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New DVDs: Magnificent Obsession(s)


From the Criterion Collection, a new two-disc sets allows for a side-by-side comparison of John M. Stahl’s classic melodrama of 1935, “Magnificent Obsession,” with Douglas Sirk’s Technicolor remake of 1954. My New York Times review is here, and for those who may be curious about the original 1929 novel by Lloyd C. Douglas, it can be found in its ungainly entirety here, at Project Gutenburg Australia.

112 comments to New DVDs: Magnificent Obsession(s)

  • Tom Brueggemann

    There is btw a totally unavailable previous version of The Thin Red Line directed in 1964 with Andrew Marton, independently produced and released by Allied Artists, starring Keir Dullea and Jack Warden. Anyone here ever see it?

  • Tony Williams

    Alex, your original reference referred to the “macho James Jones.” This was a term that needed qualification and you’ve attempted to clarify this in your follow up post.I really needed a more specific definition and you have now supplied this.

    Generally, “macho” is generally understood to be a thuggish male in the Bruce Willis/Sylvester Stallone RAMBO mode and my post was meant to clear up exactly what you were trying to say. The original comment was posted in a throwaway manner and needed clarification in terms of the variable nature of the term that you then went into detail over in your second posting.

    So this is far from “75% talking past each other or on opposite sides of semantic niceties” but a prompt more in terms of deeper clarification necessitating the broader type of definition that you finally supply.

    Jones did work on a first draft screenplay of FHTE but the final version was done by another writer. But, from the Jones archives, documentation does exist that he hated SCR except for Martin’s characterization.

    Also, Jones was interested in Indian philosophy and karma and confirmed this when interviewed by a young graduate student who later went on to publish a book on this subject via the University of Illinois Press. But whether this intention really complemented the material nature of the text is another matter.

    Also, I was in the James Jones Society also for some years and briefly on its Board of Directors. However, Jones never stabbed his wife like “sweetheart Mailer.”

    Finally, Tom, I think the 1964 THIN RED LINE version was re-released on DVD at the same time as Malick’s. From memory, it is a low-budget, truncated version of the novel but one which does reveal of the diffuse nature of gender construction that characterizes the original novel.

  • Alex Hicks

    To read from my “macho James Jones” to “macho” as “a thuggish male in the Bruce Willis/Sylvester Stallone RAMBO model seems odd to me. For one thing, If RAMBO is thuggish, I lack the knowledge to judge that Stallone is, and I lack the sensibility to see that Willis should be so regarded. Even though I once did, to my listeners chagrin that one could detect from his manner that he was Republican, I hold would be inclined reserve judgment Willis “thuggish.” For another thing, I do use macho much more loosely, in a manner that would encompass a pretty large proportion of U.S. males who hit twenty before, say, 1945 — Raoul Walsh, John Ford, John O’Hara, Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, JFK (a different usage). On Indian philosophy, well, you’re pretty vague: Mailer believed ion karma, indeed got many of his long standing notions of reincarnation via Jones. Maybe Buddhist would suit your intent; but the “thuggies,” who I believe infliuenced “thug” usage were Indian.

    On SCR, your sources may be better than mine and you may well be correct: certainly Dean Martin is the best thing (of many good things) in Minnelli’s SCR as roles and performances go.

    If you use of “macho” seems off the mark to me, your out-of-the-blue-reference to Mailer’s wife stabbing smacks to me of something like the sort of distinctly pejorative “thuggishness” you read into my entirely unmalicious “macho James Jones.” Jones.” The post-1983 Mailer of my acquaintance was a gentle, sensitive, courtly man, as I imagine Jones to have been in his maturity.

    The original meaning central to my post of 01.24.09 @ 5:37 pm had more to do with a little unpredictability in Minnelli’s excellence with the material of SCR and Humphry than with the essential James Jones, human being, who needed no defense.

  • Miguel Marías

    I saw Marton’s “The Thin Red Line” in 1964, and liked it a lot, I prefer it by a long way to Malick’s. To my knowledge, as usually happens when a remake cames out, it remained invisible for a long time. And the first DVD edition I’ve come across is the very recent (one month ago) Spanish one, unfortunately flat instead of Scope. Speaking of Pevney, I’d like to see again two very good Tony Curtis vehicles, “The Midnight Story” and “Six Bridges to Cross”, and “The Plunderers” was also good. Jerry Hopper was a rather vulgar director of the period, but compared to Michael Bay, Ron Howard and most other director nowadays of much more expensive movies, he was nearly a genius.
    Miguel Marías

  • Tony Williams

    Again, Alex, if you want to delve into the world of semantics, would not “masculinity”, “male discourse” or the concept of “maleness” be more appropriate to what you are trying to say than “macho” , a term usually more associated with “machismo” than the broader context you appear to be arguing for?

