Both melodramas were directed by Douglas Sirk and feature Jane Wyman as Hudson’s star-crossed lover, so it’s easy to confuse the two films. Hudson’s professions in the movies also add to the confusion – in Magnificent Obsession he plays a surgeon while in All That Heaven Allows he plays a tree surgeon.
Oh, and Agnes Moorehead, known to TV fans as Bewtiched’s Endora, also co-stars as Wyman’s sidekick in each movie.
Although I can appreciate all the soapy goodness inherent in an engaging melodrama as well as Sirk’s stylized genius, Magnificent Obsession goes a little too far over the top for me. When Hudson’s playboy character wrecks his speedboat, first responders send for the only available resuscitator, which happens to belong to Wyman’s doctor husband who happens to have a fatal heart attack while his resuscitator is saving Hudson.
Following her husband’s death, Wyman encounters grateful people who offer to pay back loans he gave them. Many say they offered to repay the doctor during his lifetime, but he refused, noting they were “already used up.” In today’s terminology, this means the doctor asked the people he helped to “pay it forward.”
After Hudson crashes his car (I told you he was reckless), he meets an artist who received a loan from Wyman’s husband. While explaining the doctor’s “powerful” philosophy to Hudson, the artist alludes to electricity and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Hudson, who’s obsessed (hence the title) with making things right with Wyman, decides to spread some of his wealth around in the hopes he’ll receive the benefits of this “power.” But he makes the mistake of owning up to his philanthropy, which leads to Wyman becoming blind.
I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t seen the movie, but Hudson does become a surgeon, so I think you can predict the next plot twist. And, despite my reservations, the film is worth watching. Sirk needed to turn down the distracting soundtrack, which reaches a crescendo during discussions of the “power,” but the movie has several wonderful moments. My favorite occurs when blinded Wyman makes her way to the beach on her own and enjoys the company of a young tomboy who reads to her. The camera follows the little girl as she walks across the beach to show Hudson lounging and smoking. It’s clichéd and predictable, but also beautiful and memorable. It’s the type of scene that reminds me why I love movies.
All That Heaven Allows features a much more believable soapy plot in which a well-to-do widow falls for her hunky gardener. Unfortunately for Wyman’s character, her society friends and her spoiled children pitch fits of hissy when she decides to marry Hudson. Wyman bends to their will and they reward her with a TV.
I won’t reveal the ending except to say it involves a peeping-tom deer.
In All That Heaven Allows, Wyman, whom I have loved since she played scheming Angela Channing on Falcon Crest, equals her performances in The Yearling and Johnny Belinda.And that woman could rock a head scarf like no one this side of Valerie Harper.
As for Hudson, well, he is the star of the month.