’s revival monopolizes the gadget, it can’t save local Dr. Wayne Phillips from a heart attack, and the beloved physician dies.

After Bob discovers Dr. Phillips’ selfless ways, he decides to reform and give back to the community. This doesn’t always go well, but Bob continues to try, partly because he falls in love with Dr. Phillips’ widow Helen (Wyman) and wants to win her affection.

I saw the second Sirk/Wyman/Hudson collaboration, 1954’s All That Heaven Allows, five years ago. The film didn’t work for me, as I thought it offered turgid, overdone melodrama.

Can I say anything different about Obsession? Not really, for it comes with virtually the same pros and cons as its sibling film.

Like Heaven, Obsession presents a visually arresting film. Sirk’s eye for production design and cinematography ensure that this becomes something more expertly crafted than the usual sudsy melodrama.

However, a beautiful sudsy melodrama remains a sudsy melodrama, and Sirk’s ability to paint appealing pictures can’t remedy that. No matter how good the film looks, it can’t rise above its soap opera story.

As was the case with Heaven, I still find it tough to swallow that hunky, virile Rock Hudson would fall for dowdy Jane Wyman. Only 37 at the time, Wyman looked much older, and it just makes no sense that Hudson would find himself so smitten by such an average-looking woman.

That disconnect doesn’t become the biggest issue here, though, as the increasing absurdity of the story turns into a major flaw. I can’t get into too many details if I want to avoid spoilers, but after a first act that mostly follows logical lines, the narrative goes firmly off the rails around the 40-minute mark and it never recovers.

With stronger characters and more substance to other parts of the story, perhaps the silliness wouldn’t become such an issue. However, neither Bob nor Helen feel even vaguely interesting, and the actors can’t elevate their parts.

Perhaps if Obsession came with stronger actors, it might overcome its inherent soap opera silliness. Unfortunately, beyond the movie’s artistic visuals, it ends up as nothing more than ridiculous melodrama.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus B+

Magnificent Obsession appears in an aspect ratio of 2.00:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Given the limitations of the source, this became an appealing image.

For the most part, sharpness seemed fine. Softness affected some wider shots, though not on a consistent basis. The majority of the flick appeared crisp and concise, and the occasional instance of softness could be chalked up to the original film stock, which hasn’t always aged well.

No issues with jagged edges or edge haloes materialized, and shimmering was absent. Source flaws were also a non-factor, and the movie boasted a nice sense of grain.

Colors often looked quite positive, as the movie featured a palette that showed up well here. The various hues demonstrated nice clarity and vivacity much of the time.

Blacks showed good depth and darkness, and shadows offered nice clarity. Though not an objectively great image, the presentation held up well within its photographic constraints.

I thought the DTS-HD MA monaural audio of Obsession was perfectly adequate for its age. It didn’t exceed expectations for a mix of its era, but the audio was more than acceptable.

Speech lacked edginess. The lines weren’t exactly natural, but they seemed distinctive and without problems.

Effects were a little flat, but they showed no distortion and displayed acceptable definition. Music was pretty lively given its age, as the score sounded reasonably bright and concise. All together, I found the soundtrack aged pretty well.

We find a mix of extras here, and we start with an audio commentary from film scholar Thomas Doherty. He provides a running, screen-specific look at the story and its adaptation, director Douglas Sirk’s life and career, cast and crew, various production elements, and critical views of the film.

For the most part, Doherty brings a good look at the movie, with a broad take on useful matters. Given my lack of affection for Sirk’s work, I appreciate the discussion of his critics, even though the director’s fans get more attention. This ends up as an engaging and informative chat.

From 2009, an Interview with Screenwriter Robert Blees runs 19 minutes, 19 seconds and provides Blees’ thoughts about his career, the development of Obsession, working with Sirk, and the film’s reception. Blees throws out a good mix of notes in this useful piece.

From UFA to Hollywood brings a 1980 interview with director Douglas Sirk. It fills one hour, 22 minutes, 37 seconds with notes from Sirk as he traces aspects of his career.

Though billed as a documentary, UFA really includes almost nothing other than that 1980 interview. We get title cards to introduce topics – in a vague manner – but we find no other interview subjects, narration or film clips.

The final six minutes drives around LA until we briefly alight at Mann’s Chinese Theater. Again, we find no perspective, so beyond a quick look at Rock Hudson’s foot/handprints, this segment feels random and pointless.

The absence of anything other than Sirk creates an imbalance. On one hand, it seems valuable to hear the director discuss career in depth.

However, “UFA” seems to require pretty strong familiarity with the topics to make much sense. For instance, if you never heard of actor Zarah Leander, Sirk’s comments about her won’t do much for you.

I’m glad we get this piece, but it becomes more frustrating than I’d like. While we find some good insights from Sirk – especially when he discusses his approach to filmmaking – “UFA” feels spotty.

In addition to the movie’s trailer, Disc One concludes with two Tributes to Sirk. These come from filmmakers Allison Anders (9:10) and Kathryn Bigelow (13:17).

Both give us their thoughts about Sirk’s work and its impact on their own productions. While I don’t share their enthusiasm for Sirk’s films, I appreciate their views.

On Disc Two, we get the 1935 version of Magnificent Obsession. It runs one hour, 42 minutes, 11 seconds and casts Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor in the Wyman/Hudson roles.

Though both films follow the same basic story and character arcs, they differ radically in terms of tone. Whereas the 1954 version opted for soap opera melodrama, the 1935 flick favors a mix of comedy and pathos.

Those choices make the 1935 Obsession feel like something from the Frank Capra canon. The movie does get more serious as it goes, but it never rivals the overwrought angst of the Douglas Sirk edition.

At no point does the 1935 Obsession threaten to become a classic – or even a genuinely good film – but it does fare much better than its later remake. While it comes with some ridiculous moments, the film mixes comedy, drama and romance to become a fairly watchable effort.

Finally, the set presents a booklet. It mixes credits, art and an essay from critic Geoffrey O’Brien to end the package well.

As a director, Douglas Sirk showed an excellent eye for visuals but his preference for sappy melodrama means Magnificent Obsession provokes too many eye rolls. Absurd and mawkish, the movie never clicks. The Blu-ray brings generally positive picture and audio along with a solid roster of bonus materials. Obsession winds up as a dopey stab at cheesy romance.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
0 3:
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