Dir.: Stephen Kijak; Documentary; With Joe Carberry, Tim Turner, Les Garlington; UK 2023, 104 min.
US director Stephen Kijak (We are X) delves into the complex life and times of Rock Hudson (1925-1985), one of Hollywood’s most enigmatic legends, in a documentary largely seen through the eyes of his friends and collaborators.
There are too many contradictions to really call this factual but it stands as a valiant attempt to distill the essence of a charismatic screen idol into 104 minutes. A mini series could have been another way of telling his fascinating story.
Kijak first tackles Hudson’s relationship with his agent Henry Eilson, the man who made (and perhaps helped to destroy) the leading man’s career. His intervention, making Hudson marry Wilson’s secretary Phyllis Gates, misfired as a publicity coup and harmed both Gates and Hudson in the long term.
But binding the Hollywood star of the 1950s to the modern version proves a less successful task for Kijak and Hudson. Even after the Stonewell riots in 1969, Hudson remains in the closet while leading a successful life as a heterosexual star in his three features with Doris Day (Pillow Talk 1959, Lover Come Back 1961 and Send Me No Flowers (1964).
Hudson made the perfect male role model during the 1950s. His casting in Giant (56) was clearly a rebuke for the”lack of male ego” and featured his enemy James Dean. The titular Douglas Sirk title All That Heaven Allows (1955) falls into the same category – but the 1960s saw Hudson miscast in all the macho features such as Tobruk and Ice station Zebra. But Hudson soon tired on the big screen as his star rose on the TV. One of his last contributions was a guest role in the popular series Dynasty.
Kijak ends on a rather solemn note, “Hudson saved nobody, because they all died”. This morose comment reflects the epoch of the Reagan administration that ordered cut-backs in Aids support, research and individual help. In his final interview, Hudson is stoical and prepared to meet his maker: “I am not afraid of anything”.
Rock Hudson, who was forced to be a heterosexual male seducer of the 1950s, despite his true nature, never felt at home during this era. But his life long friendships with co-stars Doris Day and Elizabeth Taylor bear testament to his enduring connection with the female sex. Kijak may have failed structurally in this engaging expose, but the rich archive of first-hand accounts fleshing out the actor’s life in the shadows more than makes up for it, and leaves us awestruck: Hudson was a great loss on a personal and professional level. AS
ROCK HUDSON: ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWED will be available on Digital platforms on 23 October 2023.