The rise to stardom of Rock Hudson is fascinating. He started out in bit-parts, surviving relatively well in the Western genre, until he was plucked out and thrust into the budding promises of the Hollywood melodrama. Personally, I’m not a fan of melodrama, I find it kitschy, its garish prose, wearing the message a tad on its sleeve. So far, I’ve yet to find one I truly adored, but I can appreciate the genre may just not be for me, with its artistic merits certainly clear, and the charms of Hudson’s leading performance present in just about anything he touched during this 50s glory days period, it’s hard to ignore the likes of Magnificent Obsession.
Director Douglas Sirk has paired with Hudson time and time again, and this piece here is considered, rightfully, the jewel in their crown. It pairs the masculine energy and style of the times that Hudson can bring with Sirk’s clear eye for directing our characters into the right moments, the melodrama wrapping around them with a jagged, drunken effect. Magnificent Obsession is perhaps my favourite of his work, not because it exceeds the storytelling of Written on the Wind, but because it blurs melodrama with tropes that are deconstructed as the film flows through a coerced story of love beyond normality.
Hudson’s manliness, his playboy attitude, is in full form here. He portrays the bold Bob Merrick, a reckless socialite with a penchant for the luxury lifestyle. Expectedly, he soon falls head over heels, and the pieces begin to fall into place. Hudson plays his role with expert conviction, pooling a grand array of emotions that hold within it the ever-lingering question as to whether or not a womaniser is capable of long-term love. Sirk takes a step back here, allowing for Hudson to breathe life into the camerawork, the set design and cinematography all act as a quiet backing track to the one-man show of solo perfection. Hudson plays well with Jane Wyman, who provides an exceptional, well-rounded love interest, bringing to the genre a certain respect for these femme fatales that wasn’t quite observed in the likes of Pillow Talk or the aforementioned Written on the Wind. It’s a rare example in the melodrama genre where the love interest is more than just an object to be won, although the main draw of the character feels rather coincidental, and just a tad on the silly side.
If it weren’t for the shortcomings in the writing, the predictability of it all, the same avenues trundled down from a cast of subservient individuals, then Magnificent Obsession could have been more than the already genre-defining piece it is. Another film that I seem to appreciate more than I enjoy, but don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to enjoy. Leading performers who seem well suited to the chemistry they each offer up on the screen, with Sirk’s direction encapsulating this so well in such a well-paced, comfortable piece of melodrama.