Magnificent Obsession (Directors Suite) (1954)

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Released 21-Apr-2010

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Audio Commentary-by Dr Mark Nicholls, Senior Lecturer in Cinema, Uni. of Melb
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1954
Running Time 103:23 (Case: 869)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (53:52) Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Douglas Sirk

Madman Entertainment
Starring Jane Wyman
Rock Hudson
Barbara Rush
Agnes Moorehead
Otto Kruger
Gregg Palmer
Sara Shane
Paul Cavanagh
Case Custom Packaging
RPI $149.95 Music Frank Skinner

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.00:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.00:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Lloyd C. Douglas, a Congregationalist Pastor and the son of a minister wrote his first novel, Magnificent Obsession at the age of 50. The book, written at the cusp of the Great depression era, was critically popular, with its message derived from Jesus' sermon on the mount, specifically Matthew 6:1-4: "Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.....That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly". The novel was made into a film in 1935. Directed by John Stahl, it made actor Robert Taylor a star. John Stahl made films for Universal and MGM in the 1930s, three of those were re-made by Douglas Sirk in the 1950s, Magnificent Obsession, When Tomorrow Comes (which Sirk re-made as Interlude) and Imitation of Life, Sirk's last Hollywood feature.

    At the time of its release in 1954, Magnificent Obsession was a big hit for Universal International and Sirk's biggest hit to date. Critically, the over-the-top plot elements were both respectfully and crudely scorned. Despite this Jane Wyman received an Academy Award nomination for her role as Helen Phillips. Rock Hudson, who had only just started to make films as a lead actor, became a star from his role as Bob Merrick, just like Robert Taylor in 1935.

    The story revolves around Bob Merrick, a young playboy with lots of money accustomed to thrill-seeking adventures and Helen Phillips, the wife of a respected surgeon at the local hospital. They meet soon after Merrick's high-speed boat accident causes him to need Dr. Wayne Phillips' resuscitator. Ironically, at the same time Dr. Phillips dies of a heart attack as the result of his resuscitator being used by Bob Merrick. Merrick recovers at the local hospital, but his stay sees nurses and doctors at the hospital show him resentment for the sparing of his life in place of the generous Dr. Phillips. Helen Phillips is perplexed why so many people offer to repay loans on hearing of her husband's death. Apparently he refused, encouraging those he helped to practise generosity to others in need also. Edward Randolph (played by Otto Kruger), a famous artist and close friend of Dr. Phillips, explains to Helen why Dr. Phillips had so little money left in his will, despite his successful medical practice.

    In the meantime, Bob Merrick realises why he is so unpopular in town and gets drunk, he winds up at Randolph's house who explains to him the secret of the power to a successful life: to be generous to others, in secret, without demanding repayment. He states to Merrick that this will "consume him to the point of obsession, but it will be a magnificent obsession". Merrick tries to reconcile his feelings of guilt by making amends with Dr. Phillips widow, Helen, but she doesn't want to see him. In an attempt to talk, Bob causes Helen to fall out of a taxi and get hit by a car, causing blindness. At this point Bob puts his new-found philosophy into place by secretly arranging and paying for Helen to see the best doctors in Europe, but to no avail. Bob forms a relationship with Helen under an assumed alias but she finds out who he really is, despite this they fall in love. Bob proposes marriage but Helen runs away, fearing that Bob will only love her due to pity. Bob decides to return to his unfinished medical degree and become a doctor, in time he becomes a brain surgeon, At the end of the film, he is needed to save Helen, who is dying as a result of the injuries from her accident, in a small New Mexico hospital. Bob doesn't believe he can do it, but with encouragement from Edward Randolph, he performs the surgery and restores her sight.

    There are many clever uses of irony in the plot which Sirk uses. Bob becomes a selfless surgeon helping others after being a selfish playboy at the beginning of the film. Helen begins to understand and see Bob for who he really is while she is blind. The first half of the film is set in a lakeside community in America, the second half is in Europe. Specifically, Helen goes to Switzerland, the centre of medical excellence in Europe at the time, yet she receives her sight in a humble community hospital in a remote town in New Mexico. At the beginning Bob attempts to run away from his guilt, at the end Helen runs away out of guilt.

    The character of Edward Randolph is intriguing. Just who is he? He only seems to have a connection in the film very briefly with Helen, but most specifically he encourages Bob in the same gentle, non-judgmental manner, despite his actions. Sirk stated that the final scenes with Bob performing surgery on Helen and Randolph looking down on the surgical theatre room is an allusion to God. Perhaps Randolph is Sirk himself, who was an avid painter in his spare time. With this film so full of ironic metaphors it may be possible.

    Finally, as Dr. Nicholls states in his commentary, the character of Dr. Phillips plays a large, yet invisible, role in the film. We never see his face, or an image of him, yet his presence and his philosophy is seemingly written into every scene.

