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"All art is to me is a name"
on 6 December 2009
This is one of the series of romantic melodramas directed by Douglas Sirk in the early to mid-1950s. The story, taken from a Mills and Boonesque novella, need not detain the rational mind for too long; Rock Hudson's playboy's selfish pursuit of pleasure and thrills leads to his indirectly causing both the death of a saintly local doctor and also a subsequent injury to his wife (Jane Wyman). The rest of the film is taken up with his search for redemption through cod-philosophy and self-help counselling.
The sentimentality of the theme is not overly helped by a pretty bland script and by music based on choirs of warbling cherubim and seraphim that do their damnedest in the big scenes to signal the rising emotional temperature and make sure the viewer has the thermometer lodged under the tongue and registering 104. Nor is the acting anything special. Rock Hudson glowers and emotes well enough, though his resemblance at times to Elvis Presley is unfortunate. Jane Wyman is workmanlike but too old for the part - she was 8 years older than Rock and looks here more like his maiden aunt than the object of his affections. Barbara Rush also looks too old - she was only 10 years younger than Wyman but plays her daughter. The honours are carried off by the always-reliable Agnes Moorehead playing a devoted nurse - tough yet wise in the ways of the world, including the ways of love.
So whence the **** and the film's tall reputation? In a word: the look. The look of the movie is everything. Sirk makes the most of the glorious, saturated Technicolor in the outdoor locations, all in California, and lavishes characteristically meticulous care on his colour-coordinated sets and costumes. Your eyes are feasted with an ever-changing symphony of harmonising turquoises, greens, blue and reds in big things (the natural locations of forest and water, the cars, the costumes, the wallpaper) to small (flowers everywhere, table settings, Rock's ties, even the writing paper) and backed up by subtle lighting. In its visual beauty this picture's right up there with Powell and Pressburger's The Red Shoes and Zoltan Korda's The Four Feathers.
No extras, but a clean print, though it may well be worth digging deep and forking out for the Criterion release (from early 2009) offering a restored, high-definition digital transfer with audio commentary + 80 mins documentary on Sirk.