NOTE: This film was viewed for the Barbara Stanwyck Filmography Project. I’m watching (or re-watching) and reviewing every Barbara Stanwyck film! For more posts in this series, visit the Listography page.
Naomi Murdoch (Barbara Stanwyck) is a fading stage star who left her family a decade ago, leaving behind a small-town life with a husband (Richard Carlson) and three children (Lori Nelson, Marcia Henderson, and Billy Gray) in order to pursue an acting career.
One of her daughters, Lily (Nelson), is graduating from high school soon and has a starring role in the school play. She writes to Naomi, hoping that her estranged mother will come back to town to see the play. Despite the fact that they’re estranged, Lily admires Naomi and dreams of following in her steps, getting out of Riverdale.
No one really expects Naomi to show up, but she does. She hopes her visit to Riverdale will be a nice one, but she finds that reconnecting with her family and old friends is more complicated than she expected.
Two of classic Hollywood’s greats, Stanwyck and Sirk, team up for this 1953 drama known as All I Desire. The film was written by James Gunn, Gina Kaus, and Robert Blees, adapted from the novel Stopover by Carol Brink.
Stanwyck’s voice is deep and raspier than ever here, lending a bit of a sorrowful tone to her character. Her performance is stellar. She played a large variety of characters in her time, and some of my favorites are her fast-talking noir dames, but she always tugs the heartstrings in family dramas as well, playing the mother. (See also: Stella Dallas, one of her most emotionally-powerful films.)
The story has many layers. There is family drama, with many dimensions and dynamics. One child admires and is eager to please her mother; another despises her mother, due to her mistakes; one child barely knows his mother, but accepts her despite their estrangement. The story has a wide scope in this sense.
There are also romances, an exploration of small-town gossip culture, and a commentary on male possessiveness (which leads to the film’s most shocking twist. I won’t spoil it!).
Though largely dramatic (as Sirk’s work often was), there is a bit of comic relief brought in from Lotte Stein as family maid Lena and Fred Nurney as Peterson. Lena adores Peterson and wants to marry him, but won’t do so until she’s no longer needed in the Murdoch home. With Lily graduating and Joyce planning to marry, Lotte sees a wedding in her own future. But Peterson is not quite so excited, and the interactions between Stein and Nurney add a bit of fun to the film.
While not the very best from either Sirk or Stanwyck, All I Desire is a gripping drama, with all of its complications wrapped up in a hopeful Hollywood ending. I enjoyed it, overall. The score: 3.5/5