Monday, August 04, 2014

The Mother of all Tearjerkers

Edward Randolph (Otto Kruger): Once you find the way, you'll be bound. It will obsess you, but believe me, it will be a magnificent obsession.

"Magnificent Obsession," which made its premiere 60 years ago today, has a few reputations of which you should be aware if you decide to sit down and watch it.

First of all, it was a textbook drama — make that melodrama. I guess it really was more of a soap opera; it was one tragic event after another, which leads us to another reputation. "Magnificent Obsession" was a tearjerker. Make sure you have plenty of Kleenex on hand, but that shouldn't be a problem since, unless you catch it at some sort of film festival, you're most likely to see it in your living room, not at the neighborhood theater.

That will make it easier for you to access the tissues — and you won't be as self–conscious as most of the folks who saw it in 1954 must have been.

Rock Hudson was no newcomer to movies, having had two dozen credited appearances (and a few uncredited ones as well), but he hadn't had many leading parts.

Jane Wyman was no newcomer, either. She had been nominated for Oscars three times — and won it half a dozen years earlier.

When you think of the plot of "Magnificent Obsession," it seems like a parody worthy of Saturday Night Live or one of those parodies they used to do on The Carol Burnett Show.

(In fact, I can easily imagine Carol Burnett playing Wyman's part and Lyle Waggoner playing Hudson's in one of their trademark sendups. It is so vivid, in fact, that it may well have been one of the show's parodies. I may have seen it years ago and simply forgotten it.)

Hudson played a self–centered playboy whose reckless behavior led to the death of Wyman's husband, a kind and locally admired doctor. That alone was enough to alienate Wyman and her stepdaughter (Barbara Rush), but Hudson managed to win them over to an extent. Then he inadvertently caused an accident that left Wyman's character blind.

The general theme of the movie at that point became the apparent repentance of Hudson's character and his efforts to make amends. He befriended Wyman under an assumed character and fell in love with her, committing himself to the goal of becoming a doctor so he could fulfill the ambitions of the doctor whose life had ended because of his self–absorption.

Although blind, Wyman discovered who Hudson really was. She had fallen in love with him, too, but she had decided to disappear because she feared becoming a burden to him.

Eventually, after becoming a doctor, he found her and performed surgery on her, restoring her sight.

A word should be said about Agnes Moorehead, who played a personal nurse. She looked so little like the woman who played Endora on Bewitched that I remember doing a double take, even a triple take, when I saw her on my TV screen. Bear in mind, this was a decade before Bewitched premiered, and her movie career seems to have prepared her for her TV role quite well. She was seldom a lead, almost always a supporting character, and the support she gave in "Magnificent Obsession" was more than adequate.

For that matter, Hudson did respectably well in what was, at the time, a rare leading role for him. My main complaint — as I'm sure it would be for viewers today — was the material. For lack of a better word, it was corny.

At best, it was predictable. It was probably predictable in 1954 — it was probably predictable in the first screen version of the story, which was made nearly 20 years earlier.

Wyman received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress (she lost the award to Grace Kelly).