Documentary Review: ‘Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed’

Ben Miles

He was the very definition of masculine good looks. And while his handsomeness was as agreed upon as his fame and acclaim as a movie star, the discrepancy between his public persona and his private life was as different as his stage name – Rock Hudson – was from his given name, Roy Harold Scherer Jr.

In the new documentary, “Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed,” boldly directed by Stephen Kijak – not to be confused with the 1992 documentary, “Rock Hudson’s Home Movies,” titillatingly directed by Mark Rappaport – we learn of this mega movie icon both as an actor and as a closeted gay man.

Though Mark Griffin’s 2019 biography, “Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allows,” provides the source material for this 2023 HBO documentary, a good deal of the credit belongs to Rappaport’s 1992 film, which treaded similar socio-biographical ground in an era much less accepting of diverse sexual lifestyles than our own time is in the 21st century.

Interestingly, Hudson’s sexual proclivities were among the worst kept secrets in Hollywood. While Hudson’s performances were as masculine as any leading man of his era, the documentary suggests that Hudson himself didn’t make much effort to disguise his sexual proclivities. He maintained longstanding friendships with both men and women, including Doris Day and Elizabeth Taylor, both with whom he acted, earning an academy award nomination for his portrayal, alongside costar Taylor, as Texas rancher Brick Benedict in the 1956 screen epic, “Giant.”

But Hudson would throw lavish all male bashes/pool parties at his Beverly Hills mansion, which friends referred to as “The Castle,” clothing was optional. He enjoyed San Francisco’s gay bar scene and he had a longtime male roommate while residing in a one bedroom Hollywood apartment at the inception of his remarkably successful acting career.

With extensive interviews with friends and lovers, much of it offered up through archival footage, we have editor Claire Didier, along with Director Kijak, to credit for the documentary’s focused and uncompromising examination of Rock Hudson’s life.

Though we are brought to the realization of Hudson’s broad range as an actor – from the film drama “A Farewell To Arms,” adapted from the Hemingway novel, to romantic comedies such as “Pillow Talk” and “Send Me No Flowers” – special emphasis is placed on the disease of AIDS and Hudson’s real-life role as the first celebrity death caused by the illness.

Particularly interesting is the controversy caused by Hudson’s kiss to Linda Evans in the 80s television hit “Dynasty.” Sadly, friends and coworkers avoided socializing with Evans after that kiss, thinking that AIDS could be transmitted through such interactions.

Rock Hudson lives on not so much as a leading man in movies as he does in his association with this deadly disease.

May his soul rest peacefully.

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