Absorbing period melodrama 3.5 Stars

Douglas Sirk’s All I Desire is an entertaining and absorbing melodrama featuring a stirring leading performance by Barbara Stanwyck and an excellent period production with some top notch supporting players.

All I Desire (1953)
Released: 18 Aug 1953
Rated: Approved
Runtime: 80 min
Director: Douglas Sirk
Genre: Drama, Romance
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Richard Carlson, Lyle Bettger, Marcia Henderson
Writer(s): James Gunn (screenplay), Robert Blees (screenplay), Gina Kaus (adaptation), Carol Ryrie Brink (novel)
Plot: In 1910, a wayward mother re-visits the family she deserted.
IMDB rating: 7.1
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Universal
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 20 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 08/25/2020
MSRP: $24.99

The Production: 3.5/5

Douglas Sirk’s All I Desire, one of his early collaborations with producer Ross Hunter, may not have the glitz and glamour of some of their later melodramas made together like Imitation of Life and All That Heaven Allows, but it’s nevertheless a compelling examination of a woman’s reassessment of her life and the search for things in it that matter. Featuring a grand star performance and a clutch of fine portrayals from of host of familiar faces from film and television of the era, All I Desire is a film that’s more than due for a deserved reassessment of its own.

Second tier vaudeville star Naomi Murdoch (Barbara Stanwyck) returns to her hometown Riverdale, Wisconsin, after having deserted her husband (Richard Carlson) and three children (Marcia Henderson, Lori Nelson, Billy Gray) for a ten-year attempt to make it in show business. Her younger daughter is appearing as the lead in the high school play prior to her graduation, and Naomi’s disappointment with the way her life has turned out makes her hope that perhaps what she left behind might now be what she needs to find fulfillment in her life. But small town busybodies and an embittered former lover (Lyle Bettger) threaten to stymie her efforts to reestablish herself with her children and her estranged husband who, despite local drama teacher Sara Harper’s (Maureen O’Sullivan) noblest efforts, hasn’t remarried since her desertion.

Yes, the melodramatic script by James Gunn and Robert Blees adapted from the novel Stopover by Carol Brink is awash with a nasty villain and town gossips eager to pass judgment on someone they deem unworthy of their presence, but much of the film rings blissfully true as we identify with a woman who made an impulsive mistake in her youth and who returns to repair the damage and find something legitimate for her now that she’s tasted the outside world and learned that what she had wasn’t nearly so stifling and unappealing as she had once thought. Director Douglas Sirk doesn’t neglect his examination of the small town’s sometime pettiness and unearned righteous indignation, but he also allows facets of the town to show a bigger, more understanding heart. And he manages to capture the unglamorous backstage life just as well as he does the homey good times of a celebratory party (where he allows his leading lady to participate in an elaborate bunny hug dance sequence), a woodsy jaunt on horseback, or a hearty breakfast with a (momentarily) happy family. The scenes with Naomi and her former aggressive lover haven’t been well scripted and could probably have been jettisoned since there are enough conflicts already for Naomi to traverse: the elder daughter who’s assumed her mother’s role as the home’s caretaker and resents her return, the younger daughter who’s determined to follow her mother’s lead and plunge into a life on the stage (she, of course, expecting her mother who has masqueraded as a successful grand actress on her return to town to open doors for her in New York), and her husband who carries the sting of her desertion with him twenty-four hours a day. The movie works things out more happily than the book does (it’s a Ross Hunter picture, after all) though some may find the ending a bit abrupt and unrealistic given the temperament of the town, but perhaps we aren’t expected to think about what happens after “The End” appears on the screen.

