Sunday, January 03, 2021

Tonight's Movie: All I Desire (1953) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

ALL I DESIRE (1953) is one of a pair of Barbara Stanwyck marital melodramas now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

The other film, THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW (1956), was reviewed here in September.  Both movies were directed by Douglas Sirk.  

I hadn't seen ALL I DESIRE since 2010 and enjoyed giving it a fresh look after so many years.  It features a top cast in a thought-provoking story.

The screenplay by James Gunn and Robert Blees, adapted by Gina Kaus from the Carol Ryrie Brink novel STOPOVER, tells the tale of Naomi Murdoch (Stanwyck), who abandoned her husband Henry (Richard Carlson) and three children in small-town Wisconsin in order to pursue her dream of life on the stage.

Naomi has been gone a decade when she receives a letter from her daughter Lily (Lori Nelson, who passed away last summer) asking her to come home for Lily's senior class play.

Naomi's career has never amounted to much and she's struggling financially, but she impulsively decides to spend her savings on upgrading her wardrobe and returns home, giving the impression she's a successful theatrical star.

Lily is thrilled to see her long-lost mother, while Henry and oldest daughter Joyce (Marcia Henderson) are stunned.  Joyce harbors bitterness over her mother's abandonment, which pushed family responsibilities on Joyce at a young age, while the surprised Henry gradually warms up to the idea that Naomi is back in their lives.

Youngest son Ted (Billy Gray) is ambivalent, but rises to his mother's defense when she's attacked by her one-time flame Dutch (Lyle Bettger), with whom she was having an extramarital romance before leaving town years before.
It's a rather somber yet engrossing story of a deeply flawed woman, who -- perhaps initially pushed by financial necessity -- struggles to rebuild relationships.  She ultimately seems to be genuinely recommitted to her family, but there were definitely questions left in my mind about whether she could ever be truly happy with any choice she made; that said, the financially stark, lonely future awaiting her living on her own was doubtless a powerful motivator toward reconciliation.

The scripting and depictions of the daughters struck me as particularly realistic. Joyce is resentful and wary of being wounded; she's so tightly wound that at times she inadvertently takes her tension out on her charming fiance, Russ (Richard Long).  She gradually unbends toward him, if not her mother, but one wonders if a thaw might be coming there as well.

The younger Lily, on the other hand, has concocted a dream image of her mother, excusing her behavior and even wanting to emulate her.  She imagines her mother giving her a start in a theatrical career, not realizing that rather than being a great lady of the dramatic stage, her mother is playing the lower half of vaudeville bills, if she's lucky enough to be employed.

Carlson is quite good as a man still quietly carrying a torch for his wife despite having had to weather the scandal of Naomi's abandonment and raise his children alone.  I think I appreciated his performance more on this viewing.  One hopes that Naomi will prove worthy of his trust.

Maureen O'Sullivan is fine in a small role as a teacher who loves but cannot have Henry, a fact she's smart enough to recognize.  Her attempt to smooth the way for Naomi and Henry to resume their marriage, because she wants Henry to be happy, is touching.
The film was beautifully shot in black and white by Carl Guthrie, with many of Sirk's trademark views looking at characters through doors and windows.

As I noted in 2010, the film somewhat foreshadows Sirk's great ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (1956), examining the impact of both children and society on their mother's love life.  It's an engrossing and worthwhile 80 minutes.

Back in 2005 I linked to a Jeanine Basinger essay on ALL I DESIRE and THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW, and it seems appropriate to share it again, given that both titles were jointly released on Blu-ray.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray features a commentary by the always-interesting Imogen Sara Smith and the trailer.  A trailer gallery for half a dozen additional films available from Kino Lorber is also included.

For those who enjoy the work of Douglas Sirk, another of his films, TAZA, SON OF COCHISE (1954), was released by Kino Lorber earlier in 2020 and reviewed here last summer.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger barrylane said...

This is the first review I have read relative to All I Desire and it is a good one; wish the film warranted it, and Jeanine Basinger's commentary is so good one can understand how history is manipulated in classrooms around the world. I have now run the Richard Carlson picture in hopes he will rise to the occasion and turf Stanwyck, but it has yet to happen. I suppose he had a fairly good thing going in the fifties at Univeral, so he hung in and accepted his bad haircut with grace. On the other hand, I will not be recycling, All I Desire on blu ray is a souvenir. On a personal note, reading your review was a lot of fun.

8:52 PM  
Blogger Hamlette (Rachel) said...

Well, you had me at Richard Long, so I will add this to the long list of Stanwyck films I still need to see.

5:33 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

I Desire is a bridge in Sirk's filmography between his Americana pictures for Universal and his acclaimed Technicolor melodramas.

Strolling down this old review of mine, I compared the scenes with the family doctor in All I Desire with the similar one in All That Heaven Allows.

TCN should listen to us and plan a double bill of the movies some evening.

6:20 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

I didn't think much of the film in treatment or scenario so I did a bit of research. It is based on a novel called Stopover, and deals with Stanwyck's character resisting the family she abandoned, but the tone and similarity end there. She comes home to Minnesota (ergo Carlson's involvement, as that was his home base) to determine whether or not she still has feelings for Dutch, Lyle Bettger's unrewarding part. I do not yet know the developments, but there is a shooting, Richard Long's character, and ultimately, after proving in a manner of speaking that she is a fit mother, she abandons all again, saving Carlson's Henry from a situation too tough for him to deal with. What a good film that would 'probably' make. I guess the folks at Univeral were scaredy cats. Too bad.

3:00 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

...not resisting, but revisiting.

3:56 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Barrylane, what interesting literary background. I know Brink well from her classic children's books, the most famous of which is CADDIE WOODLAWN, but known nothing of her adult work in general or STOPOVER in specific. Intrigued that the book ends more like it feels perhaps the movie should have - her character is unsettling, and though her alternative future is stark, she still doesn't feel like a "fit" for her family home.

Rachel, Richard Long is quite charming in his role as the fiance. I'd love to know if you see it.

Caftan Woman, thank you for sharing your review! I enjoyed reading it very much. I really like your thought regarding this film bridging from Sirk's Americana to his romantic melodramas. The comparison of the "doctor" conversations was so interesting!

Best wishes,

7:15 PM  
Blogger dfordoom said...

I have a soft spot for Douglas Sirk melodramas so I may have to get his one.


5:07 AM  
Blogger dfordoom said...

The comparison to the book raises an interesting question - is it a good idea or a bad idea to read a book before watching its movie adaptation? I used to think it was a good idea but now I'm starting to think it's better to watch the movie first.

5:09 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I've done both, dfordoom, as far as book or movie first...I find pros and cons in either direction. Hope you enjoy this film if you check it out.

Best wishes,

11:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the instance of All I Desire and its source, Stopover, there is no internal logic, just contrivance to the film's conclusion. The woman is awful, irresponsible, and worn out. Who would want her? Big studios were trying to please their audience, but, did they? Not with the competition from television, which took low-class contrivance to new depths. Brink was generous in making her heroine sympathetic but sent her on her way just the same.

7:34 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

It may not be a perfect film, but I love that it's sparked such conversation and analysis from its viewers!

Best wishes,

11:07 AM  

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