Last week, when I reviewed the MGM documentary “When the Lion Roars,” I dismissed much of that studio’s content as boring melodrama. This week, I’d like to clarify: I don’t think melodrama has to be boring. In the right hands, melodrama — overblown, over-the-top, weepy, sappy melodrama — can be something else entirely. In the right hands, it can be Art, with a capital A.
Last week, when I reviewed the MGM documentary “When the Lion Roars,” I dismissed much of that studio’s content as boring melodrama.
This week, I’d like to clarify: I don’t think melodrama has to be boring. In the right hands, melodrama — overblown, over-the-top, weepy, sappy melodrama — can be something else entirely. In the right hands, it can be Art, with a capital A.
Which brings me to this week’s review, the new DVD of 1954’s “Magnificent Obsession.” It stars Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson, it was directed by Douglas Sirk, and it’s definitely a melodrama — but one that shows how wildly entertaining a melodrama can be.
Allow me to sum up the plot. You’re going to think I’m joking — or the movie is — but trust me, we’re both serious: At the same time the saintly Dr. Phillips is dying, reckless playboy Bob Merrick (Rock Hudson) carelessly crashes his speedboat and needs the town’s only respirator. Thus, Phillips dies, and the town, along with Phillips’ widow, Helen (Jane Wyman), mourn.
After a brief stay in the hospital, Merrick escapes and manages to catch a ride with Helen. He falls for her, but she’s repelled by him. Then he listens to a long philosophical speech by a local artist (Otto Kruger) about finding happiness by helping others. Merrick gets his big chance when Helen is accidentally blinded (in an accident that’s partly Merrick’s fault). He goes back to medical school, becomes a physician and vows to restore her sight, with her never knowing he’s the guy who ruined her life — twice.
Corny? Sure. Far-fetched? You bet. But everyone plays it so straight that you can’t help but get involved in the story. Every unbelievable twist somehow makes “Magnificent Obsession” more compelling. It’s like a roller coaster where the hills get steeper and the loops get wilder. It doesn’t make much sense, but the ride is so entertaining, you don’t worry about it.
Criterion’s “Magnificent Obsession” DVD comes loaded with extras, including an entire second movie, the 1935 version of the same story. Film Scholar Thomas Doherty provides a lively commentary track that serves as a great introduction to Sirk’s work and 1950s melodrama in general. There’s also a long interview with Sirk, appreciations by directors Allison Anders and Kathryn Bigelow, and the film’s original trailer, where Jane Wyman talks directly to you, the viewer.
Contact Will Pfeifer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-987-1244. Read his Movie Man blog at blogs.e-rockford.com/movieman/. See video reviews by the Movie Man at rrstar.com/multimedia. See if you can Beat the Movie Man in our Oscars contest: go.rrstar.com/beatthemovieman.
Some DVDs out today:
“42nd Street Forever Vol. 4”
“Goodbye, Mr. Chips”
“Open Season 2”
“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”
Franz Ferdinand, “Tonight: Franz Ferdinand”
John Frusciante, “The Empyrean”
Paul McCartney, “Amoeba’s Secret (Live)”
Duncan Sheik, “Whisper House”
Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, “Eye-Legacy”
The Bird And The Bee, “Ray Guns Are Not Just The Future”
Sources: dvdtalk.com, tophitsonline.com