Magnificent Obsession ★★★½

Sirk never read Lloyd C. Douglas' source novel (it's on Project Gutenberg Australia; I scanned a few pages before giving up), but his intellectual sensibility was firmly at odds with the minister's lukewarm New Age garbage. Rock Hudson is an uncaring millionaire who flips over his speedboat, necessitating the use of a resuscitator, belonging to one Dr. Wayne Phillips, who dies when it's not on hand. Everyone's mad at Rock, who lived only because the doctor died, which seems ridiculous (although that's late-stage unregulated capitalism; the obscenely wealthy flourish at the expense of everyone else). The late doctor was such a model human being not even his portrait can be shown, so unearthly and beyond our comprehension was his goodness (though it's pretty clear that a guy who's so philanthropic he leaves his wife and daughter with nothing is the kind of creep who performs altruism for self-serving purposes).

Rock is subsequently bullied by the late doctor's friend Randolph (Otto Kruger) into embracing a bullshit pay-it-forward philosophy that's basically a warmed-over, highly questionable interpretation of the New Testament without Christ, climaxing in a surgery in which Randolph stares down at the operating room from the gallery as heavenly choirs sing. This would make Randolph "angelic," but he seems like a pseudo-intellectual creep, gassing on about how his unexceptional beliefs are "powerful stuff," projecting Middle American righteousness and daring you to be impolite enough to call humbug. Randolph convinces Rock to be altruistic and care about others by...becoming a neurosurgeon, a job which doesn't exactly underpay its practitioners. (Double-bill this with Bigger Than Life.)

Hudson's pretty magnificent, while the cast around him — Jane Wyman's little mother, sanctimonious Kruger, Barbara Rush as another initially-monstrous, eventually-chill Sirk child trying to enforce unnecessary morality on her mom — try to smother the life out of him. ("People ask me why there are so many flowers in my films," Sirk said in this interview. "Because these homes are tombs, mausoleums filled with the corpses of plants." Rock buys Jane a bushel.) Sirk's particularly hard on Wyman, who enforces her version of politeness and good social graces relentlessly; when she's examined by three German doctors, they blatantly laugh in her face.

Less twisted than Written On The Wind, less despairing than There's Always Tomorrow, not as well balanced between satire and empathy than All that Heaven Allows, not as deeply felt as A Time To Love And A Time To Die — which makes sense, since Sirk said "for the first time, I began to realize here my ideal of melodrama." Still, full-blown Sirk is nothing to trifle with or dismiss.

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