“Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed”
Rotten Tomatoes (4/5), Metacritic (8/10), Letterboxd (4/5), Imdb.com (8/10), TMDB.com (4/5)
Clean-cut All-American Boy Roy Scherer Jr. probably never envisioned the life he would eventually lead when he was growing up in Winnetka, IL. But, once he transformed into rugged, handsome matinee idol Rock Hudson, it all came together, even if it was not how and what he imagined. As one of Hollywood’s most sought-after actors in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, Hudson emerged as one of Tinsel Town’s biggest stars in the movies and on television. He was also someone who throngs of women lusted after as a romantic interest, an image that his handlers carefully crafted. There was just one snag in this plan: Hudson was a closeted gay man whose private life had to be discreetly managed to preserve his reputation and the future viability of his career. It was as if he were leading two lives – a public life as an allegedly straight regular guy and a private, judiciously guarded one in which he could be himself as a gay man. And, even though almost everyone in Hollywood’s inner circle knew the truth about him, Hudson’s public persona was successfully preserved, despite occasional (and widely discredited) tabloid rumors. However, when the idol was diagnosed with AIDS in 1984, the secret could no longer be contained, despite official denials to the contrary. Yet, with this revelation, Hudson became the face of this frightening new illness, a condition no one wanted to talk about. It was thus ironic how this once-heavily sequestered gay man would become an unwitting activist for patients suffering with this debilitating disease, helping to generate attention and funding at a time when the homophobic Reagan Administration refused to do anything meaningful about it. Director Stephen Kijak’s new HBO documentary presents a comprehensive look at Hudson’s professional and personal life, with ample contemporary and archive clips and interviews with those who worked with him, such as actresses Elizabeth Taylor, Linda Evans, Piper Laurie and Carole Cook, and with those who knew him privately, such as author Armistead Maupin, actor Peter Kevoian and biographer Mark Griffin. While much is known about Hudson’s entertainment career, little has been publicly circulated about his personal life, a development that marks a significant change with the release of this new film. Interestingly, there’s a fair degree of irony in the choice of movie and TV clips included here in that many of them are quietly telling about the actor’s personal life when viewed in this new light, almost as if they represented muted, inside revelations at the time these works were made. Some of the content (particularly in the interviews about Hudson’s private life) could be seen as sexually explicit, so sensitive viewers should take heed. In all though, this insightful, respectful look at the actor’s life as both a gifted entertainer and an unlikely hero delivers a well-rounded biography of a man who toiled to strike a balance in his two worlds, both for his fans and for those who shared his secret, an effort that yielded a lot of good in both areas.