Stanwyck Considers Going Dutch
The name Douglas Sirk is synonymous with melodramas and he's made some of the best known such as "Magnificent Obsession" and "All That Heaven Allows" with both exploring social issues. But even his smaller movies, his dramas are just as good and for me "All I desire" is just as fascinating as his big melodramas. Just like his bigger, more popular movies there is still a social aspect to "All I Desire" with a story with elements of scandal and social respectability but it feels far more intimate and less romanticized than say "All That Heaven Allows". And whilst a black and white movie it is still full of Sirk's wonderful eye for a shot whilst Barbara Stanwyck delivers another storming performance. To put it simply "All I Desire" is a very good drama and a must watch for those who enjoy Sirk's later melodramas.
10 years after having abandoned he family Naomi Murdoch (Barbara Stanwyck - Roustabout) returns to the town of Riverdale to see her daughter Lily (Lori Nelson - Bend of the River) appear in her High School play. But her reappearance gets people gossiping and strong emotions once buried return as the past is dug up and she begins to wonder whether her return was the right thing to do for her family when she abandoned them to protect them in the first place.
To be honest "All I Desire" is a very straight forwards movie, it plays out in quite obvious steps and you know that with Naomi returning home to her family 10 years after abandoning them you can guess that by the end she will be facing a decision. But it is how it plays out which is most interesting because we learn a little bit more as the story progresses. We discover that Naomi abandoned her family because she was having an affair and rather than let the scandal destroy them she left them and her lover. We also learn that her family think she is some big star when in fact she is a struggling Vaudeville performer and that having returned her former lover is still interested in her. And so it goes on as the situation for Naomi becomes more and more complex as her husband Henry still loves her whilst her lover Dutch does also plus her daughter Lilly an aspiring actress wants to return to the city with her.
But whilst Naomi's situation becomes more and more complex it's never hard to follow whilst still being fascinating. It's fascinating because of how people react to her, her eldest daughter Joyce resents her whilst Lily idolizes and her young son doesn't even remember her. Plus despite being hurt 10 years earlier Henry still loves her even though he is now friendly with another woman. We watch as over the course of "All I Desire" the issues with what Naomi did are forgiven by those closest to her but she seems to attract scandal.
And so whilst "All I Desire" is not one of Sirk's most revealing social dramas it still has the element of social examination as the local's gossip about her return whilst Henry has to make a decision between love and respectability. As I said this isn't one of Sirk's in-depth looks at social expectations but it is always present and at the same time this isn't one of Sirk's beautiful colourful tapestries yet his eye for a shot still stands out in the harshness of the Black & White film. Sirk really did know how to frame a shot and the scene where Naomi is watching her family around the dinner table, peering in from outside is brilliant as are the scenes looking up the staircase. In many ways "All I Desire" is a movie for film students because of the way it's constructed from the way Sirk frames shots to scenes where Naomi dances with Joyce's boyfriend in order to see if Henry would still be jealous.
Now there are a lot of good performances in "All I Desire" be it the resentment which Marcia Henderson delivers as Joyce or the idolisation that Lori Nelson serves up as Lily. But there is only one star and that is Barbara Stanwyck who is not only beautiful but complex as Naomi. The way Stanwyck delivers a look says so much more than words and so you can sense that Naomi fears returning to face the music, that she still loves Henry, that she regrets her mistakes including leaving and would do it again for the sake of Henry and their children and it is all through the way Stanwyck presents herself. That isn't to say the writing isn't sharp as "All I Desire" is full of great, real dialogue but it is more to do with Stanwyck's delivery and reactions which makes it a movie that commands your attention.
What this all boils down to is that "All I Desire" is another very good movie from Douglas Sirk which feels more intimate than his better known melodramas. It has all of his touches and another great performance from Barbara Stanwyck which helps elevate this to being a must watch movie.