Sunday, December 20, 2020

All I Desire ( 1953 )

Naomi Murdoch is returning to the small town of Riverdale to see her daughter perform in a high school play and the town is in a gossiping uproar. Nearly ten years earlier, Naomi left Riverdale, her husband Henry ( Richard Carlson ), and her three children to pursue a career on the stage as an actress. The townsfolk - and her family - have not forgiven her. All except Lily ( Lori Nelson ), Naomi's younger daughter. It was a letter from Lily that brought Naomi on her homeward journey. 

Once back in Riverdale, Naomi comes to realize how much she has missed her family and her home. But she feels that it is too late to make amends. Henry and she argue the first night she arrives and their eldest daughter Joyce ( Marcia Henderson ) is particularly bitter towards her. To make matters worse, Dutch Heinemann ( Lyle Bettger ), a local shop owner, thinks that because Naomi is back in town they can pick on where they left off with their affair. 

All I Desire was directed by Douglas Sirk and, like most of his films from the 1950s, it is bubbling with soapy melodrama. Most of his films were shot in color, but this one was black-and-white and it was a good decision to film it in monochrome because of the emphasis it gives to the low-lighting and shadows that were beautifully captured by cinematographer Carl Guthrie ( Caged ). 

The script was an adaption of Carol Brinks' novel "Stopover" and, even though the film is only 80-minutes, it manages to pack in quite a lot of drama in such a short span....with, surprisingly, no loose ends. 

Barbara Stanwyck was ideally cast as Naomi and looks beautiful in the turn-of-the-century period costumes designed by Rosemary Odell. Naomi is a tired hardened woman who never really made it big in the theater world but she decides to play the part of being an elegant distinguished actress and make her family proud. Few actresses could have played this part with as much conviction as Ms. Stanwyck.

Richard Carlson is also well-suited in the role of Henry, the mild-mannered school principal who is shocked by his wife's return. Henry was beginning to grow attached to Ms. Harper ( Maureen O'Sullivan ), the school's drama teacher, but when Naomi comes back into his life, he has to re-evaluate his feelings. 

Also in the cast is Billy Gray as Naomi's son Ted, Lotte Stein as the Swedish housekeeper, and Richard Long as Joyce's charming beau.  Stuart Whitman and Guy Williams also have small parts as Lily's school companions. 

The publicity department at 20th Century Fox probably thought that the film's period setting would turn away audience members and so they created poster art that, amusingly, had nothing to do with the film. One poster has a background of storm clouds while a man ( presumably Richard Carlson ) kisses the neck of a negligee-clad woman who looks a lot like Barbara Hale. Another has a dark-haired Barbara Stanwyck cradling the head of Robert Mitchum, both of them wearing outfits that look like they came out of the 1940s (!). 

All I Desire did not need the pulp-fiction publicity to sell it, because the film is a fine production all around and is one of Barbara Stanwyck's best films of the 1950s. 


  1. A fine movie to spotlight. I think of All I Desire as the bridge between Sirk's Americana pictures at Universal (Has Anybody Seen My Gal, etc.) and his more florid melodramas of the 1950s (Magnificent Obsession, etc.).

    1. How true! This film must have started his melodrama phase.

  2. Summer Storm (1944) showed more than a few hints of his later melodramas, but All I Desire leads pretty directly to Magnificent Obsession, etc, even if he do a Rock Hudson in redface western in between.