23 May 2009 | dbdumonteil
A time to doubt and a time to believe
For those who believe in God,no explanations in necessary .For those who don't ,no explanation is possible.("The Song of Bernadette" by Henry King).
Detlef Sierck alias Douglas Sirk was not reportedly a believer ."Traditional" religion does not play a prominent part in the rest of his movies;only the black servant Annie ("imitation of life" ) shows devotion -and the return of her prodigal daughter just to cry over her coffin can be seen as some kind of small miracle in itself.If "all that Heaven allows " begins with a shot of a steeple,one of the characters discovers something that "changed " his life , not in the Bible but a in Thoreau's work;"magnificent obsession" hints at Jesus ,but the late doctor (and Hudson's character) are secular saints -the religious side was more important in Stahl's first version of this melodrama.And Sirk's masterpieces such as "tarnished angels" ,"written on the wind" and the harrowing "A time to love and a time to die" (the title of which,from EM Remarque ,was slightly modified but was taken from the Book of the Ecclesiastes ) depict God-forsaken worlds.It's extraordinary that Sirk's most mediocre movie of these latter days ," Battle hymn" ,was the only one which had an important "religious" side:but it was a dubious philosophy as we learn that if war happened ,that's because God planned it.
That leaves us with "thunder on the hill" where a nun (Claudette Colbert) worked some kind of miracle by clearing a young girl of a murder.And "the first legion" ,which remains Sirk's most intriguing work ,coming from an atheist. Charles Boyer ,par excellence the French lover ,is cast against type and gives one of his finest performances.Barbara Rush ,one of Sirk's favorite actresses ("magnificent obsession" the rather weak "Taza"),shines in her part of a disabled girl who believes that faith can move mountains.The last scenes were certainly influenced by King's movie .In the small village of Lourdes,miracles did happen,like in "first legion" and the doctor,the scientist can no longer explain it.Sirk does not forget irony and a very short scene shows the moneychangers in the temple.