Reckless playboy Bob Merrick (Rock Hudson, in his breakthrough role) crashes his speedboat, requiring emergency attention from the town s only resuscitator at the very moment that beloved local Dr. Phillips has a heart attack and dies waiting for the life-saving device. Thus begins one of Douglas Sirk's most flamboyant master classes in melodrama, a delirious Technicolor mix of the sudsy and the spiritual in which Bob and the doctor s widow, Helen (Jane Wyman), find themselves inextricably linked to one another amid a series of increasingly wild twists, turns, trials, and tribulations. For this release, Criterion also presents John M. Stahl's 1935 film version of the Lloyd C. Douglas novel, starring Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor.
SPECIAL EDITION DOUBLE-DISC SET FEATURES:
New, restored high-definition digital transfer
Audio commentary featuring film scholar Thomas Doherty
Magnificent Obsession (1935, 102 minutes): a new digital transfer of John M. Stahl s complete earlier version of the film
Douglas Sirk: From UFA to Hollywood (1991): a rare 80-minute documentary by German filmmaker Eckhart Schmidt in which Sirk reflects upon his career
Video interviews with filmmakers Allison Anders and Kathryn Bigelow, paying tribute to Sirk
PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by film critic Geoffrey O Brien
Criterion's double-disc edition of Magnificent Obsession
shines a light on two directors, four stars, and one author. In 1935, John M. Stahl adapted Lloyd C. Douglas's 1929 potboiler with Irene Dunne as the widowed Helen Hudson and Robert Taylor as Bob Merrick, the sportsman-turned-doctor who shakes up her world. In 1954, Douglas Sirk filmed the story with Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson, with whom he would re-team for All That Heaven Allows
(Sirk remade three Stahl pictures, most notably Imitation of Life
). In his wide-ranging commentary track, film scholar Thomas Doherty describes the former Klaus Detlef Sierck as "the maestro of the Hollywood soap opera," arguing that his adaptation is "more firmly grounded in reality and credibility" due to better plotting and smarter writing (it's clear which one he prefers). Stahl's black-and-white picture presents a lighter, almost screwball take on the Douglas novel with Taylor's Merrick acting more like a petulant schoolboy than a post-collegiate playboy. As his personal assistant puts it, he's "barmy in the crumpet," while Dunne's more down-to-earth turn as Hudson--Phillips in the later film--anticipates her classic performance in Love Affair
, but it's hard to argue with Doherty: Sirk's Technicolor sensation is the definitive version.
In their video remembrances, Allison Anders talks about growing up with his work, while Kathryn Bigelow cites him as an influence on her first movie, The Loveless. The set concludes with the theatrical trailer (featuring Wyman as herself), an essay from film critic Geoffrey O'Brien, and an in-depth 1980 interview with the director from the German program From UFA to Hollywood: Douglas Sirk Remembers, in which he discusses Written on the Wind and The Tarnished Angels, both also starring Rock Hudson. --Kathleen C. Fennessy