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Magnificent Obsession

(1935 b 102')

En: 6 Ed: 7

Based on the novel Lloyd C. Douglas, a rich young man learns about helping others secretly and becomes a physician so that he can help the woman he loves.

         An ocean-liner arrives, and Helen Hudson (Irene Dunne) meets Joyce Hudson (Betty Furness) who is followed off the ship by Tommy Masterson (Charles Butterworth). Joyce and Helen embrace exuberantly. Helen married Joyce’s father and in the cab tells how she always adored him. Joyce notes the difference in their ages. Helen hopes to mean something in his great life.

         Joyce and Helen arrive at Brightwood Hospital and learn that Joyce’s father (Helen’s husband) just died. Dr. Ramsey (Gilbert Emery) explains to another doctor that Dr. Hudson had a heart attack; but the only lung pump was being used by the drunk Robert Merrick who was in a speed-boat accident. Nurse Nancy Ashford (Sara Haden) hears that Merrick will pull through, and she expresses her anger that a great man died while someone no good was saved.

         In a meeting with Dr. Ramsey they learn that Dr. Hudson spent all his money. An old woman tells Helen and Joyce how Dr. Hudson helped her family with money. She wants to give money to them. She explains that Dr. Hudson would not take it back because “he had already used it up.” He suggested she give it to any poor person. Helen asks what he meant, and the old woman tells them of another man with a similar experience.

         Tommy comes to the Hudson residence and waits to see them. Nancy takes a call while Helen reads a note from a friend of her husband named Randolph. Nancy says Bobby Merrick is having another tantrum. Helen says she will always loathe Merrick.

         Robert Merrick (Robert Taylor) is laying in a hospital bed and refuses to eat the breakfast a nurse brings him. He threatens to buy the hospital and fire them. She goes out, and he finds the closet is empty. He wraps a sheet around his hospital gown and walks out, bumping into Tommy who drops a box of candy. They both apologize, and Merrick starts eating the candy. Nancy sees them and tells Merrick to get back in his bed. He tells her he wants to be discharged, but she says he has a temperature of 101 and is still weak. He asks her if it is his fault that his life was saved and that Dr. Hudson died. He says it was not his choice. She says they all honored Dr. Hudson. He asks if anyone has the right to pass judgment on who has the right to live. Yet he feels the same way. He asks her to have breakfast with him. She asks him to forgive her, and they shake hands.

         At dawn Merrick is dressed and climbs out his window and down the lattice to his butler Horace (Arthur Treacher) who has brought his car. They get in, and Merrick drives off. They see Helen by her stopped car, and Merrick stops to help her. He tries to find out what is wrong. He takes out a spark plug and shows it to Horace. Merrick sends Horace in the car to get help. He tries to charm her. A young man in a jalopy stops and gives Helen a ride. There is no room for Merrick, and they leave. Merrick asks her name and hears they are going to the hospital.

         At the hospital Nancy tells Helen not to worry. A nurse says that Merrick is gone. They go to his room, and Merrick climbs in the window. He is glad to see Helen, and Nancy tells him she is Mrs. Hudson.

         At home Helen and Joyce come down the stairs, and Helen tells the butler to tell Merrick they are not in. The butler answers the door and tells Merrick they are not in and not expected. He returns Merrick’s note. Tommy comes in with a present and says he is expected. The butler says no one is home. Merrick invites Tommy to dine with him.

         Tommy stops his car, and Merrick is very drunk. Merrick sees the cemetery and suggests that they go to sleep forever. Tommy gets out and falls into a deep ditch. Merrick says he will find a step ladder, and he leaves a bottle with Tommy. Merrick rings at the nearest house, and Randolph in a robe lets him in. Merrick likes his sculpture and says he wants to buy one. He asks for a ladder and another angel for his friend. Merrick sees a bust of Dr. Hudson, and they talk about him. Merrick says that he is haunting him through his hospital, his wife, and his bust. Randolph wants to talk to him but not now. Merrick lays down on a bench and says he was turned away from the door. Merrick says he will do the haunting.

         Tommy is still whistling and is rescued by a watchman with a lamp.

