All I Desire (Directors Suite) (1953)
|Category||Drama||Audio Commentary-Full length by Senior Lecturer in Film, Monash University|
|Year Of Production||1953|
|Running Time||76:18 (Case: 79)|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (76:18)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Douglas Sirk|
Hans J. Salter
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||
English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.37:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
"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."
Madman are continuing with the release of selected Douglas Sirk films made at Universal during the 1950s. Here for review is All I Desire, made in 1953 starring a true Hollywood great, Barbara Stanwyck. Sirk's previous four films had included two nostalgic musicals, Has Anybody Seen My Gal? and Meet Me at the Fair, a newlyweds comedy, No Room for the Groom and Take Me to Town, a gentle piece of rural Americana that thematically foreshadows All I Desire. In that film Ann Sheridan had played a saloon singer who finds redemption and love with the family of widower backwoodsman Sterling Hayden, encountering local yokel opposition and exclusion in the process, quite akin to the tut-tutting disapproval of the good residents of Riverdale endured by Naomi Murdoch in All I Desire.
The film opens in 1910 with the exterior of the Bijou Theatre in an anonymous town, with a woman's voice providing a narration. The camera moves in to a close-up of the sandwich board advertising the current vaudeville program, playing for two weeks and closing May 16th.The narrator identifies her billing on the board, "Direct from Broadway" Naomi Murdoch (Barbara Stanwyck), "not quite at the bottom of the bill yet". We move into the tawdry, cramped backstage of the Bijou and see Naomi as she repairs herself between appearances. Her dressing room mate hands her some mail, amongst the letters an invitation from daughter Lily for Naomi to return to her old town of Riverdale, Wisconsin, to attend Lily's performance in the high school play, conveniently on May 20th. Naomi had never told her fellow performer about any "family", and explains that in 1900 she walked out on a husband and three children before a scandal involving another man could .... Naomi doesn't complete the thought. At first dismissive of the idea - "I'm supposed to be in Europe doing Shakespeare" - Naomi decides to spend her savings put aside for the summer break "to get a wardrobe and go back". This is going to be a special command performance by Naomi, commanded by the daughter who signs herself, "Your adoring Lily".
Naomi's arrival at the Riverdale train station is instantly telegraphed through the town. Reactions at the Murdoch household run the gamut from the bitter disapproval of the elder daughter, Joyce (Marcia Henderson) to the gushing adoration of the younger Lily (Lori Nelson), who has aspirations to become a "star" like her mother. The youngest child ,Ted (Billy Gray) is rather passive about this unexpected return, having never known his mother. The boy works after school in the store of Dutch Heinemann (Lyle Bettger), whom we learn was the object of the desire that led to Naomi's desertion of her family. Wronged husband, school principal Henry (Richard Carlson), is confused and initially reluctant to welcome the return of his unfaithful wife. The Murdoch household help, Lena (Lotte Stein) and Peterson (Fred Nurney) are perhaps the most welcoming of the good folk of Riverdale.
That evening there are two performances in the school hall - the one on stage starring Lily and the one in the audience, starring a glitteringly overdressed Naomi. (Watch out for a young Guy Williams on the door of the school hall and Stuart Whitman and Brett Halsey as Lily's student co-stars - also attending the later celebrations at the Murdoch home.) Naomi also meets Henry's lady friend, Sarah Harper (Maureen O'Sullivan), the teacher responsible for the student production. All are in attendance at the after show party, with Naomi wowing the younger set with her energetic bunny-hug. Lily sets the clock back and as a result Naomi misses her train and has to stay overnight - the "stopover" of the novel's title. What follows is dramatic turmoil as Naomi attempts to bridge the gulf she created between herself and her family. Will she be taken back into the fold? Will she once again answer the three gunshot call to arms of Dutch? What desire will Naomi seek to satisfy?
These questions are certainly the stuff of melodrama, but Sirk reigns in the emotions, rarely allowing excess to overwhelm the drama of the action. Perhaps the most indulgent moments come with the appearances of Dutch (Lyle Bettger, fresh from The Greatest Show on Earth), accompanied by extremely fruity music cues. These lapses aside, there are many moments when we expect to be appealed to emotionally by the situation of the estranged mother, but in the middle of that moment there will be a violent interruption to the mood. This interruption frequently comes from Naomi herself, with Barbara Stanwyck thrillingly switching from appealing warmth to hard as nails mid sentence. This is a beautifully judged performance by this great star, looking magnificent - and making five films in 1953, two of the others being Fox's Titanic and MGM's gripping thriller, Jeopardy.