    Magnificent Obsession was made in the era when Hollywood was attempting to compete with falling attendances at movies due to the advent of television. Widescreen films, brought in by 20th Century Fox's use of the CinemaScope process, made films bigger and wider. Universal International, the smallest of the major studios, started to release films in widescreen using the Superscope process. Magnificent Obsession is listed on IMDb as having an aspect ratio of 2:1. Criterion has released the film in this aspect ratio for their Region 1 release, as has Universal UK for the Region 2 release. The Region 4 Madman Directors Suite release in May 2008 and on this Douglas Sirk: King of Hollywood Melodrama Box Set also utilises the 2:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The Carlotta Region 2 French release uses a 1:33:1 full-frame transfer. Personally, I feel that Douglas Sirk and Russell Metty, the cinematographer on Magnificent Obsession, shot and framed the film for 1:33:1 full-frame because the technology was new and not all cinemas were able to adapt to showing widescreen films in 1953/54. Having said this, the film in 2:1 widescreen does not have obvious cropping issues such as heads been chopped off, but Dr. Gibson does mention in his commentary a portrait of Christ in the top left-hand corner of the screen, which is significantly cropped in 2:1. Also, Rock Hudson's character is not as diminished as what I believe was Sirk's intention in 2:1. In this framing Bob is more stately then what he should be, and Helen's blindness does not make her look as frail as what she should be in scenes lighted for 1:33:1 academy ratio. In the digital era of home widescreen televisions this may seem a moot point, as any option for widescreen is favoured when films are transferred to DVD. The same issue has occurred for Stanley Kubrick's films on DVD. However, one must take into consideration the cinematographic intention of the director when transferring films in the modern age, and this wasn't an issue previously when films where released onto analogue video tape in the recent past, to be viewed on Cathode ray tube televisions with 4:3 full-frame screens.

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Transfer Quality


    As stated, the Madman transfer is widescreen, not 1:33:1 full-frame.

    The aspect ratio is 2:1, 16x9 enhanced for widescreen televisions.

    The video transfer uses 6.57 gb of a dual-layered DVD with an average bitrate of 8.68 m/b per sec. There are no compression issues or noise on the video transfer, however the image still has slight film grain throughout.

    The Technicolor print looks magnificent (pardon the unintentional pun!). Colours are stunningly bold, especially scenic greens and blues. The Madman transfer does not have an overall red hue as is present on the Region 1 Criterion and Region 2 Universal UK DVD transfers. Rather, the Region 4 is similar in hue to the Region 2 French Carlotta DVD release. One can see the differences in the image at DVDBeaver's comparison of Magnificent Obsession here.

    The video transfer does suffer from instances of colour bleeding, noticeably blue spots at the 50, 56, 59, 66-71 and 74-79 minute marks of the film. The indoor dark scenes from 66-71 and 74-79 minutes show chroma noise in the dark backgrounds as random white spots. These spots do not appear on the Region 1 Criterion release, no doubt as all their releases undergo additional noise reduction for their master transfers, but the colour bleeding is evident on the Criterion image also. All versions of Magnificent Obsession have a blurry, out-of-focus short scene at an airport. On the Madman Region 4 version it occurs at the 84-minute mark of the film. The transfer also has white lines across the screen, but these are random and rare.

    Subtitles are presented in English in yellow.

    The RSDL change occurs at 53:52, during a scene transition where the screen fades-to-black.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    Frank Skinner's score defines the melodramatic elements of the film. His score, with rich orchestration carries the emotional spectrum of the plot.

    The main soundtrack and the audio commentary are both Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks encoded at 224 kbps.

    Dialogue is clear and synchronised.

    Frank Skinner makes use of powerful string orchestration to heighten the many tragic elements of the plot. The use of a heavenly choir to contrive strong moods from the audience is also used regularly. Overall, the main soundtrack is clear and relatively free of background hiss and hum.

    There is no surround channel usage because the main soundtrack is mono.

    The subwoofer is not utilised either.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Audio Commentary by Dr Mark Nicholls, Senior Lecturer in Cinema at The University of Melbourne

Dr. Nicholls' commentary is mainly screen-specific. He regularly pauses to allow the viewer to view key scenes and then makes comments on the plot. This is not intended as a criticism, rather it is my intention to simply state Dr. Nicholls' commentary style, which is very different to Thomas Doherty's commentary on the Region 1 Criterion release, which includes a lot more information on the production of the film and the background of the key players. Dr. Nicholls does mention the overall Christian symbolism and imagery, the rituals of melodrama, the significance of Dr. Phillips' character and philosophy and the role of Edward Randolph in guiding Bob Merrick's character to his destiny. He also compares the plot to the Ancient Greek story of Oedipus. Dr. Nicholls does have an obvious appreciation for Sirk's unique brand of cinema which shows in his positive commentary.