         In the morning Merrick wakes up with a blanket over him. He gets up, and Randolph comes into the room and introduces himself. Merrick is sober, and Randolph offers him coffee. Merrick asks how he got there. Randolph says he is glad to help a friend of Dr. Hudson. He tells how meeting Dr. Hudson changed his life. He says that Dr. Hudson taught him “how to make contact with a source of infinite power.” He uses an electric stove as an example of how power is transmitted. Randolph says humans have a different powerhouse, the power that keeps all life going. He says Merrick can fulfill his destiny. Randolph gets a Bible and says it is all on one page. Merrick says he is not interested in religion. Randolph is not either, but he learned of a man who still influences people. Merrick asks how to do it, and Randolph tells him to help people without telling anyone about it. This theory astonishes Merrick, and Randolph suggests he give the theory a trial. Merrick says he will and thanks him.

         Horace answers the phone and tells Merrick he will pick him up. Merrick is on a street, and a poor man asks him for a nickel for coffee. Merrick takes him aside and gives him paper money and makes him promise not to tell anyone about it. If he tells anyone, it will not do him any good. The man says he will not tell anyone. Merrick sees Helen and is happy that it works. He tells her that miracles do happen. He asks where she is going. She is going home. He offers her to take her home in his car which pulls up. He gets her to smile and is elated. He tells her he met a man who learned from her husband’s theory. He says the theory enables one to get what one wants out of life. She asks how it works. He says you help people and tell no one. They get in the car and leave Horace behind. The poor man asks Horace if Merrick is dippy.

         Merrick drives the car into the country, but Helen wants to go home. She suggests they turn back, but he says they are running out of gasoline. She disagrees and says she will get out and walk. He mocks her for acting indignant. She opens the car door, and a speeding car comes by and hits it, knocking her on the ground. Merrick picks her up and carries her to a passing car that stops. He asks them to take him to the hospital.

         At her home Merrick is waiting, and Nancy helps Joyce to sit down. Dr. Ramsay says she will live, but she will never see again. Joyce blames Merrick, and he leaves.

         Outside her home a maid helps blind Helen cross the street to a park. Helen takes a large book and sits on a bench next to a little girl who has a copy of Mother Goose. She reads while Helen follows it in her Braille book. They take turns reading. They have trouble with a word like goldfish, and the girl asks Merrick who says it is “goldfinch.” Helen asks to whom she was talking. The girls says he gave her money for the ice cream soda. The little girl leaves. Helen knocks over her umbrella, and Merrick helps her retrieve it. She thanks him, and he offers to coach her. He says he is interested in the Braille system. She asks if he is a doctor, and he says he is, though he has done little since college. He offers to bring her more books. He helps her find her way home and says he comes there every day. She says his voice is familiar and asks if he was ever connected to the Brightwood Hospital. She asks his name, and he says, “Robert.” She says goodbye and goes into her house. Inside Helen asks the maid to look at the man and describe him, but she does not see him.

         In his office Merrick asks Hastings about Paris and Helen’s stocks and bonds. Hastings says her stocks are worthless. Merrick tells him to replace hers with his good stocks and to tell no one.

         Helen is playing the piano. Merrick comes to the door, and Helen welcomes Dr. Robert. He says she did not come, and he wondered if she was ill. She says wonderful things have been happening. She says her father’s copper mine shares have suddenly become very valuable, and that gives her an income for the rest of her life. She also heard about a medical conference in Paris, and she has been invited to go there. Merrick mentions several doctors, and she asks how he knew they would be there. He says they are the most famous. The maid Elise brings a tray for tea. She answers the door, and Joyce comes in with Nancy. They learn that Dr. Robert is there. Helen introduces them, and they see Merrick. Helen asks what is wrong, but Joyce says everything is marvelous. Merrick says he has to go, and he wishes her well. Joyce goes out with Merrick and asks him what he is doing. She accuses him of a new form of conquest. She warns of what Helen will feel when she learns who he is. Joyce goes back and tells Helen that she and Tommy are getting married and are going to Paris for their honeymoon.

         At the conference several doctors discuss Helen’s case, and she listens. A doctor tells her that they can do nothing. The other doctor suggests she not give up. The doctor goes to Merrick and says no operation is possible.

