Crystal Kalyana Pacey of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood is our hostess for the Remembering Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon. Click HERE for the tributes to the amazing actress.
The 1953 release All I Desire, based on the novel Stopover by Carol Ryrie Brink, is the link between two distinct phases of director Douglas Sirk's career. The half dozen or so films for Universal preceding All I Desire have the flavour of comedic Americana - Week-end With Father, No Room for the Groom and the period pieces, Has Anybody Seen My Gal, Meet Me at the Fair and Take Me to Town. After All I Desire we find the opulent soapers such as Magnificent Obsession, The Tarnished Angels, Imitation of Life and All That Heaven Allows, a film that compares interestingly to our choice. All I Desire bridges these movies as a woman's picture, a period piece, and an excellent showcase for Barbara Stanwyck.
Barbara Stanwyck as Naomi Murdoch, actress
Vivacious Naomi Murdoch would seem to have had it all with a loving family and a secure social position, but she wanted more. She thinks she may have found it in the equally restless Dutch Heinemann played by Lyle Bettger. She thinks she will find it by following her dream of a career on the stage. Life upon the wicked stage was not all it was cracked up to be and Naomi is scraping by in bottom-of-the-barrel vaudeville and burlesque houses, too proud to return home. Naomi's middle child, daughter Lily played by Lori Nelson (Bend of the River, Destry) is about to graduate high school and dreams of following her mother into the theatre. Lily sends an invitation to Naomi to return for the graduation ceremony and to see her play the lead in the school play. Naomi accepts the invitation and returns playing the part of the grand and successful lady.
Naomi knows how to make an entrance.
Barbara Stanwyck, Richard Carlson
The black and white photography by Carl Guthrie (Christmas in Connecticut, Storm Warning) paints a nostalgic feel for the town with especially appealing shots of and through the windows of the family home. Barbara Stanwyck glimmers in a white gown by Rosemary Odell when she makes her grand entrance in the darkened auditorium to attend the school play. Outstanding!
The Murdoch family at home.
Lori Nelson, Marcia Henderson, Richard Carlson, Billy Gray
The role of Naomi provides much for actress Stanwyck to play with as the character faces those she abandoned, pretending that the life she chose has been a success. She is naturally reticent, but puts on the brave face and plays her part to the hilt. All I Desire offers solid performances from supporting players including Richard Carlson as the rejected husband. I note that Carlson appears in many of my old standby favorites such as The Little Foxes, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Beyond Tomorrow and his charming debut in 1938s The Young in Heart. Marcia Henderson (Thunder Bay) plays the oldest daughter Joyce, who is the most resentful of her mother's leaving her in the role of female head of the household. Lori Nelson is ebullient as a young girl with plans. Billy Gray, probably the finest of the younger actors at this time, plays the youngest child in the family, the one most in need of sure boundaries. Maureen O'Sullivan (Tarzan and His Mate) plays a colleague of Carlson's character, a woman whose life would be different if not for the shadow and presence of Naomi. Lyle Bettger (The Greatest Show on Earth) is Naomi's former lover "Dutch", a man with a long memory and a short fuse. I once saw Bettger play a good guy and was in a daze for a week!
Barbara Stanwyck and Richard Long
The Big Valley (1965 - 1969)
Universal-International in the 1950s cornered the market on good looking, dark-haired chaps and All I Desire gave many of them a chance at a scene or a line or two: Guy Williams (Zorro), Stuart Whitman (The Comancheros), Brett Halsey (Follow the Sun) and Richard Long (The Big Valley) as Joyce's boyfriend. It was watching The Big Valley in the 1960s that I was introduced to my favourite actress "and starring Miss Barbara Stanwyck as Victoria Barkley". My admiration for the leading lady in no way impeded my crush on eldest son Jarrod played by Long. The sight of the two actors dancing in a party scene more than a decade before their television success is a genuine treat.
In All I Desire Naomi accidentally shoots "Dutch" and has the following exchange with her longtime family doctor played by Thomas Jackson (Little Caesar).
Dr. Tomlin: "I am an old man and I say what I think. I'm the doctor and I know Riverdale. As soon as I make my report to the police - Dutch Heinemann shot by a woman - "
Naomi: "But I told you it was an accident."
Dr. Tomlin: "It makes no difference what you tell me. Maybe it was an accident. Do you think that'll make any difference? Already out there those maggots have got it all over town. The whole story in the worst way. The oldest and the nastiest story in the world."
Naomi: "What can I do?"
Dr. Tomlin: "You can go back to Chicago, for Henry's sake and the children's."
Naomi: "Funny, isn't it? How things work out."
In All that Heaven Allows young widow Cary Scott played by Jane Wyman consults her family doctor played by Hayden Rorke about chronic headaches. The real issue is her unresolved feelings for a younger man.
Cary: "Well, Dan, what's the verdict?"
Dr. Hennessy: "I was just going over the findings. There's nothing organically wrong with you, Cary."
Cary: "Well then why do I have these headaches. It's not my imagination and they're getting worse all the time."
Dr. Hennessy: "You're punishing yourself."
Cary: "For what?"
Dr. Hennessy: "For running away from life. The headaches are nature's way of making a protest."
Cary: "Will you give me something for them?"
Dr. Hennessy: "Do you expect me to give you a prescription to cure life? Sit down, Cary. I want to talk to you. Forget for a minute that I am your doctor and let me give you some advice as a friend. Marry him."
Cary: "Well, there's no point in discussing that. It's all over."
Dr. Hennessy: "Apparently it isn't. You still have the headaches."
Cary: "But that's silly. And anyway, how could I marry him. The whole thing was impossible from the beginning. Why, you know Dan in a place like Stoneingham you can't ignore conversation and ... "
Dr. Hennessy: "So you gave up a man you were in love with because you were afraid of Mona and the others, and you have the grand satisfaction of being taken back into the fold."
Cary: "Well, I was thinking of my children."
Dr. Hennessy: "You're just as lonely as you were before - lonelier in fact. Kay married and Ned abroad, so what good was your noble sacrifice. Cary, marry him."
Cary: "It's too late. And maybe he's found someone else. Anyway, if he really loved me he would have come to me."
Naomi and Henry reconnect.
Barbara Stanwyck, Richard Carlson
The two films are set half a century apart although only a couple years by production. There is a world of difference in the attitude and advice given to the leading character in terms of understanding and empathy. How much that tells us about the times.
Barbara Stanwyck would only make one other film with Douglas Sirk, 1956s There's Always Tomorrow. Here again he would turn the down unexpected roads in a family melodrama by focusing on the dissatisfaction of a neglected husband and father. Fred MacMurray is relatable as the father, and Barbara Stanwyck adds another must-see portrayal as a single woman who rethinks her choices.