Stanwyck Meets Stair Banisters
A Good and Overlooked Sirk for Universal
The first of outstanding melodramas that Douglas Sirk directed for Universal, but neglected since because (1) it's period-set, turn of the century, and (2) black-and-white rather than color. Later and even better There's Always Tomorrow gets short shrift for same B/W cause, though at least it peels back 50's malaise that has kept Sirk relevant to auteurists who won't have the era as anything other than mire of repression and hypocrisy. All I Desire attacks some of same social prejudices, but with parasols and porch swings, this a 50's sort of Meet Me In St. Louis minus song. Barbara Stanwyck is the wayward wife returned home years after desertion of husband Richard Carlson and brood of three. She's spent that ditched in low-grade vaudeville, always
All I Desire bears enough Sirk signature for us to miss credits and still know it's him. The house leads among characters. We know every step, landing, and banister by halfway-done. Sirk seldom shoots action (mostly conversation/confrontation) head-on, always something in a foreground to sweeten composition. These might be porch screens, windows with lace curtain parted, said banisters through which activity is viewed. Characters are watched constantly from other rooms, from inside the house looking out ... there's clandestine feeling through all of All I Desire to befit situation of folks with plenty to hide. Writing is good, Sirk's helming better, and of course, U-I youngsters given chance to shine in something other than westerns or weirdies. All I Desire might be the picture Lori Nelson wishes fans would ask about rather than Revenge Of The Creature, as it was surely plumier assignment of the two in 50's context.
Stanwyck really glows in this, giving all to then-modest, now-commanding, output. Other players for Sirk would say he didn't lend much to performance, too busy aiming his camera through scrims, I'd guess, so interpretation would be Stanwyck's alone, a help being dialogue/situations that sidestep the clichéd and expected. You'd figure Lyle Bettger for all-out heavy, per custom, but there's shading, at least by his measure, and we understand his frustration at being a past lover now shut-out. Sirk wanted to do All I Desire in color, part of his on-going exam of small-town life, but U said no. He also had a preferred downer ending replaced by producer Ross Hunter, who knew from boxoffice if not aesthetics. All I Desire was sold in expected lurid terms, rival television having made necessity of that. Did ads make it look too sleazy for polite consumption? At least art flattered Stanwyck, who looks more 1933 than 1953 for promoting purpose. All I Desire was part of a DVD box devoted to the actress with five other features. A Universal vault disc can also be had. Quality is fine.