To mark the Criterion release of Magnificent Obsession, I’ve revised and reprinted my essay on the work of Douglas Sirk for Parallax View.
Sirk moved across genres (including the Gaslight-lite Sleep, My Love with Claudette Colbert and the noirish Shockproof from an original script by Sam Fuller) and studios until the continental sophisticate found his métier at Universal with, curiously enough, good-natured Americana. Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952), his first film with a rising young contract player named Rock Hudson, was the first stand-out in what Sirk called “comedie humaine,” films about average Americans, “not so much moral tales, as tales about people’s morality.” The bright little jazz-age comedy, starring Charles Coburn as a rascally millionaire who poses as an eccentric boarder to watch the effects of an anonymous bequeath, was Sirk’s first color film and he made the most of it, filling the film with period flavor and colorful detail. The same bubbly energy and light touch for comic situations lifted up subsequent small-town Americana comedies No Room For the Groom (1952) and turn-of-the-century Meet Me at the Fair (1953) and Take Me to Town (1953).
The dark corners in Sirk’s America are first explored in All I Desire (1953), a turn-of-the-century small town melodrama starring Barbara Stanwyck as an actress in a seedy traveling company who returns to the family she abandoned and finds a hostile reception. The innocence of previous small town snapshots has become a smothering little world poisoned by gossip, social prejudice and double standards, and Sirk found its visual equivalent in the claustrophobic set of her once happy home. It was the first of a long string of films Sirk made with producer Ross Hunter, a marriage made in Hollywood’s dream factory version of heaven. (Stanwyck and Sirk teamed up for one more outing, the underrated B&W melodrama There’s Always Tomorrow (1956) a suffocating look at suburban middle class life with Fred MacMurray in the traditionally female role of the dreamer who sacrifices his dreams for family.)
See the complete feature here.