Sometimes when wanting to view a classic old movie, I just want to see one that is heavy on the drama and romance. A movie that most guys just want to avoid, but a movie most women would enjoy. My pick is that type of movie, 1954’s Magnificent Obsession. Based upon Lloyd C. Douglas’s hugely successful 1929 novel, it was made into a film in 1935 and again in 1954. I saw the ’54 version not that long ago and decided to make it my pick for today. This version was directed by Douglas Sirk, a well-known director in the 1950s. Sirk skillfully directed overly dramatic material without it becoming too over the top and hammy. His films especially appealed to women and were very popular. 1954’s Magnificent Obsession stars Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson(his first role to put him on the map, so to speak), Barbara Rush, Agnes Moorehead, Otto Kruger, Richard Cutting, Gregg Palmer, Paul Cavanaugh, Rudolph Anders,Fred Nurney, and Judy Nugent.
The movie opens at a lake( much of the outdoor scenes were filmed at Lake Arrowhead and Lake Tahoe in California) where rich playboy Robert Merrick(Rock Hudson) is racing his newest purchase, a speedboat. He foolishly pushes the boat to race at faster and faster speeds which lead to a horrible crash. Emergency personnel save him from the wreckage and by using a new device, a resuscitator, his life is saved. Merrick is driven via ambulance to the hospital.
The movie then cuts to Mrs. Helen Phillips(Jane Wyman), wife of Dr. Wayne Phillips, the most well thought of man in town. Helen is driving home from a shopping spree with her stepdaughter, Joyce(Barbara Rush). Dr. Phillips was a longtime widower when he met Helen and after a whirlwind courtship, they married. Helen is happily telling Joyce about the dinner party she is about to host to celebrate her 6 month wedding anniversary to Dr. Phillips. Before their car arrives home, a state patrol car speeds past them, rushing the resuscitator machine to Dr. Phillips house. Nurse Nancy Ashford (Agnes Moorehead) rushes out of the house urging the patrolmen to get the machine inside quickly! After the patrolman leave, we see them sadly shake their heads as Helen and Joyce arrive at the house. As Helen and Joyce enter the house, Nancy and Dr. Dodge(Richard Cutting) sadly inform them that Dr. Phillips had a massive heart attack and has just passed away! Joyce, after her initial shock, asks why wasn’t the resuscitator used on her father as he kept one at the house due to his heart problems. Nancy informs her that a boating accident victim needed it and right after it was taken to aid that victim, Dr. Phillips had his attack. Joyce asks about the boating accident victim and is it is Robert Merrick. She immediately scowls, as Robert Merrick is known in the town as the spoiled rich brat who does whatever he wants and doesn’t care who he hurts.
Merrick is having to recover from his injuries at the very hospital that Dr. Phillips started and was in charge of. He is rude to all of the staff there, but puzzled as to why they are treating him so coldly. Finally, Nancy the nurse tells him of Dr. Phillips death, and that if Merrick hadn’t had that boat accident, Dr. Phillips might very well still be alive. Merrick, going against the hospital’s advice, sneaks out and decides to walk home to his bachelor mansion. Meanwhile, Helen and Joyce have had a meeting with the late Dr. Phillips lawyer who informs them that there is almost no money for either of them and that the hospital may be in danger of having to shut down. Helen and Joyce are puzzled by the tons of mail that Dr. Phillips received, thanking him for monetary donations. One lady does show up to give a check to repay a debt for a large sum of money that the doctor had given her and her family years earlier. Dr. Phillips always refused debts being paid back to him, so Helen decides to also refuse the debt payment and tells the lady just to pass that money on to someone else who could benefit from it. Helen then drives herself home and she finds Merrick standing dazed in the road. She doesn’t know who he is, he doesn’t know who she is, but she gives him a lift just the same. Merrick, finding Helen pretty, decides to flirt with her, which makes Helen increasingly uncomfortable. She finally tells him that she is a recent widow, and who her late husband was. Merrick immediately apologizes to Helen and tells her to let him out of the car. He is feeling very guilty realizing that his being saved by the machine kept Helen’s husband from being saved. After Merrick gets out of her car, he faints! Helen manages to return him to the hospital and finds out that this young man in her car is Robert Merrick!
Merrick is finally released a week later and as he is feeling terrible about Dr. Phillips and all, he writes Helen a check for $24,000 for her to use for the hospital. Helen is cold to Merrick and refuses the check, angrily accusing him of wanting to assuage his guilt away. After a night of drinking, Merrick crashes his car in a yard. He goes to the homeowner to apologize for what he’s done, and is greeted by artist Edward Randolph(Otto Kruger). Randolph doesn’t get mad at Merrick, treats him with respect, and suggests that Merrick sleep off the alchohol on his couch. In the morning, over a nice breakfast he’s made for Merrick, Randolph reveals that he was a great friend of Dr. Phillips and explains to Merrick the late doctor’s way of living: from Matthew 6: 1-4: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, don’t announce it with trumpets as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. This scripture hits Merrick like a two-by four and he begins to change his ways. We see him help out a taxi driver he knows with a monetary gift, then urges the man not to tell anybody where the money came from. Merrick also keeps running into Helen Phillips, and tries to explain to her his new way of living, that it came from her husband’s example. Helen, irritated that Robert Merrick yet again won’t leave her alone, tries to avoid him by clamboring out of a taxi and into the street, not seeing an oncoming car. The car bumps Helen, down she goes, and is left blind!!! Robert Merrick is overcome with more guilt and tries to see Helen at the hospital as she recovers but Joyce informs him that he is no longer wanted.
We next see Helen learning to maneuver her way around her home and down to the beach by the lake to enjoy the afternoon sun. A neighbor girl, Judy, likes to come by and read the newspaper aloud to Helen. During one of these daily excursions, Judy notices a man nearby and tells Helen that a man is close by and introduces him to Helen. Robert Merrick is that man, and he doesn’t want Helen to know it’s him so he lies, and says he is Robbie Robinson. Weeks go by and Robbie, Helen, and Judy continue to meet each afternoon. Helen has become very fond of Robbie, and he of her. She informs him that she will soon be visiting 3 famous doctors in Switzerland and they might be able to perform an operation that will save her sight. What Helen doesn’t know is that Merrick(Robbie) has been secretly funding the hospital so it can stay open, has paid off her home so she won’t have that financial worry, and has researched and found these 3 Swiss doctors!
Helen, with Nancy and Joyce, travels abroad to meet the doctors: Dr. Fuss, Dr. Giraud, and Dr. Laradetti( Anders, Nurney, and Cavanaugh.) After much testing, they determine that restoring Helen’s sight won’t happen. Back at her rented villa, Helen is about to cry herself to sleep, when Merrick bursts in the front door! Helen, thinking it is Robbie, is overjoyed. Joyce is at first horrified, as she can see it’s really Merrick, but then she relents when she realizes that they love each other. After a whirlwind evening of dinner and dancing, Merrick reveals who he really is to Helen, she says she already knew and has fallen in love with him. Merrick proposes and the next morning he arrives to marry Helen only to find out she and Nancy have disappeared! Merrick searches endlessly for Helen unsuccessfully. He then decides to become a doctor, for in that career, he can continue to help people financially and secretly, the same way Dr. Phillips did. Years go by, and he finds out from artist Randolph that Helen is living in New Mexico, but that she is in a coma! Merrick rushes there to be with her, and after reviewing her medical charts, he decides it is the blood clot that caused her blindness now causing the coma. None of the doctors at the hospital in New Mexico can do the operation, but Merrick just might be able to. Will he operate on Helen and save her life? Will he operate and she dies anyway? Will her sight come back? Will she survive and they marry? I am not revealing anymore of this movie as it will be on Turner Classic Movies on Monday, Sept. 30th at 6:00 pm (EST)/5:00 pm (CST). Magnificent Obsession is also out on dvd, it’s on Netflix, and the trailers for the film are up on Youtube.
For a great romantic film, tune in to see Magnificent Obsession! If your husband does agree to watch it with you, you must agree to watch an NFL game with him, or go fishing with him, or make him his favorite meal!