Fresh out of the Navy, a tall, broad-shouldered, handsome dude with a square jaw and a Pepsodent smile named Roy Fitzgerald decided to head to Hollywood and try his luck on the silver screen. Not surprisingly, he was soon spotted by Henry Willson, a dubious agent whose only talent was “discovering” handsome boys who wanted to be movie stars, changing their names to monickers like Tab, Troy, Rory and Lance, and developing their careers. launch. So he took care of Roy Fitzgerald’s clothes, appearance and male image and changed his name to Rock Hudson. The rest, as they say on Sunset Boulevard, is Hollywood history.
ROCK HUDSON: ALL HEAVEN ALLOWED ★★★1/2 (3.5/4 stars)
The saga of the man who was the Tom Cruise of the 1950s now forms the shadow and substance of a funny, sad, meticulously researched and minutely detailed documentary, Rock Hudson: All Heaven Allowed. It is the story of a man who indeed had it all, and more. Signed by Universal and relegated to small roles, playing American Indians, Arabs, gunfighters and soldiers, he couldn’t act (in his first movie it took him 38 takes to say one line), but he learned on the job and climbed from obscurity to great fame in love stories and romantic comedies. After years of hard work in forgettable B movies, he finally got paid in 1954, starring Jane Wyman. beautiful obsession, and in 1956 he was nominated for an Academy Award for his superbly crafted starring role with Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean and Carroll Baker in the classic blockbuster George Stevens, Huge. Bringing in money, being on the best dressed list for three years and appearing on the covers of endless glossy magazines, his career skyrocketed. There was only one thing wrong: he was gay.
By day, he was idolized by legions of fans as a clean-cut, big-screen romantic protagonist in glossy romantic melodramas romanticizing glamorous leads like Doris Day, Jean Simmons, Gina Lollobrigida, and Lauren Bacall. Women craved him, men envied him, and the fan mail poured in, ensuring his place as a box office sensation. In public, he donned the image like a tailored suit, but in private, at night, he went from the bright lights and red carpets at Hollywood premieres to the darkness of smoky gay bars to pick up a parade of lovers. A lot of them apparently (he was promiscuous), as the movie is candid about his sex life, including first-hand interviews with an assortment of once-handsome, now-fading has-beens whose all-time adventures in bed with Rock Hudson seem lusty, unnecessary and selfish. Given that he’s no longer around to explain, explain, or deny, the obvious question is, can a documentary be truthful yet not be so revealing? For the most part, director Stephen Kijak does an admirable job of curating so much material in a way that makes you get to know Rock Hudson better than you ever thought possible. The tragedy of living a double life in a company where any kind of life should have been acceptable but wasn’t is undeniably real and inescapably moving.
In Rock Hudson: All Heaven Allowed (an aptly titled reference to Rock’s second film starring Jane Wyman) The elements of that remarkable life are compellingly composed as they alternate between Rock’s life of deceit as a movie star in a closet and the tragic consequences of living in each closet – in his case, death from AIDS in 1985. He was only 59 years old. Archive footage and interviews with friends who were there for him during his passing lend a chilling accuracy to the headlines of his death and I was touched by the people who now recognize the positive results of that sad event, which he faced courageously, erasing the stigma of AIDS and giving hope to millions. “What a way to end a life” were his last words. In many ways it was a great life, and for the most part he lived it admirably and left it honorably. A worthy and decent film indeed.
Observer Reviews are regular reviews of new and notable movies.