The iconic images of Rock Hudson have long stood in stark contrast to his reality. Yes, he was a wildly popular and attractive star throughout the 1950s. He was also not the ladies’ man that some attributed to his persona. While he could not be open about his sexuality as a gay man, Hudson still found ways to live a happy life. When he became one of the first men to die of AIDS in the 1980s, his passing brought much-needed attention to the epidemic. Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed seeks to remind those of his legacy and iconoclast status.

Using personal anecdotes, interviews, and archival footage, All That Heaven Allowed lets the icon describe his life in detail. As Hudson rose to superstardom, he had to hide his sexuality. This secrecy can be seen in the subtext of many of his films, yet he could not be open at the time. During the 1950s, he became a leading man, and by the 1960s, he spun off a series of blockbuster comedies with Doris Day. However, in the 1980s, the rise of Reagan, Evangelicals, and conservatism coincided with the AIDS epidemic. Hudson’s diagnosis, and eventual death, forced the world to acknowledge AIDS for the first time.

Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed

While Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed paints a brilliant picture of the man, it does play into standard bio-doc tropes. Hudson’s life as a young, closeted actor leads to a surprise breakout. As we watch his rise to superstardom, the trajectory feels familiar. Considering the studio system at the time, this tracks. Documentarian Stephen Kijak attempts to break the cycle at times, but the information rolls out in a fairly straightforward timeline. This causes All That Heaven Allowed to become slightly too formulaic. On the way, Kijak does an excellent job of exploring the nooks and crannies of his career, which will make the film extremely informative to those interested in learning more about him.

The most interesting aspect of Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed comes in the final act. Once we begin to break down Hudson’s AIDS diagnosis, we get much more information about his personal life. Between his friend’s diaries and anecdotes, there’s a rather complete portrait of this time. He now only inspires empathy but action to stop AIDS from going untreated. During this section of the film, Kijak utilizes dozens of clips from his movies to serve as his final testament. It brings home the power of his work and his persona.

Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed

Watching the footage of Rock’s deteriorating health is extremely difficult. As the friends and family of Hudson provide context for his suffering, they also explain his power as an icon. While he faced extreme hardship, even when he could not buy tickets on an airline, his fame allowed him to move mountains. His diagnosis, and eventual outing, reframed the conversation around LGBTQ+ issues in Hollywood. What was once a very quiet aspect of the industry suddenly discovered one of its biggest stars lived a different life. As Hollywood embraced this, the world began to shift.

While Rock Hudson: All that Heaven Allowed does not shift the medium, it does provide an integral context for the AIDS epidemic and Hollywood. Framing this story through the trials and tribulations of one of the great entertainment icons helps drive home a point: it could have happened to anyone. While Hudson’s career became immortalized after his passing, All That Heaven Allowed will provide a starting point for any young cinephile looking for a lesson in the history of Hollywood.

Alan’s Rating: 7/10

What do you think of Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed? Let us know in the comments below! Catch Rock Hudson: All That Heaven Allowed at Tribeca 2023.

Check out our reviews and pieces from the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival here!

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