Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed movie review (2023)

The doc begins with a story told by Hudson to a fellow aspiring closet gay actor about a dream in which he was the center of a sparkling diamond. This dream supposedly was the anchor to which Hudson clung throughout his tumultuous career in Hollywood. It’s through this frame the filmmakers posit that much of his choices in life—including his reluctance to come out even post-Stonewall—stemmed from his desire to achieve and maintain this stardom.

Using a plethora of archival video and photography, Kijak plots the life of Hudson—born Roy Harold Scherer Jr.—from his childhood in Illinois to his stint in the Navy during WWII to his early days and later ascent in Hollywood. Kijack pays special attention to Hudson’s relationship with agent Henry Willson, who created the name and the star persona that fans knew as Rock Hudson.

The filmmakers do not shy away from old Hollywood’s lilac and lavender aspects, exploring how queer stars hid their personal lives and fought to keep their names out of tabloids like Confidential. This includes an in-depth look at Hudson’s brief arranged marriage to Wilson’s secretary Phyllis Gates and the damage it caused to both parties.

All of this is rich and thorough. However, the formatting of the documentary remains curiously uneven. For the first 45 minutes, Kijack uses voiceovers from various interview subjects, some new recordings, and some archival, who either knew Hudson personally or have insightful commentary on his life and career. However, the last hour of the film shifts to on-camera interviews with various living people, some of whom were part of Hudson’s inner circle, like “Tales of the City” writer Armistead Maupin and Hudson’s ex-boyfriend Lee Garlington and a particularly touching interview with his “Dynasty” co-star Linda Evans who discusses their controversial kiss on the show.

While the shift in format is certainly due to the availability of these subjects and their proximity to Hudson during his lifetime—the private photographs supplied by Garlington of the two on vacation together will surely tug at your heartstrings—the execution of this shift is creaky and would have felt less abrupt had the filmmakers chosen to weave these on-camera interviews from the beginning.

The film also heavily relies on the editing format from the excellent 1992 experimental essay “Rock Hudson’s Home Movies,” in which filmmaker Mark Rappaport uses footage from Hudson’s films—out of context—to cheekily make gayentendres and nod to queer readings of his films when watched with the knowledge of Hudson’s orientation, whether they’re actually there or not. While Rappaport’s use of this technique was playful and subversive, the way Kijack employs it is often far too on the nose and rings hollow.