Theatrical Trailer

The theatrical trailer shows Jane Wyman narrating the film as herself. This trailer is shown unrestored in a full-frame transfer, unlike the trailer on the Criterion DVD release which is restored and shown in a 2:1 widescreen transfer, 16x9 enhanced for widescreen televisions. The Criterion trailer can be compared at their website for the film here.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Magnificent Obsession has been released on DVD in various transfers and with various extras, both as single releases and in DVD Collection Box Sets.

    The Region 1 Criterion Collection release uses a 2:1 widescreen transfer. The main feature uses 6.12 gb of space with an average bitrate of 7.75 m/b per sec. It includes an audio commentary by Thomas Doherty, video interviews with filmmakers Allison Anders and Kathryn Bigelow and the original theatrical trailer. The second disc of this release includes the 1935 version of the film and a 82-minute documentary: From UFA to Hollywood: Douglas Sirk Remembers by German filmmaker Eckhart Schmidt.

    The Region 2 United Kingdom version also uses the 2:1 widescreen transfer on a 4.1 gb single-layered DVD. It is also available on the 7-disc Directed By Douglas Sirk Box Set which includes Has Anyone Seen My Gal?, All I Desire, Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, Written On The Wind, The Tarnished Angels and Imitation Of Life. This release has no extras.

    The Region 2 French Carlotta release uses the 1:33:1 full-frame transfer, not 16x9 enhanced for widescreen televisions. The transfer is 6.6 gb in size with an average bitrate of 8.15 m/b per sec. This release comes as part of an excellent 8-disc Douglas Sirk Collection, Vol. 1 Box Set including the four films Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, A Time to Love and a Time to Die and Imitation of Life. This Box Set includes the original John Stahl versions of Magnificent Obsession and Imitation of Life, interviews with Jean-Loup Bourget and Philippe le Guay on Magnificent Obsession, reflections on Imitation of Life by Christophe Honore and Sam Staggs, an analytical discussion on the melodrama of Sirk and Stahl by Jean-Loup Bourget, discussions on All That Heaven Allows by Todd Haynes, William Reynolds and Rainer Werner Fassbinder (in textual form) and an audio commentary by François Ozon, a documentary on Imitation of Life, an interview with Wesley Strick and voiceover analysis of Imitation of Life from Douglas Sirk and Jean-Luc Godard.

    The Region 4 Madman Directors Suite release is available as a 2-disc standalone version or in the 9-disc Douglas Sirk King of Hollywood Melodrama Box Set. Both releases use the 2:1 widescreen transfer with an average bitrate of 8.68 m/b per sec. The 2-disc release includes the 1935 version of the film on the second disc. The 9-disc Box Set includes the films No Room for the Groom, All I Desire, Magnificent Obsession, Taza, Son of Cochise, All That Heaven Allows, There's Always Tomorrow, A Time to Love and a Time to Die, The Tarnished Angels and Imitation of Life. This includes an interview with Tony Curtis on No Room for the Groom, a 60-minute documentary featuring interviews with Douglas Sirk from 1982 entitled Days of Sirk, an interview with actors Pat Crowley and Gigi Perreau and an interview with director Allison Anders on There's Always Tomorrow, a discussion with Wesley Strick on A Time to Love and a Time to Die and audio commentaries by Therese Davies on All I Desire, Mark Nicholls on Magnificent Obsession and All That Heaven Allows, John Flaus and Adrian Martin on There's Always Tomorrow, Ross Gibson on A Time to Love and a Time to Die, Adrian Martin on Tarnished Angels and Angela Ndalianis on Imitation of Life.

    The Region 2 Carlotta and Region 4 Madman Box Sets are wonderful releases, with the Region 4 the pick for English-speaking fans of Sirk's work. The Region 1 Criterion Collection release of Magnificent Obsession is the best standalone DVD release currently available, despite the 2:1 widescreen transfer.


    Most critics write off Magnificent Obsession as a lesser Douglas Sirk work. I, like critic Laura Mulvey, esteem the film as one of Sirk's best works besides All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind.

    It is a shame about the widescreen transfer on all DVD releases in all Regions apart from the Region 2 French Carlotta Box Set release Douglas Sirk Collection, Vol. 1 which utilises a full-frame 1:33:1 transfer. Despite this, the Region 4 Madman 9-disc Box Set version of Magnificent Obsession uses the same transfer as the quality 2-disc version of the film on DVD, released in May 2008, without the 1935 version of the film by John Stahl.

Ratings (out of 5)


© John Stivaktas (I like my bio)
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S550 (Firmware updated Version 020), using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA46A650 46 Inch LCD TV Series 6 FullHD 1080P 100Hz. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderSony STR-K1000P. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationSony HTDDW1000
SpeakersSony 6.2 Surround (Left, Front, Right, Surround Left, Surround Back, Surround Right, 2 subwoofers)

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