The proper use of Rock Hudson

I liked Sirk's famous pair of films with Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson, but what stays with me is the question of Rock Hudson. He's like a taller, more imposing Keanu Reeves--impassive, somewhat limited, but there's something to that dully handsome exterior that you can't quite dismiss.

Much--maybe all--of the fascination is in the way he's used, and Hudson's lucky in that respect; in Frankenheimer's Seconds (where he gives what I think is the performance of his career), he's convincingly anguished. In Sirk's films, he barely cracks a facial muscle, but Sirk manages to suggest pages behind those minimal twitches, in the way his characters are written, and the way he's directed and shot. Sirk's always using his handsomeness against him--in Magnificent Obsession, to suggest an initial shalloweness, something Hudson has to struggle against and finally overcome; when he courts Wyman, his ardor suggest that of a drop-dead gorgeous but insecure actor courting his muse, wishing she would bestow on him the blessing of a great--or at least fascinating--performance. The gambit works, I think.

In (and I think more interestingly) All That Heaven Allows, his handsomeness suggests a monumental sense of self-possession, comparable to Reeves in Little Buddha or in The Matrix. Hudson's character has got no insecurities, no neuroses, no hypocrisies, nothing to prove or achieve or hide, and the effect, the film seems to suggest, is to make him supremely calm and serene--to make the man, in effect, as physically magnetic as, well, Rock Hudson.

In both films, it's Wyman who's the dramatic focus, Wyman who moves us to tears. But Hudson's the rock--the pure, unadulterated crystal that Sirk's melted down and fused--against which Wyman is able to turn and find dramatic traction; he focuses her energies in the direction Sirk intended.

No comments: