Jane Wyman received her fourth and final Best Actress nomination for playing Helen Philips, a woman who becomes blind in Douglas Sirk's movie, Magnificent Obsession. I think Wyman did not have much chance to win the Oscar over Grace Kelly and Judy Garland as she was a previous Oscar winner. I believe firmly though, that she was the third with the votes since the movie was a success (and along came another Jane Wyman-Rock Hudson movie, hat has become a classic).
Magnificent Obsession is a very weird, but extremely entertaining soap opera. The story is so unlikely and illogical that you just cannot take it seriously and by this, you have great fun while watching it. It's not a classic, but a fair movie anyhow with great actors. I realized with this movie and Pillow Talk how talented Rock Hudson was actually. He had a very strong charisma and a great screen presence. Too bad that nowadays he's more remembered because of his private life than his performances. Agnes Moorehead is again very reliable and gives a fair supporting performance.
Jane Wyman is an extremely interesting actress. On the one hand, she's not as legendary as some of her peers and she's not often talked about. On the other hand, every time I watch her, I feel satisfied by her performances. (I must admit though that this every time means two movies). She totally relied on her emotions, but was able to deal with the technical part of her performances too.
She was great at playing disabled women dealing with their condition. In Johnny Belinda she was deaf, here she's blind. Although the characters cannot be more different, they share a common thing: strength, courage and intelligence. I think Wyman was the best one at this and there has never been a performance ever since who's able to get across the feelings of such a condition. That's one thing.
Magnificent Obsession's Helen goes through a lot of tough events in this movie. Right at the beginning of the film, she loses her beloved husband. This is probably the least effective part of her performance as these scenes mostly focus on Rock Hudson's character rather than hers. She's there, uses all the opportunities, but she's nothing very special. Yet.
Her performance becomes truly interesting when Helen loses her eyesight in a very tragic and extremely over-the-top accident. It's so interesting to follow her emotions: she doesn't blame everyone, she doesn't break down, but there's some silent pain right there and some hope for the unlikely recovery. She's truly magical here.
The scenes of finding true love are also excellently handled by Wyman. She never becomes over-the-top or unnecessarily sentimental, she brilliantly found the balance in these sequences. I was impressed by her very much, but I cannot overlook a problem: the emotions she shows are astonishingly shallow and pale. It is astonoshing since the heartbreaking depths were the best things about her performance in Johnny Belinda. She was too simple and there was nothing complex about her acting.
There's one scene though, which is simply unforgettable. After she realizes the very unpleasant reality in Switzerland she goes on a date with Rock Hudson: here I felt that all the necessary emotions were there and I was certainly extremely moved by her occasionally. When she says "I always closed my eyes when I was dancing" or something like that, her performance really reaches the top and has a great effect on the viewer.
After that she disappears for a while and she's there only in the end, but she's very-very good and effective there, too. I felt that the emotions again were very real, but also not very complex and a touch of honesty would not have harmed her acting. However, as I said, it's quite moving and entertaining.
To sum up, Jane Wyman gives a satisfying, emotional and very moving performance, which however lacks depth. It might be also due to the weak points of the screenplay, but she wasn't able to be towering and truly impressive. Although everything is where is should be, the achievement is a bit too thin. Very strong work, though.
So what do you think? Predictions, opinions? Who should be next Audrey or Dorothy? I'm planning to do Garland on Thursday. So whoever you chose, will be reviewed tomorrow and the other one on Friday or maybe Saturday, if I don't have time.