Thursday, April 29, 2010

Magnificent Obsession (1935)

As I was watching Magnificent Obsession, I found myself thinking quite a bit about Random Harvest and comparing the two. Improbable situations? Check. Impossible coincidences? Check. Relentless over-long melodrama? Check, check, checkity, check! And like Random Harvest, a movie I liked despite its rather glaring flaws, I found myself totally getting into Magnificent Obsession. Once again the leads, Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor save the day. What would we do if corny novels were made into films with weak actors? Well, we wouldn't watch them, I guess. Dunne and Taylor are supported by Charles Butterworth and Arthur Treacher who provide the much-needed comic relief.

The story begins with the accidental drowning of a famous and beloved doctor. The doctor's life wasn't saved because some lung contraption was being used over at Bobby Merrick's (Robert Taylor) house after he fell in the lake, drunk. A few days later, Bobby and the doctor's widow have a meet cute moment right out of a Powell and Loy movie. Naturally she loathes him because he "killed her husband," (Wha???) and naturally he dedicates himself to making her love him (double wha???). He tries more screwball nonsense ala Love Crazy and she winds up getting hit by a car and going blind. Ha. ha.

You would think with my love of screwball comedy that I would have just shut the movie off right then, wouldn't you? After all this movie seems to be on some kind of mission to preach responsibility and show lightheartedness as akin to homicidal tendencies. Perhaps because the script was just so completely inflexible on the topic, I hung in there. I just had to see what they came up with next. And boy, oh boy was it worth it. Bobby befriends the widow Hudson and pays for her to see the best specialists in the world. When they can do nothing he goes to medical school and becomes a Nobel Prize winning brain surgeon so that he can perform the surgery himself. Of course this is handled in 90 second montage just to make it all the more hilariously unbelievable. I don't want to see Taylor as a brain surgeon any more than I want to see him as an off the hook drunken playboy going through a religious conversion, which he also does in this film. There is something so wonderfully controlled about Taylor, so smooth and perfect. He really could act and he proves that here, but like Cary Grant, I enjoy watching him embodying his own persona most of all. My favorite scenes with him are those when he is the unrepentant playboy, climbing out of windows and making nurses laugh.

Irene Dunne is terrific of course. She always is. I could watch her read the phone book and in Magnificent Obsession she practically does. Well, she reads books in braille which is almost as exciting.

Magnicent Harvest, I mean Random Obsession, no.... Magnificent Obsession was remade in the 1950s with Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman. It was the go-to script for proving that pretty boy actors had "unsuspected depth," I guess. But I'm left wondering what's wrong with Robert Taylor being really good at being Robert Taylor? It's a gift from God to be so beautiful and charming that people fall in love with you in two seconds. I'd say it's more important than being a Nobel Prize winning surgeon. Brother, those are a dime a dozen, but the Robert Taylors only come along every fifty years or so.


SteveQ said...

Actually, I can't name a single Nobel prize-winning surgeon. Did Christian Bernard get one?

Jennythenipper said...

I guess I thought there was a category for it and they had one every year. You're right though Steve, there hasn't been one in a long time, not since 1990. Still more frequently than Robert Taylors. I don't think Christian Bernard has got one.

rudyfan1926 said...

Oh Man! I so wanted to see this when TCM ran it recently. I ended up working late and missed the whole damn film. :-( I'm hoping they re-run it soon. This has been on my must see wish list for eons.

Thanks for the excellent reportage!

Jennythenipper said...

Bummer, Rudyfan. I wish I were savvy enough to figure out how to burn you a copy. I just need to sit down and learn it! Still, someone out there must have a copy.

BTW, I still haven't gotten t-shirt info from you. I can't believe you aren't all over this major award!

rudyfan1926 said...

Ooh! T-Shirt! A classic Cinema OCD if you please! L

Nancy "Beaky" Bruce said...

Nipper -

I was really worried when you compared Random Harvest to Magnificent Obsession -- but you were right.

I know you're right about Robert Taylor. It's amazing how I can watch horribly bad films with him in them. He's just absolutely above them... so far, in my viewing experience.

I'm a bit worried about Conspirator... we'll see....

I hate that I think the remake of MO with Hudson and Wyman was a better made movie, but I'd still rather watch Taylor and Dunne any day.

Wondering about your favorite Robert Taylor movies -- and if you've seen Remember? (now THAT's Magnificent Harvest)

BTW, I'll report in PDQ if I learn how to burn a DVD from my DVR. sorry... couldn't resist.

Java Bean Rush said...

Saw the 1950s soap opera-ish one. Didn't know it was a remake. Must find.

By the way, to answer your tumblr question from 2 days ago, Remington Steele is one of the best TV shows ever.

I won't say it's the best b/c I haven't seen them all yet, but its scripts are above average for TV.

And Remmy beats that other Thin Man inspired show with the charming Robert Wagner and lovely Stephanie Powers, because of those inventive, well-played scripts.

Jennythenipper said...

I haven't seen Remember, Beaky. I'm sure I'll get around to it. There is so much Taylor in my Tivo it's a gonna esplode.

JavaBean: Well I've seen all the Remington Steeles and it was the greatest in my opinion. I was a big fan of Hart to Hart and it was actually due to that show that I began watching Remington. When Hart to Hart got canceled I didn't want to give up my once a week free pass to watch TV past 9:00 p.m. on a school night. So I switched over to Remington Steele and realized it was an even better show and no one was the wiser. I liked Moonlighting well enough when it was on (another classic film inspired show, also created by Michael Gleason), but find it just hasn't aged as well as Remington.

AbbyNormal said...

Ohhh "unsuspected depth". I love that you tossed that in. I use that often. Have this DVRed, but haven't watched it yet. Will soon.

Jennythenipper said...

April, I'm glad someone caught that. Hooray.