         Joyce tells Nancy that Helen is asleep now. Nancy says she is depressed. Joyce asks Tommy to take Nancy out to eat. Helen comes out of her room and says she is not tired. She cries and says she is not herself. Joyce offers to get her some hot milk to make her sleep. Helen says it is lonely in the dark. Joyce goes to the kitchen. Helen alone walks to the window and opens the curtains and the window. She hears the door and says, “Come in.” Merrick enters and says it is Dr. Robert. She is glad he is there and asks what brought him to Paris. He says he had to see her. She was told there is no hope. He says she will see with his eyes. He wants to spend his life helping her see. She does not want to be a burden. He wants to do a good deed. He says they can start with Paris. He tells her to get dressed. Joyce comes in, and Helen asks her to help her dress. Helen goes to her room. Joyce asks Merrick to forgive her, and he asks her to forgive him.

         Merrick and Helen walk on a street, and he tells her what he sees. They walk up a hill and hear opera. He looks out over Paris, and she thanks him for showing her the city. He asks if there is anyone besides them. He asks if she could hate anyone on such a night. He asks if she could forgive Bobby Merrick. She says yes, Bobby Merrick. He realizes that she knows who he is. He says he loves her and asks her to marry him. She says no because she is blind. She does not want him to be pitied. He says if she loves him, that is all that matters. He says she is his and begs her to say yes. She asks if she can give her answer in the morning.

         Merrick takes her to her door and remembers when she took him to be a doctor. At that time he decided to be a doctor. He kisses her goodnight, and she says she will be all right. He sees Tommy putting his shoes out and gives him his top hat.

         In the morning Joyce calls for Helen, but she can’t find her. She finds a note, and Nancy comes in. Joyce says Helen is gone and shows her the note which says not to try to find her. She does not want to impose on them any longer. They find a letter for Bobby Merrick and realize she knows. Merrick comes in, and Joyce says that Helen is gone. She gives him the note for him, and he opens the envelope. Nancy made a call and says they cannot find out where she went. Merrick says he told her who he is and asked her to marry him.

         Six years later Merrick is returning to the United States. Joyce, Nancy, and Tommy are waiting to greet him. Tommy lifts up his son. The press questions Merrick about his specializing in brain work and his Nobel prize. Randolph calls to Dr. Merrick, but he goes to greet Joyce and Nancy. In the car they say how proud they are of him. He says it is not like old times until he learns where Helen is.

         The butler Simpson welcomes Merrick home. He finds Randolph waiting to talk with him. Merrick does not remember him. Randolph reminds him he gave him the philosophy he is living by, Dr. Hudson’s magnificent obsession. Randolph says he changed and became a great doctor. Merrick says he worked hard, and Randolph says he also has given. Merrick says he has founded clinics and donated, but it was all for one person he lost. He hoped she would be helped somehow. Randolph says he did it for humanity, but Merrick does it for one woman. Randolph tells how in Virginia he met a blind woman. He wants him to help her, Mrs. Hudson. He asks him to come with him to Virginia where she is critically ill. Merrill makes a call to Nancy and says they found Helen. He is going to her at once.

         A doctor shows Merrick, Nancy, Randolph, and Dr. Ramsey to the hospital bed of Helen. Merrick takes her pulse and looks in her eye.

         Merrick is in surgery, and Dr. Ramsey explains it was an automobile accident. Merrick says his hands are shaking, and he cannot operate. He asks Dr. Ramsey to do it while he stands by. Dr. Ramsey doubts he can do it. Merrick sees Randolph through a window and says he is all right now. He begins to operate.

         Merrick in a suit is waiting while Helen recovers in bed. He hears her crying for a nurse, and Merrick tells her to be still. She asks why she feels strange. He says she has been very ill. She learns it is Dr. Robert and asks why he is there. She asks for his hand and tells him he must not be afraid for her because she is happy now. He says she will be all right, and she must sleep. She says she can see light. She asks what it means. He says that as the days go by she will see more. He tells her not to get excited today. She asks if she can get excited tomorrow, and he says she can.

         This spiritual drama portrays the transformation of a spoiled young man who sees tragedy in the world but learns how to give without expecting recognition. Because of his spiritual transformation, others are able to forgive him too.

Copyright © 2010 by Sanderson Beck

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