Director Douglas Sirk didn't invent the classic melodrama, but you'd find few film historians that wouldn't agree that he perfected it. To say that Sirk employed every Soap Opera trick in the book would usually be an understatement, but despite that, his films are still considered classics and are enjoyable to this day.
Sirk's films are made all the more watch able by the excellent cast that usually surrounded him. For this outing, Sirk regular Rock Hudson assumes the role of Mitch Wayne, long time friend to the Hadley family. The head of the Hadley house is Jasper Hadley (Robert Keith) and the family also consists of Marylee Hadley (Dorothy Malone) and Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack). Just barely making it into the family in time for this epic tale is the new wife of Kyle, Lucy Moore Hadley (Lauren Bacall).
To give away the intricate details of the plot would definitely spoil the film, but in typical drama fashion there are almost too many to keep up with. In no specific order or reference the film deals with: infertility, cheating spouses, bar brawls, phallic symbols, money, greed, alcoholism, fast cars, sexy dancing and death or two. That's really all you can relate about the plot without specific details. The sensational plot elements are anchored by strong performances all around, especially by Hudson. His tough outsider seems betrayed and hurt at the same time by the actions that the others around him perform. He wears his heart on his sleeve and valiantly defend s the dysfunctional family members that raised him since he was young.
Even if you say this type of film isn't for you, I encourage you to pick it up. It has much more to offer besides the amazingly twisted story. Sirk artfully manages to create a full-color noir film with his over-saturated pastel colors and architecture framing. The film is full of odd angels and classic noir trapping combined with the melodramatic plot. It's also an interesting look at a society made up of the haves and the have-nots from an outsider's perspective. Another example that money always doesn't provide happiness and even the most successful people can hide under various vices and still look appealing.
This was definitely the most important part of the film and Criterion (as usual) passes with flying colors. Literally, the flat colors of the film jump out of the screen at you, wash around the landscape and provide an all too real barrier on the characters. There are print flaws and other spots, but they are expected and not nearly as many as you would expect from such an old film. Saturation and other video aspects are superbly handled by the spot-on 1:77.1 anamorphic transfer.
Presented in its original 2-channel mono, the re-mastered Dolby Digital soundtrack sounds amazingly good. Dialog is audible at all times and the music is crisp and bright. It's another wonderful job again by Criterion. The Extras:
Sadly, this is the only area lacking on the DVD, but not by much. There is a huge feature called The Melodrama Archive, which contains a complete filmography for Sirk, including plot synopses and still photos. It's an amazing amount of material that will take some time to browse completely through, but it is worth if for a look at his career and the candid photos included. The trailer for the film (and All That Heaven Allows) is included on the disc, but there are no other audio/video extras included, which is disappointing. One last, often-overlooked, extra is the liner notes in the DVD case. They were written by acclaimed film theorist Laura Mulvey and provided a little needed insight into the career of Sirk and Hollywood of the time.
While not as complete as other Criterion releases, it presents a classic film in the way it was meant to be viewed. Pick this up if you get the chance, it's definitely worth the price.