Undoubtedly constrained within the strict confines of a Universal budget, Sirk brings in the film at under eighty minutes, and utilises mainly contract players at that time on the Universal payroll. Richard Carlson made this film sandwiched between Universal's big 3D hits, It Came from Outer Space (1953) and The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). A reliable but colourless actor, he is well cast as the rather dreary small town principal. Richard Long had played the son of just about everyone at Universal, from Claudette Colbert (Tomorrow is Forever) to Ma and Pa Kettle's eldest, before moving into directing. All I Desire gives Long one of his better roles as Marcia Henderson's beau, with some very nice simpatico moments on screen with Stanwyck. Miss Henderson was a rather bland actress, her apparent inability to change from one expression to another cloaked by some adroit editing, although facial continuity suffers at times. The extremely lovely Lori Nelson was the first to play Long's wife in the Kettle series, and was teamed at one time or another with most of the Universal beefcake brigade. Not from the Universal stable is young Billy Gray, who worked all over Hollywood, memorably at Warners as Doris Day's young brother in On Moonlight Bay and By the Light of the Silvery Moon, as well as in Fox's excellent The Girl Next Door with Dan Dailey and June Haver. Also working at Universal mid-career was Maureen O'Sullivan, here fine and sympathetic, but unforgettable as Tarzan's Jane in Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) and fifty-four year later singing Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered in Woody Allen's Hannah and her Sisters (1986).
Visually the film is outstanding. Sirk was undoubtedly a great film artist, with his artistic choices always in evidence. Where to place the camera, what should be the camera angle, the composition of the image, what lighting to use, the movement of the actors within the frame - all are choices made by Sirk and to analyse the results of these choices is an eduation in film making. Credit must also go to the director of photography Carl Guthrie, behind the camera for many of Universal-s series films, includng the two Bonzo films and entries from Francis the Talking Mule and the Kettles. The year after All I Desire Guthrie was to found in Sydney's Botany Bay filming Long John Silver, with Robert Newton.
All I Desire was then very much a product of the studio system, and came from a studio more renowned for its mass appeal series, westerns and Arabian adventures than for serious, even artistic, endeavours. When Sirk's film was released it was held in little regard, and was denigrated for decades afterwards. Certainly considered a "B" movie, undoubtedly in its initial release part of a double bill, which was customary practice with Universal product. (In its initial release even All That Heaven Allows had a supporting attraction at the State Theatre in Sydney - Ain't Misbehavin', a technicolor musical starring Rory Calhoun, Piper Laurie, Jack Carson and Mamie Van Doren. Unbelievable!) Clive Hirschorn in The Universal Story published in 1983, has praise for Barbara Stanwyck but condemns the film as a "quagmire of sentimental mediocrity". How opinion has changed!
With his greatest films yet to come, All I Desire is a lesson in economic film-making. Here we have a great director creating absorbing, cinematically literate drama, and at its centre an enduringly majestic performance by the great Barbara Stanwyck. This is truly a neglected gem from the 50s.
I am sad to say that I have to end this review with a gripe about price. The Madman website lists the RRP for All I Desire as $34.95, for a single disc with the only "extra" a fairly worthless commentary - not even a trailer. Amazon UK lists the single disc at UK5.97 and the Douglas Sirk Collection, which includes All I Desire plus six other Sirk films, for UK17.97. Can anyone explain this to me?
The video transfer of this movie is excellent.
The 4x3 transfer of the image is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, the original theatrical presentation being 1.37:1.
The transfer is extremely sharp and clear throughout. Detail is excellent, with the costumes and interiors quite remarkable. It is possible to count the pearls in the string around Barbara Stanwyck's neck.
Shadow detail is most admirable, with Sirk's dramatic use of lighting beautifully reproduced on the screen.
There is no low level noise.
This is a very pleasing black and white image, with extensive grey scale. The blacks are deep and solid, and there is no trace of flaring on the whites.
There was a small degree of telecine wobble, most noticeable in the credits, but the only other film to video artefact was some slight aliasing on costumes, such as Marcia Henderson's dress (05:06) and some curtains (16:19).
There is quite substantial grain, but the overall effect is that of a very cinema-like experience.
There was a complete absence of any film artefacts, the print looking wonderfully clean and clear.
There are no subtitles.
This is a dual layer disc, with the change occurring at the end of the feature.
The original mono soundtrack is unremarkable, but is in excellent shape.
There are two audio tracks, English and the commentary track. Both are in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono encoded at 224 Kbps.
The dialogue was clear and beautifully reproduced.
There was a total absence of hiss, or any background noise.
There was no crackle, pop or instance of dropout.
There was no problem with audio sync with the transfer on the main English track. The secondary commentary track has a problem with synch late in the film, in Chapter 10.
The musical score, credited to a number of composers and under the Musical Direction of Joseph Gershenson, is dramatically effective, as well as providing some enjoyable period interludes, such as the bunny-hug dance sequence. All is very nicely reproduced, without any outstanding sonic dynamics.
|Surround Channel Use|
This is a major disappointment. At a premium price for an "old" movie, there is nothing visual, not even a trailer. Perhaps this is due to these Universal titles being leased out to distributors, such as Madman, those lessees not having access to studio archives. The release of all That Heaven Allows, to be reviewed shortly, does have a second disc with a number of worthwhile bonuses. Billy Gray, young "Ted" in All I Desire, contributed a very enjoyable piece to the Fox Region 1 release of The Girl Next Door. What a pity something similar could not have been done for All I Desire!
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
|DVD||Onkyo-SP500, using Component output|
|Display||Philips Plasma 42FD9954/69c. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to DVD player. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.|
|Speakers||VAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)|