Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo di Lloyd C. Douglas. Scen.: Robert Blees. F.: Russell Metty. M.: Milton Carruth. Scgf.: Bernard Herzbrun, Emrich Nicholson. Mus.: Frank Skinner. Int.: Jane Wyman (Helen Phillips), Rock Hudson (Bob Merrick), Agnes Moorehead (Nancy Ashford), Otto Kruger (Randolph), Barbara Rush (Joyce Phillips), Gregg Palmer (Tom Masterson), Paul Cavanagh (dottor Giraud), Sara Shane (Valerie). Prod.: Ross Hunter per Universal Pictures Co. 35mm. D.: 108’. Technicolor.
First in a series of melodramas shot by Douglas Sirk for Universal in the mid-1950s, the luminous ending of a transatlantic career, Magnificent Obsession was sparked by a proposal by Jane Wyman and initially aroused uncertainty in the director. The novel by Lloyd Douglas, which Sirk judged to be unreadable, had been already brought to the screen in 1935 by John Stahl (starring Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor), a film in which some critics saw a hint of black humour. No such humour in Sirk’s version, no intention of softening the sentimental paroxysm: “The essence of Sirkian cinema is the direct confrontation of all material, however fanciful and improbable. Even in his most dubious projects, Sirk never shrinks away from the ridiculous, but by a full-bodied formal development, his art transcends the ridiculous” (Andrew Sarris); and that’s all, even if the high-cultured Sirk, years later, would claim redemption with irony for a story that is a “combination of kitsch and craziness”: “It is a Euripidean irony – the theme of Alcestis” (Jon Halliday, Sirk on Sirk). So when a series of catastrophic coincidences starts to make us think that Rock Hudson is a disastrous jinx as well as a reckless billionaire – he risks killing himself by losing control of a speed boat; the ventilator used to resuscitate him is taken from a charitable doctor, who after one minute has a heart attack and dies; making advances to the widow he causes an accident where the woman loses her sight – right then our hero decides to get radical in his pursuit of Good (the magnificent obsession), and the absurdity takes new ways. But at this point Sirk and Russell Metty have already immersed us in a strange and penetrating rêverie, indifferent to the causes and effects in play, a visual score made of every shade of blue, the colour of melancholy, of spleen, of sleepless nights filled with music (some excess in choruses), the colour of a grief veiled in hope: the navy blue suits of Jane Wyman and Barbara Rush, hospital wards where the doors are painted Tiffany Blue, the blue-gray of the lake, the idealization of a nocturnal kiss with lilacs in the foreground alluding to Hayez but in terms of harmony going beyond the standard. Sirk is a melos artist, Technicolor his Stradivarius. And his eye is trained to recognize beauty where and when it appears: in a doctor’s consulting room in the Swiss Alps (we presume we’re in Davos, outside the windows an enchanted mountain), he puts in clear view one of the masterpieces of American design, the Plywood chair Charles and Ray Eames had put into production three years earlier.