Summer Under the Stars: Magnificent Obsession (1954)

TCM’s star of the day is Rock Hudson, and my film pick for the actor is Magnificent Obsession, which airs today at 10:00 P.M. (EST).

This Technicolor melodrama begins when reckless playboy Bob Merrick (Rock Hudson) foolishly wrecks his speed boat. The town’s only resuscitator is needed to save his life. But at the same moment, a beloved local doctor has a heart attack and dies waiting for the lifesaving machine. After learning of the doctor’s philanthropy, Bob tries to right his wrongs with the widow, Helen (Jane Wyman), but only makes matters worse. Bob then embarks on remaking his life by going to medical school to try to make amends with Helen, falling in love with her in the process.

Magnificent Obsession is based on the 1929 novel by Lloyd C. Douglas. Its first screen adaptation came in 1935, directed by John M. Stahl and starring Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor. But the most famous iteration of the story came in 1954 under the direction of Douglas Sirk. Sirk had just wrapped production on Taza, Son of Cochise a month before when he began working on Magnificent Obsession. He brought on the star of that picture, Rock Hudson, to star in the melodrama opposite Jane Wyman. It was the third feature Sirk and Hudson made together, with their first being 1952’s Has Anybody Seen My Gal. Their collaboration continued through six more movies following this film.

The film received just one Oscar nomination for Jane Wyman as Best Actress. But the movie was more significant for Rock Hudson, as it proved to be his breakout role. Prior to Magnificent Obsession, Hudson was more established as a leading man in B adventure films. But this melodrama was a turning point in his career, and he became an A-list star. While making the film, Wyman noted that Hudson was very nervous, as it was his biggest role in a movie of this size yet. Hudson reportedly had to re-shoot some of his scenes dozens of times because of how anxious he was. Wyman was accommodating though, and Hudson thanked her for her kindness during the film’s production. Despite Hudson’s anxiety during filming, he gives a good performance here, especially opposite a veteran actress such as Wyman. They proved to be a great on-screen pair, making one more film together the following year with director Douglas Sirk, All That Heaven Allows.

After achieving stardom in Magnificent Obsession, Rock Hudson started appearing with some of the era’s biggest stars in a wide variety of genres. Just two years later he earned his sole Oscar nomination for Best Actor in Giant, opposite Elizabeth Taylor and fellow Oscar nominee James Dean. Though he made nine movies with Douglas Sirk, his most famous movie collaboration came from the work he did on-screen opposite Doris Day, starting with the 1959 romantic comedy Pillow Talk. The two stars, along with co-star Tony Randall, would make two more romantic comedies in the early 1960s following that success. In that time period, Hudson earned four Golden Globe awards for World Film Favorite (Male), even winning one year alongside Day as the female counterpart of the honor. His career began to wind down after the mid-60s, but he still worked steadily and gave some of the best performances of his career, including a haunting, dramatic turn in John Frankenheimer’s Seconds. In the following decades of his career, he turned his attention more to television, starring in the mystery series McMillan & Wife from 1971 to 1977, and making guest appearances on other shows alongside movie roles up until his untimely passing from AIDS in 1985. But even in that short time, he left behind a great legacy both on and off-screen.

Magnificent Obsession is one of the true gems in Rock Hudson’s filmography for not only providing his real breakout role but also for displaying his natural charisma that I’m certain was even more magnetic in person. It’s one of the best films of its genre, especially coming from a decade that was seemingly filled to the brim with melodramas. Douglas Sirk, in particular, was a master of the melodrama, and it may or may not be a coincidence that the very best of his films in the genre featured Hudson as his leading man.

I wrote this as a part of the 2020 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon, where bloggers are celebrating the channel’s honorees and movies playing throughout the month. Click the image below to read more posts!

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