Thursday, June 12, 2014

There must be one person out there who likes Magnificent Obsession

I don't know who that person would be, but for the one person who enjoys Magnificent Obsession, TCM is running it tonight at 8:00 PM as part of the salute to Star of the Month Rock Hudson.

Rock Hudson stars as Bob Merrick, a wealthy playboy who seems to be universally despised. To be fair, he doesn't make it very easy to like him, what with running his sppeboat at full throttle on the mountain resort lake where he's staying. Unsurprisingly, something goes wrong, and there's an accident. A serious accident, as it stops Merrick's heart and leaves him needing the 1950s equivalent of a defibrillator. (I don't think the exact device they need is named.) Where the hell are they going to get that technology in the mountains? Well, it turns out that there is one machine around, in the home of Dr. Phillips. He built the local hospital, but because he's got a bad heart, he has a defibrillator at home. So they borrow the good doctor's machine to revive Merrick, which works. The only thing is, the good doctor has a heart attack while they're reviving Merrick, and since there's no machine around to save him, poof! -- he's dead.

Needless to say, nobody's happy about the situation. The doctor left behind a wife Helen (Jane Wyman) and daughter Joyce (Barbara Rush), and while Helen is trying to handle her late husband's affairs at the hospital, we begin to learn more about the doctor. It turns out that he was impossibly virtuous, and so generous that no sane person could help but love this man. It's a complete contrast with Merrick. Everybody hated Merrick before because he was an idle rich selfish playboy, and now they hate him even more because his reckless actions have led to the death of somebody who probably deserves sainthood. Merrick, for his part, can at least tell that none of these people at the hospital like him, and wants to get out of the hospital even if it's against medical advice.

Merrick at least has the conscience to feel bad that the doctor died, so he tries to let Helen know that he feels bad. But every time he tries to see her, something goes awry. Ultimately, it leads to Merrick getting Helen involved in a car accident that leaves her blind! Yes, apparently Merrick is that evil. Ah, but things are about to change, as he meets the guy who was responsible for making Dr. Phillips a saint. Merrick hears some Christian mumbo-jumbo, and decides that he has to go back to medical school to try to save Mrs. Phillips, as a way to save his own soul. Or something nutty like that.

As you can tell, Magnificent Obsession is the sort of nonsensical drivel that I don't particularly like. It's didactic in the moral lessons it's trying to teach, and incredibly heavy-handed. We get ten minutes in that Rock Hudson's character is Evil Incarnate, while the doctor must have been The Best Person Ever to Walk the Face of the Earth, because of the influence he had not only on the people at the hospital, but the strangers who come to see the widow when they learn of his death. This version was directed by Douglas Sirk, and normally you can count on Sirk at least to be over the top and make the material fun in a guilty pleasure sort of way. I'd argue that's the case with Written on the Wind, which also stars Hudson and is on tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM. With Magnificent Obsession, however, the material is just so leaden that it brings even Douglas Sirk's considerable talents down.