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Tuesday, 13 December 2011

A changed man (Magnificent Obsession)

Douglas Sirk's romantic feature, Magnificent Obsession, is a poignant take on love and redemption. Unconventionally handled, this 1954 might not appear to have a deep-seated effect on you at first. But it grows on you with every watch. When at first glance you might feel that a man of Bob Merick's stature can get away with the haughtiness he carries, his drastic change of personality is definitely credible towards the end. A life-changing incident later, here is this rich man who learns the real meaning of love and forgiveness, of giving and sharing and of ultimate duty towards humanity. Yes, Magnificent Obsession is a delicate treatise on human relationships and how the good can triumph over evil.

Churlish and spoilt Bob Merrick (Rock Hudson) meets with an accident while racing on a speedboat. Due to the resuscitation equipment coming over to save him, another patient Dr Wayne Philips passes away due to the lack of emergency resuscitation. But while recuperating at Brightwood Hospital, Dr Philips's baby, Merick is not aware that one life was lost because of his recklessness. He continues to throw his airs around and retort rudely on the slightest pretext. Understandably the hospital staff and Dr Philips's family brood over the loss of this gem of a human being and a philanthropist. They remark that it would have been better that the doctor was saved rather than this vain man who hasn't the slightest manners and sensitivity. Joyce (Barbara Rush), the deceased doctor's daughter is fraught with anguish and so is Helen (Jane Wyman), his wife. But the strong personality that Helen is, she at once takes the responsibility of the hospital which is not in a very good shape financially, as reported by Tom Masterson (Gregg Palmer), Barbara's fiance. It so happens that the late doctor helped every needy soul so freely without expecting them to return the favour that the hospital is now seeing troubled times. Any kind of funds, from any quarter, would be extremely helpful.
At this juncture, Bob learns that he was a wee bit responsible for Dr Wayne's death. But exasperated at being held back at the hospital he tries to escape to his home. He falls down on the road but is rescued by Helen. The frivolous character that Bob is, he starts flirting with Helen the moment he sits in the car. Helen is miffed and says that she is the widow of Dr Wayne Philips. Bob's concussion hits him back. Helen takes him back to the hospital and is alarmed on learning that this indeed is Bob Merrick, the man who was somewhat responsible for her darling husband's death. After recovering and on being discharged from the hospital, Bob cuts a cheque of 25,000 dollars and goes to hand it over to Helen. But the manner he does so is extremely casual, supercilious and huffy. Helen smashes his ego saying that no amount of money can undo the harm he has caused and he should quit closing matters with money like this. Bob is struck and leaves at once. 
He returns to his dandy lifestyle but he is not able to forget the incidents of the past few days. Moreover, he is not able to vanquish the thoughts of Helen from his mind. All he wants is her forgiveness and friendship. One night after his drinking bout at a posh nightclub, his car breaks down and he enters the home of Edward Randolph (Otto Kruger), a close associate of Helen and Wayne. From this day his life and mottoes change. Randolph tells him that the path to redemption is not an easy one, one should not expect easy returns. But once you start walking on that selfless path, it would become a magnificent obsession. Intrigued by this philosophy, Bob moves on. But unfortunate incidents keep happening and despite his attempts at clearing the air regarding his selfish past, people mistrust him and blame him for all the bad things that happen.
One day when he tries to force Helen to listen to him while she is on her way back to the hospital, she meets with an accident as she is not attentive on the road. A cruel stroke of fate takes away Helen's vision and more blame is pummeled on Bob who also suffering inside. He keeps visiting her but she refuses to meet him. But at last, while on her regular trips to the beach, she encounters a man called Rob Robinson and becomes fast friends with him. This Rob is none other than Bob and he disguises himself as Rob because the very name of Bob is hateful to Helen.
Rob and Helen grow very close and unknowingly they both fall in love. Bob surreptitiously arranges for Helen to see eye doctors in Europe so that she can see again. All this is done under cover and not once does anyone know that Bob is trying his best to help his beloved. But as it so happens Helen and Bob's love will not end in happy union so easily. Plenty of trials and tribulations later, Bob wins over Helen. The journey to his redemption and growth is worth keeping a tab on. And it's remarkable how towards the end the Bob that started off being the conceited man, is a man who everyone looks up to. His ideals are spectacularly opposite to the young Bob Merrick. He is a wiser man, a man who is ready to give up his life for any one now...
A beautiful and quaint love story that doesn't have the rushes of young blood but is peaceful to the core. Bob Merrick's love for Helen is not just a carnal desire. His love traverses years and generations. He is one man who loves this woman because he sees the beauty of her soul and wants to give her all the happiness no matter what. Sometimes Hudson might not fit well enough with the much elder Wyman but that is exactly what the director wants to depict. That true love does not depend upon looks or age. It is a sublime feeling that unites two beautiful souls.
Jane Wyman is a perfect fit for the role of Helen Philips. She is in charge of her emotions and does a remarkably unselfish deed when she sacrifices her happiness for the betterment of her beloved. But little does she know that true love will ultimately find her.Her friend and compatriot Nancy (Agnes Moorehead) also plays a significant and warm role.
Rock Hudson is stupendous as Bob Merrick. Not only is he earth-shatteringly handsome (even more so with that salt and pepper mane!) but he is also in command of his multi-faceted personality. I have seen him play lover to Jane Wyman before in All that Heaven Allows. But while the initiation of his affair with an older woman in that film is a bit unclear (as in why on earth he is attracted to her?), here the grounds are pretty sound. He is struck by the goodness he sees in Helen and wants to give all his love to her because he knows that she in in a sorry state because of him. This can be called pity sometimes, but Bob Merrick shows that he does not pity Helen. When Helen leaves him, he waits for her to come back never once regretting his decision to love this one woman in his life. The change that Bob Merrick goes through is gradual and strong. He becomes a man who everyone is proud of. He lightens up Helen's life when it is most important. He gives back to society his all. And he expects no return. If this is not true redemption what is?


  1. Not being a great fan of Rock Hudson (heresey on this blog, I know :) ) I haven't seen much of him except 'Come, September' (which I hated for its sexism, though its theme song is brilliant)and the strangely disturbing 'Pretty Maids All In A Row' which came out in the early '70s. You seem to be on a Rock Hudson - Doris Day kick (the last few reviews). Another one of my not-favourites. :(

  2. @Anu: :( :( :( for not liking Rock the rockstar!! But some of their films are really sweet you know!

  3. @Anu: If mostly what you've seen of Rock Hudson is 'Come September' (which I didn't like) and 'Pretty Maids All in a Row' (which I haven't seen), I'd suggest this one that Sharmi's reviewed, plus 'Send Me No Flowers'. The latter's a Doris Day-Rock Hudson film, and LOADS of fun. :-)

    'Man's Favourite Sport?' is also a good Hudson film.

  4. @Sharmi: What a coincidence! Over at my blog, I've just recommended the Robert Taylor version of Magnificent Obsession to you. :-) ... and then I come here and see you've reviewed the later version. Join the soul siblings!

  5. @Dustedoff: Yes Anu, please do try some other Rock Hudson lovelies. Please O Please!!

  6. @Dustedoff: Hurrah to Soul siblings!!! Okie, so there's a Robert Taylor version also? Must watch I'm sure :)

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  8. @Chicha: Thanks. One request. Please do not use my blog as an advertising page for your website.