MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION (Criterion, 1954) D: Douglas Sirk, w/ Rock Hudson, Jane Wyman. Rating: NNNN; DVD package: NNNNN Rating: NNNN
The story is nuts: spoiled-rotten playboy Bobby Merrick (Rock Hudson) crashes his speedboat, indirectly causing the death of saintly Dr. Phillips. Recovered, he makes a play for the doctor's widow (Jane Wyman) and inadvertently causes her to go blind. Filled with remorse and under the influence of Phillips's philosophy of secret do-gooding, he turns his life around to become a noted brain surgeon and woo the widow under a false name. She flees in the night, determined never to be a burden to the man she loves.
Hollywood veteran Douglas Sirk delivers this nonsense with high emotion that never quite succumbs to self-parody and with lighting and sets so gloriously artificial that Hudson and Wyman seem like two mere design elements. On visuals alone, it's worth a rental.
But is this film merely kitsch trash or an ironic comment on the melodramatic woman's weepie? Sirk himself, in an excellent feature-length interview, and devotees Allison Anders and Kathryn Bigelow (both filmmakers) and essayist Geoffrey O'Brien go for irony, but in his commentary, film scholar Thomas Doherty lays out some compelling reasons for thinking that Sirk's reputation has more to do with academic politics and preferences than with artistic merit.
Another extra, the 1935 Magnificent Obsession, isn't nearly the movie that Sirk's version is, except for the stars. Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor are infinitely more watchable than Hudson and Wyman.
EXTRAS Disc one: commentary, tributes from filmmakers. Widescreen. English audio and subtitles. Disc two: Magnificent Obsession, 1935. Full-frame, b&w. English audio and subtitles. Douglas Sirk Remembers. Widescreen. German audio. English subtitles. Essay booklet.