The French do love their Douglas Sirk, it would seem. Here in America, acquiring a Region 1 Sirk library involves a bit of cherry-picking—get that Universal Rock Hudson collection so as to own Has Anybody Seen My Gal, the color quasi-musical that’s one of the earliest Hudson/Sirk collabs (in fairness, one also gets one creditable picture each from Aldrich and Mulligan in said set), go to Criterion for Written on the Wind, All That Heaven Allows, Magnificent Obsession, get the Stahl/Sirk double feature of Imitation of Life, and so on. Whereas in France, the adventurous label Carlotta offers eight Sirk titles from the Universal period, in box sets, even, and pairs each of the films with a discs worth of extras. 2007’s first volume is a beauty containing three films that have been or will soon be stateside releases (Imitation of Life, All That Heaven Allows, Magnificent Obsession); fortunately, the staggering A Time To Love And A Time To Die, not out here, is available from Carlotta in a stand-alone edition. As all their Sirks are. Still, devotees of the German-born master will want everything in the second set, a fantastic mix of two underseen masterpieces and two fascinating albeit not fully realized works.
The first masterpiece is 1956’s There’s Always Tomorrow, which reunites Double Indemnity stars Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck…here playing upstanding decent people rather than sex-crazed degenerate murderers. Of course, not all is well, or else this wouldn’t be a Sirk picture. MacMurray is a successful toy manufacturer whose family is, if not rotten to the core, indifferent and insensitive and ungrateful. His character is, in fact, quite a bit like Jane Wyman’s in All That Heaven Allows. Stanwyck is the former colleague who reenters his life with the promise of something better. Like, you know, love. The picture, shot in beautiful black and white by Russell Metty, brims with Sirkian observation and irony and has a wealth of often very mordantly funny metaphor—as in Rex the Robot, a new and hopefully hot toy invented by MacMurray’s character, the perfect summation of a particular kind of imitation life.
Stanwyck is also in the 1953 All I Desire, a period piece set in the early 20th century. Here she’s a woman who left her family to pursue the stage, and she returns to see her daughter’s high school play and stirs up all kinds of trouble with her ex-husband and another former love in the small town she abandoned. It’s a typically fluid melodrama not as fully realized as films to come. It should be pointed out here that most of the supplements on the extras discs are in French, but a few, such as an interview with Billy Gray, an adorable child star in All I Desire, a kind of unapproachable-looking older gentleman now, are in English, and are...well, just look at the guy. Fascinating.
The set’s third film, Interlude, is from 1957, when Sirk was at the height of his powers…but in spite of a story adapted from James M. Cain and widescreen Technicolor lensing by William Daniels, the picture doesn’t pop the way it should. Lead actress June Allyson had her charms, but could hardly be said to represent an exemplary Sirkian heroine; and Sirk himself, in the interview book Sirk on Sirk, recalls the trouble he had with the distinctly un-musical Rossano Brazzi playing the role of a famed conductor.
Now the slinky Dorothy Malone—there is an exemplary Sirkian heroine. And 1958’s The Tarnished Angels is a Sirkian milestone. One of the few cinematic adaptations of Faulkner that works—it’s based on Pylon, admittedly one of the maestro’s more straightforward novels—it’s got plenty of conventional movie action and suspense while also serving up an acute study of desperate characters—a stunt flier and his crew and a hard-drinking journalist—who really do live on what they call the edge. A morality play with no moralizing, an object lesson that existentialism, Hollywood style, needn’t be a joke, it’s an almost inestimably deep picture. Sirk nuts, get this now, while the exchange rate is still good.