Fans of classic and not-so-classic films could ask themselves: did Barbara Stanwyck ever give a bad performance, even in the worst vehicles? The 1953 tear-jerker, "All I Desire" is far from her worst film, although the generic title suggests a lurid melodrama far racier than what is on the screen. Set in the early 20th century, Stanwyck is Naomi Murdoch, a stage actress on the way down. Years earlier, she left husband, family, and a lover behind in a small town to pursue the Broadway lights, but she now has fallen to playing follow-up to trained dog acts. Her family knows nothing of her life or failures, and, when her stage-struck daughter lures her back to attend the young girl's debut in a senior-year theatrical production, Naomi invests her savings in a new wardrobe to impress and returns to her roots.
Faced with rejection by some, curiosity by others, and warmth by a few, Naomi struggles with her fabricated past, rekindled emotions, and an uncertain future. Sounds like the makings of a Ross Hunter-Douglas Sirk melodrama, which it most definitely is. Stanwyck is always credible and fascinating to watch, and she stands out amidst a less than stellar supporting cast. A bland Richard Carlson plays Naomi's abandoned husband, a dull school principal, and lovely Maureen O'Sullivan is wasted in a non-demanding part as Carlson's girlfriend, patiently awaiting matrimony. Based on a 1951 novel, the story is awash in emotion as Naomi meets children she never knew, an aggressive lover she wants to forget, and a homebody husband she still loves.
Carl Guthrie's shadowy black-and-white cinematography is outstanding, and some of the landscapes resemble etchings. The photography also captures the lush interior of a comfortable middle-class home, complete with housekeeper, that isolates the family from any inconveniences other than the unexpected appearance of their mother. Thanks to a fine performance by Stanwyck, a glossy production, and steady direction by Sirk, "All I Desire" is vastly entertaining, a warm comfortable movie for a rainy afternoon.
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