The Stahl film’s reshaping of the material has resulted in the telling of a very different kind of story from the one told in the novel. The results are sometimes to the film’s detriment... But the general rearrangement of Douglas’s plot, the distinctively different viewpoint the film brings to its characters and their motives, and the marked shift in tone make it clear that what is implicit in Stahl and his collaborators’ work is as much a debate with its source as it is a story in its own right.
In Stahl’s “Magnificent Obsession,” starring an affecting Dunne, the preposterous plot—a love story between a woman and the man who is responsible for her husband’s death and for her blindness, with a strange supernatural twist—takes on an uncanny quality, presented as it is without distracting surface detail but an element of screwball comedy.
Besides treating the ridiculous story with the utmost dramatic precision and visual coherence, the director lends it surprising thematic depth. Every step depends on stifled emotions and closely guarded secrets, resulting in a buildup of operatic passion that endows everyday gestures and inflections with grandeur and nobility.