    I would also suggest you read Steven Carter’s book on Jones and karma before you make any charges of “pretty vague.” You will find plenty of material on this subject there and it is a work I hoped you would consult before you made any further remarks.

    It is also a very sweeping statement to bring in the “thug” cult with the type of Indian philosophy that influenced Jones (and presumably Mailer as you state).

    At the time, “macho” was associated with the type of behavior Mailer exhibited then. No matter how much he changed later, male violence, especially the type used against women, was regarded as “macho.” The idea of masculinity, male sensitivity, and vulnerability developed as discourse much later but Jones was one of the first writers of his generation to explore this theme in depth. For those who have not read FHTE, it is usually regarded as a “macho war novel”. However, I would suggest you explore the full version of SCR that Jones always urged anybody who wrote to him to do. You will find it more rewarding than the abbreviated version.

  • Tony, as a redoubtable Jones scholar, what do you think of Malick’s THIN RED LINE?

  • Alex Hicks

    Reference to the “thug” cult in satirical response to your broad use of “Indian philosophy,” when not even qualfied as “type of Indian philosophy.”

    The complete SCR is on my long novelS list right after THE MAKING OF AMERICANS, JR, and last two volums of the 90s complete MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES.

    In the memory of Robert E. Lee Prewitt, peace.

  • Tony Williams

    Again, Alex, I used a general term hoping that you would look at Steven Carter’s book which deals with this issue in some depth. Jones admired the original doctoral dissertation and tried to help Carter get it into print.

    Adrian, Since my Jones sabbatical project was aborted due to the threat of deportation facing me in early 2007 as a result of the new incarnation of MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (aka Nelson Mandela! Martin Luther King!) who used an Ethics Test unconstitutionally without “due process” (and threatened 2,600 employees who did the text “too quickly” with signing a document with no time-limit given on the original instructions stating they had broken the law or face dismissal), I had to turn my attention elsewhere. Maybe I might return to the project in years to come now they can’t deport me (“they” being university and Governor’s Office!). As you can tell, I’m still angry over this whole affair.

    I’ve not really thought about the Malick version (let alone Jones)since then so my thoughts are going to be somewhat vague. Basically, I believed it was a good adaptation developing the transcendental elements in several significant ways. But I have to return to the film, look at it again, as well as go over notes I took from a visit to the Jones archive in Austin years ago. However, I think Marton’s 1964 version has been overshadowed and does need some re-evaluation. Jones also worked uncredited earlier screenplay drafts.

    Finally, to let Prewitt rest in peace.

    “You say “macho”. I say, “masculinity”.
    “Macho” “Masculinity”
    Let’s call the whole thing off.”

    My unalliterative and unlyrical rendition of that old Potato.Poetatoe song of the 1940s!

    Sic gloria transit!

  • alex hicks

    Tony, Ever hear of any attempts to film “Whistle”? The prose is thin, but character and narrative are, as I recall, more or less up to the high standard of Jones’ WWII-related works. (I don’t recall the extent of narrative weakness due to incompletion.)

  • Tony Williams

    Alex, I think there was an attempt to film WHISTLE for television but it all fell through. Jones never lived to complete it but I think his friend Willy Morris did from Jones’s notes. The end is very reminiscent of Jack London’s MARTIN EDEN.

    The TV version of FHTE in the early 80s may have resulted in over-exposure until Malick’s THE THIN RED LINE which stimulated hopes for other films. At one point, Jones hoped his detective novel A TOUCH OF DANGER could be filmed with either Richard Widmark or Charles Bronson playing the leading role but it came to nothing as with THE MERRY MONTH OF MAY with Burt Lancaster playing the main character.

  • Alex Hicks

    Maybe a society with 20,000-to 30,000 recently disabled veterans would be receptive to a film of Jone’s returned-Vet WHISTLE, though I’ll admit that the reception of (the, for me, great) STOP-LOSE –and of most Iraq-related films– is would seem discouraging.

  • Jerry Fawcett

    I only wish that one day soon, either Universal or Criterion will issue all three versions of Back Street as another remarkable package. My personal preference is the 1941 version starring Margaret Sullavan and Charles Boyer, over the too lush Ross Hunter / Susan Hayward remake. Sadly the 1931 Irene Dunne / John Boles original never seems to find its way to public viewing. But to have all 3 in one package would be amazing!