Barbara Stanwyck etches another of her unforgettable screen performances playing either hard or soft when the situation calls for it, calling forth heart-melting tears on cue to show us the depths of Naomi’s regret over her poor decisions, and dancing, horse-riding, and charming everyone at a moment’s notice. Richard Carlson is stalwart with a less than three-dimensional role to play, but all three children: curt, prim Marcia Henderson as Joyce; effervescent, enthusiastic Lori Nelson as Lily; and plucky Billy Gray as Ted are all just fine. Lyle Bettger as the swaggering ex-lover Dutch Heinemann falls victim to the role’s one dimensionality, and Maureen O’Sullivan can do only slightly better with the clichéd role of lovelorn Sara Harper. Lotte Stein as the faithful housekeeper Lena Swenson is a delight, and Richard Long as Joyce’s fiancé does yeoman work. Look fast and you’ll see the young Stuart Whitman and Guy Williams as other high school students attending the play’s after party.

Video: 4/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s 1.37:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is outstanding throughout (except for Miss Stanwyck’s glamour close-ups), and the grayscale is startlingly beautiful with deep black levels, crisp whites (a gown Stanwyck wears to her daughter’s play is a knockout), and fine shadow detail. There’s a nice film-like appearance to the movie with its subtle grain reproduction. Unfortunately, the image has occasional dirt specks and some scratches which turn up and are just lengthy enough to be noticeable. The movie has been divided into 8 chapters.

Audio: 5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack offers a solid, appealing listening experience. The track has been cleaned up and features no distracting instances of hiss, crackle, pops, or flutter. The dialogue is always clear and has been mixed with the Joseph Gershenson-supervised background music and the appropriate sound effects with surety.

Special Features: 2/5

Audio Commentary: film historian Imogen Sara Smith offers another of her excellently researched and interestingly presented aural essays on the film, its major participants, and its place in the careers of its director, producer, and star. For fans of the movie, it’s a must listen.

Theatrical Trailer (1:05, SD)

Kino Trailers: The Great Man’s Lady, The Bride Wore Boots, Witness to Murder, There’s Always Tomorrow, The Tarnished Angels, The Magnetic Monster.

Overall: 3.5/5

Douglas Sirk’s All I Desire is an entertaining and absorbing melodrama featuring a stirring leading performance by Barbara Stanwyck and an excellent period production with some top notch supporting players.

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Matt Hough

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Robert Crawford

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I watched this Blu-ray a couple of times this weekend. I always thought the movie was pretty good, but I have a new appreciation for it because I concur with Imogen Sara Smith, this is one of Barbara's better performances. Sure, she's good in every movie, but, something about how her character interacts with the other characters in this movie makes me appreciate her performance even more so. Like Eddie Muller and Imogen Sara Smith, I think Barbara Stanwyck was the finest actress ever produced during the Golden Age of Hollywood. She's better than Davis and Hepburn because she can perform well in any movie genre whether it's melodrama, comedy, film noir, western or straight drama. She can do them all well except musicals which those other two actresses couldn't do either.
 

bujaki

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I watched this Blu-ray a couple of times this weekend. I always thought the movie was pretty good, but I have a new appreciation for it because I concur with Imogen Sara Smith, this is one of Barbara's better performances. Sure, she's good in every movie, but, something about how her character interacts with the other characters in this movie makes me appreciate her performance even more so. Like Eddie Muller and Imogen Sara Smith, I think Barbara Stanwyck was the finest actress ever produced during the Golden Age of Hollywood. She's better than Davis and Hepburn because she can perform well in any movie genre whether it's melodrama, comedy, film noir, western or straight drama. She can do them all well except musicals which those other two actresses couldn't do either.
So you don't count Kate's or Bette's B'way appearances in musicals in which they "sang"? Live? BTW, Ruby Stevens performed in a musical revue called Keep Kool in 1924, so she could also do musicals...
But yes, Ruby was the best.
 

Matt Hough

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Barbara sings pretty well in Lady of Burlesque. But, you're right, she never did a full-fledged musical even though her two contemporaries Bette and Katharine did do them on stage.
 

Robert Crawford

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So you don't count Kate's or Bette's B'way appearances in musicals in which they "sang"? Live? BTW, Ruby Stevens performed in a musical revue called Keep Kool in 1924, so she could also do musicals...
But yes, Ruby was the best.
I'm talking about movies which is why I clearly stated the Golden Age of Hollywood.