An accident leads to death. The death leads to another accident. And the second accident leads to…

This is the chain reaction that starts off Douglas Sirk’s “Magnificent Obsession.” Rock Hudson plays Bob Merrick, a thrill-seeking bachelor, who, at a need for speed, crashes his boat on a lake. He survives but his rescuing inadvertently claims another life – the well-loved Doctor Philips. The community is heartbroken and grudgingly despises the hedonistic Merrick, who’s no trade-off for the philanthropic doc.

Out of guilt, Merrick reaches out to Helen Philips (Jane Wyman), the doctor’s widow. He offers her money but she refuses. But he’s persistent; he’s gung-ho to be a better person and do good deeds. This I’d-like-to-help-you / get-away-from-me tug-of-war inevitably leads to another accident. This time, it is at Helen’s expense. And waiting in the wings, Bob Merrick is still the eager helper … and perhaps still the magnet for bad luck.

“Magnificent Obsession” deeply intrigued me at first; I even became engaged at its philosophical direction. Its sequence of events resonated like an episode of “Lost” and had me asking questions. What if there is a higher power at play? What if Merrick is prone to cause accident even if he wants to do good deeds? The first hour had a metaphysical undertone, touching upon themes of redemption and second chances.

But alas, the plot develops a bit contrived. Those who find the premise unlikely will laugh at the later developments. The film also suffers a common pitfall for romantic films: the split-em-apart contrivance. Oh why, why, why! The second half had me shaking my head and questioning the story’s logic instead of its deeper meanings. The perspective on the title itself is even misleading. The “obsession” to me seems more over a woman rather than the act of good doing.

The movie disappoints but my thumb quivers to point slightly upwards. This is my first Douglas Sirk film. I can’t pinpoint it but Sirk creates an aura of something soft and delicate. And yet, you can’t really call this film timid. It does gather momentum and it’s unabashedly sentimental (sometimes good, sometimes awful). I admit I’m still intrigued at how his other movies turned out. If coupled with a great story, his aesthetics can produce a great piece of work. Not quite an obsession but it could ignite a chain reaction for me to watch another Douglas Sirk movie … and another … and another.

Grade: B-

Rock Hudson, Jane Wyman, Barbara Rush, Agnes Moorhead, and Otto Kruger
Based on the novel by
Lloyd C. Douglas
Written by
Robert Blees
Directed by
Douglas Sirk