All I Desire stars Barbara Stanwyck in fine form as a woman who, after leaving her family ten years earlier in a bid to make it big and escape the small town she thought she was trapped in, returns seeking the comfort of those she once loved and the life she realized she always needed.
Made for little money, this Douglas Sirk-directed romantic drama has all the right ingredients present to make it exceptionally captivating despite its overly familiar story. As far as originality goes, it has all been seen before many a time over and yet the film has a lot to offer, specifically in the performances of its very strong cast as represented by the aforementioned Stanwyck as Naomi, Richard Carlson, Marcia Henderson, Lori Nelson and Lyle Bettger. Stanwyck is the headliner of course, the actress taking the lead in a commanding role of a woman who became the talk of the town when she abandoned her family and who becomes so again, showing up for her daughter’s performance in a school play. Her past would have been considered quite normal by most if it were not for the affair she carried out behind her husband’s back at the time with Dutch Heineman as played by Bettger. That combined with the claustrophobic feeling of seemingly being tied down to her family and friends and the town, in general, was what caused her to pick up and leave. It would only be with maturity and homesickness that she decided to return and once back, came to the realization that things were not so bad as she remembered them to be.
In an understated, yet strong performance was Carlson as Naomi’s husband Henry, a man torn apart by her leaving those long, ten years ago as he loved her fiercely. With Naomi reappearing, all those feelings he thought long buried have resurfaced and the audience can see the man at war with himself, trying to contain that which was once dead and gone so he thought, now tearing him apart. It all comes to a head in the final act of the film where he finally confronts Dutch about the affair and admits to himself and to Naomi just what it is he feels that it brings about a happy ending for everyone involved.
Sirk, who would go on to direct All That Heaven Allows, Magnificent Obsession and more, would foster the seeds of those pictures here, the drama being tense and moving at times while always keeping the rapt attention of his audience. Filmed in black and white, it would express the desire of those that it portrayed rampant upon the screen, from Lily’s dreams of being a famous actress like her mother to the lust felt by Dutch and the woman who left him behind and yearning for years. Each frame was carefully shot, bringing forth from each actor and actress that which was needed to convey all that was being felt to the audience and combined with the sharp dialogue present throughout, it all made for quite a perfect package and a film well worth watching.