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Saturday, August 29, 2009

MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION (1935)


This is the lesser of two classic melodramas helmed by John M. Stahl (IMITATION OF LIFE/’34 came first) that were famously remade in high TechniColor style by cult director Douglas Sirk.* Robert Taylor became a major star as the rich playboy who unintentionally causes Irene Dunne to lose both a husband & her vision. (In the Tayor role, Sirk’s remake pushed Rock Hudson to major stardom in 1954.) Chastened by the consequences of his flip lifestyle and guided by a spiritual protegée of Dunne’s late spouse, Taylor turns over his life to financially supporting, loving and curing the injured lady. Stahl’s work is less fluid then expected, and he seems unable or unwilling to bring out the charm needed to balance the arrogance in the disconcertingly pretty Mr. Taylor. And there’s something downright creepy in the story’s philosophy of making anonymous gifts in the expectation that such acts will further one’s personal ambitions; treating God as a sort of good deeds/good works vending machine. Ever the pro, Irene Dunne manages her role without a trace of bathos, especially when compared to Jane Wyman in the Sirk remake, but this famous film has dated poorly. A particular shame as so many superior films by Stahl are so hard to get a hold of.

NOTE: Stick with the original mono audio track as the stereo mix whipped up for the DVD is a foggy mess.

*Stahl earned his own TechniColor stripes in stupendous fashion with LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN/’45.

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