Magnificent Obsession (1954) starring Jane Wyman & Rock Hudson

Nancy (Jane Wyman) drives Joyce (Barbara Rush) to see her father at the hospital.

I saw this film (in color, NOT in black and white as it was shot) on TCM recently, hoping it’d be on par w/ All That Heaven Allows (1955), which also stars Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson. Boy, was I wrong! This is a melodramatic mess that doesn’t make sense w/ regards to characterization (esp. that of Bob Merrick), time lapses, and many of its events. The actors do what they can w/ the material, BUT you can tell that Hudson still has more to learn. He was NOT yet famous at this time; Wyman (8 yrs older than her co-star) is quite capable.   

[1] I always thought Jane Wyman had a beautiful complexion and a lovely smile. No, she’s not the Marilyn Monroe type which would have been completely out of the context of this movie

[2] The problem, I believe, is that Jane Wyman had what you rarely saw in actresses then, and never see today: grace. Not to mention dignity and intelligence. Her characters were complex, independent women…

-IMDB comments re: Jane Wyman 

Helen Phillips (Wyman) becomes a widow after only a 6 months of marriage to her husband, a respected/older doctor in upstate New York. The paramedics were too late in coming to help Dr. Phillips; instead, the life of “sportsman” (playboy, I’d say)- Bob Merrick (Hudson)- was saved. The issue was that there was ONLY one “resuscitator” available in the area. This incident racks Bob w/ guilt.

Nancy Ashford (Agnes Moorehead), a nurse and friend of the Phillips’, is upset by this loss, and also worried re: the future of the hospital. Soon, Helen learns that her husband left her almost nothing to live on; he often saw patients for free and donated money for a school in Mexico. (Um OK, why keep monetary issues hidden from his wife? That’s NOT cool!)

Bob Merrick (Rock Hudson) finds a new philosophy for his life.

Bob discovers that Helen (who he met earlier when he was escaping from the hospital) was the widow of the dead doctor. He had been VERY impressed by her (yeah, in just a few mins.) and badgered her to go out to dinner w/ him (though she’s a total stranger and NOT his type).  

He later runs into Joyce (Barbara Rush), Dr. Phillip’s grown-up daughter, as well as some of the hospital staff who’d treated him. They look at him like he’s crazy, barging into the place and insisting on giving $25,000 to Nancy (to assuage his guilt). She refuses the money, of course, thinking him TOO rash. 

[3] A lot of films of this era would place a “God” character into the narrative. Randolph serves that function. …it’s made very clear in the operating room scene. In that scene, he literally looks down on Rock from above, a serene smile on his face, and gives him the strength to continue.

-IMDB comment (re: character of Edward Randolph)

One evening, Bob gets drunk and ends up near the home of Dr. Phillips’s old friend, Edward Randolph, a painter.  The older man explains the philosophy by which the doctor lived- doing good for others w/o expecting any recognition or reward in return. Bob listens intently, thinking how he’s lived his life in recent years (dropping out of med school to spend the inheritance from his dead father).  

Bob (Rock Hudson) relentlessly pursues Nancy (Jane Wyman)- yeah, even in her black (widow) attire!

[4]…this is the weakest of the Douglas Sirk/Ross Hunter melodramas. Maybe the wild plot has something to do with it, but I think Sirk simply lacks control over the proceedings and has yet to properly develop the style that flourishes in the following films (All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, Imitation of Life, etc.) 

-IMDB comment 

The story goes downhill from there, as Bob continues to pursue Helen. (Does he think he’s in love? Or does his guilt contribute to his obsessive behavior?) While trying to get away from him, she rushes out of a taxi, and is hit by a passing car. She ends up blind (getting into cheesy soap opera territory)!

After a few months, we see that Helen is still quite positive-minded and getting around well, w/ help from friends and Joyce. She esp. likes going down to the local beach and chatting w/ a young girl who plays/reads there. Bob comes upon this same beach and begins a friendship w/ Helen; he calls himself by a different name, thinking that she’d NEVER care for him otherwise. (Groan, as if she doesn’t know his voice!?) There is more to the story…  Well, YOU can check this film out yourself, BUT I wouldn’t recommend it. 

5 thoughts on “Magnificent Obsession (1954) starring Jane Wyman & Rock Hudson

  1. Did NOT know there was a book, BUT those are usually better than the films. I liked the friendship btwn Jane Wyman & Agnes Moorhead & V nice scenery in this film.


    • The other book the author (Lloyd Douglas) is really remembered for is _The Robe_, which was also made into a movie. One of those bestselling authors of yesteryear that everyone’s forgotten now. I found the book on my grandmother’s shelf one summer when I was staying with her.


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