This is my first entry for the ‘Universal Pictures Blogathon’ hosted by Silver Scenes. Click here to read the other posts being exhibited during this event. Another Barbara Stanwyck film is following tomorrow.
Douglas Sirk, the German born director who was known for his imaginative style and for encapsulating human emotions pioneered his way through an array of spectacular soapy melodramas that dominated the late 1950’s.
These productions are best remembered for their exaggerated plot, lurid Technicolor and larger than life characters that are mentally unstable or inflicted with alcoholism problems.
During the timeline of Sirk’s early career he attained considerable results for vehicles that were made under the helm of Columbia Studios, but it wasn’t until he transitioned to Universal International Pictures in 1952 that he established his reputation as the virtuoso of unrealistic melodramas.
When he first arrived at Universal most of Sirk’s pictures were unrecognized. His major break came in 1954 when The Magnificent Obsession was released. Before then the films were either made on a lower budget or featured a small scale cast.
One of these productions is All I Desire, a 1953 melodrama featuring Barbara Stanwyck in the lead role. Although not in the same league as Sirk’s latter films, All I Desire is an underrated opus about family conflicts fuelled by breakups of excessive ambitions.
All I Desire marks the first collaboration with Douglas Sirk and producer Ross Hunter. During the spate of the next six years the two worked together in seven more productions. Like Douglas Sirk, Ross Hunter also excelled in the melodramatic tearjerker genre, but while Sirk mainly focused on stories with the same structure, Hunter worked in various genres and garnered success with light hearted comedies.
The film was based on the novel Stopover by Carol Ryrie Brink, the author who was prolific in publishing juvenile and adult books. In 1936, Brink received the Newbery Medal for her novel Caddie Woodlawn. This was followed by the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in which she obtained in 1958.
The plot is simple and loosely resembles an array of homecoming stories of the 1950’s, but unlike the other films of the same nature, All I Desire has something different to offer. Douglas Sirk was masterfully creative when it came to thinking up themes. He always added the sequence of events in his productions with each character facing disparate scenarios.
It’s 1900 in Wisconsin, and Naomi Murdoch ( Barbara Stanwyck ) has just abandoned her husband and three children to pursue a stage career in New York, or so her children think. Fast forward ten years when Naomi now an aging and unsuccessful star receives an invitation from her youngest daughter Lily to return to Riversdale to see her perform in the school play. With a decline in her status Naomi knows that there isn’t much keeping her where she is so she accepts the offer and unbeknownst to the rest of the family she peregrinates back to the town she abruptly eluded a decade ago.
Once back in Wisconsin, Naomi discovers that her homecoming is not what she expected. Apart from being unwelcomed by her older daughter Joyce, her husband, Henry ( Richard Carlson ) questions her return, and to add to the already complicated situation she finds herself in a dilemma with her old flame, Dutch Heineman. As time progresses, the troubles exacerbate, and now Naomi starts to realize that this whole vacation back home was a mistake.
All I Desire is not classified as a masterpiece, nor is it well known. Being released in the early days of Sirk’s career, the film is largely forgotten about today, which is a shame, as it attains all the elements of a Douglas Sirk classic creation.
While Douglas Sirk was renowned for his legendary glossy Technicolor productions, All I Desire is filmed in glorious, crisp black and white and features superb cinematography that is abounded by the harmonious set designs. To accompany the immaculate background is the congenial ambience with amiable people, but once Naomi arrives the atmosphere automatically changes to a rather tense situation.
The film is also unique for a Douglas Sirk vehicle, and doesn’t lack realism or spotlight characters that are over the top and plagued with mental illness or alcohol addiction problems. Instead All I Desire is a character study of a traditional American family in the early 1900’s. Rather than showcasing people that are physically or emotionally unstable, it demonstrates a myriad of expressions with each family member displaying different emotions to Naomi’s unexpected presence in their lives. Of course being Douglas Sirk each character has issues, but these aren’t despair related problems that are depicted in his latter films, the troubles here are real life complications that mainly stem from Naomi’s arrival.
The films major highlight is Barbara Stanwyck, who is in great form here as the floundering star. Stanwyck with her Scotch On The Rocks voice provides the commentary at the beginning of the film, but as the story unfolds her voice becomes more sorrowful and raspier, and these changes can only been executed perfectly by a seasoned actress like Barbara Stanwyck who headlined Hollywood with her versatility.
Douglas Sirk respected Barbara Stanwyck and because of her warm and affable nature he found her to be one of his most easiest colleagues to work for. Stanwyck and Sirk reunited again three years later in 1956 to make There’s Always Tomorrow.
All I Desire is not a cinematic masterpiece, but it’s an intriguing film that is perfect to watch on a rainy afternoon.
This marked the first time Barbara Stanwyk and Richard Long worked together. They became good friends more than a decade before playing mother and son in The Big Valley.
Naomi: “We’re a big disappointment to each other, aren’t we? You’ve got a mother with no principles; I’ve got a daughter with no guts.”
Naomi: “You don’t know how unimportant success is until you’ve had it.”
Barbara Stanwyck: Born Ruby Catherine Stevens on July 16th, 1907 in Brooklyn, New York. Died: January 20th, 1990 in Santa Monica, California. Aged 82. Cause of death: Congestive heart failure and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.