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Disney was never so magical - Sirk polishes weepy romance to an exquisite gloss
9/10 Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows could stand as a lesson about how, in gifted hands, movies can surmount and surpass their source material, elevating the routine into the rhapsodic. And that's more than a matter of just fleshing out the roles with appealing talent or supplying de luxe production values. It takes a sensibility that can suggest the complexity under the commonplace and spot the verities hidden beneath the cliches.2 years ago
It's an alert sensibility that many emigres from Europe, apprenticed in the artistic ferment between the wars, brought with them to Hollywood (among them this Dane, born Detlef Sierck). Hollywood gave them more money and security than they'd probably ever known, and when it also gave them hackneyed and meretricious scripts to capture on film, they devised new ways to freshen them up and, against all odds, make them work.
On its surface, All That Heaven Allows is little more than polite fiction from women's magazines circa mid-20th-century (and would today be a romance paperback with a beefcake cover). Youngish widow Jane Wyman starts keeping company with free-spirited Rock Hudson, her much younger gardener; despite wagging tongues among her country-club set and clucks of disapproval from her grown children, she finds, after many a twist and turn, true love.
But from his opening shot Sirk creates a dreamy, storybook world, so Disney-pretty that he might as well have started with `Once upon a time....' Swirling downward from a church steeple in a New England autumn, he shows us an affluent enclave just a commuter-train trip away from New York. Luncheons are taken on patios, station wagons the approved mode of travel and martinis the drink of the evening - the kind of town New Yorkers played by Bette Davis or Barbara Stanwyck meant when they referred to their `country' places in Connecticut.
In this idyllic bower, Wyman has resigned herself to a stately and well-appointed widowhood; she half-heartedly resists friend Agnes Moorehead's lures to put her back on the market (women without men, by choice or circumstance, just don't fit in). But Wyman's too classy for the boozed-up louts and gossipy shrews in her former set, and still too vital to succumb to valetudinarian Conrad Nagel's proposal for tepid `companionship.'
And that's when Hudson, come to prune the branches, catches her eye - and, somewhat less probably, she his. He whisks her out to see his tree farm, and they explore an old mill on his property (`I love to poke around old buildings,' she explains). When she suggests he fix up the dump and live there, it's to the horn theme from the last movement of Brahms' 1st Symphony. No wonder she ends up staying the weekend.
Here Sirk introduces a subtly subversive element: Hudson's friends, in discordant counterpoint to hers (who dismiss him as `nature boy' and a `good-looking set of muscles'). His are an amiably casual network of all ages and backgrounds who have opted out of the rat race or never cared to enter it (the `quiet desperation' passage from Thoreau's Walden screws the point home). Though their style of merrymaking brings to mind Old World folk festivals, they represent a segment of society rarely if ever seen in films of the era: Low-profile, thoughtful rebels against the smug status quo - post-war pioneers of the voluntary simplicity movement inflamed with a touch of ecological consciousness ( now laughed off as tree-hugging). It's a startling glimpse into a below-the-radar counterculture that must have been around even in the mid-'50s (and there's not a beret, goatee or bongo drum among them - they're presented without a hint of condescension or marginalization).
Hudson proposes, Wyman accepts. Even her children (Gloria Talbott and William Reynolds) are thrilled, so long as they assume her remarriage will be to stuffy, respectable Nagel. When they're told that their new stepdad will be the stud who cleans up the yard come spring and come fall, they go rigid with upper-middle-class snobbery. (And the specter of Mrs. Grundy floats in when Moorehead asks if people will think Wyman and Hudson were keeping company when Wyman's husband was still kicking.) Stranded between her familiar past and an uncertain future, Wyman begs for more time; Hudson, hewing to his mantra `to thine own self be true,' delivers an ultimatum....
Abetted by director of photography Russell Metty, Sirk paints this soapish weeper with a gorgeous palette of hues and tints (a feat that Todd Haynes emulated in his Sirk hommage Far From Heaven, for which this movie served as template). Now and again, he washes half the screen in an autumnal green-gold, the other in an enchanted-night mauve, situating characters at cross purposes in their respective halves.
Of course, splitting or doubling the screen, through barriers or mirror shots, is one of Sirk's signature tropes, reaching its apex when Wyman's hangdog face stares back from a newly delivered television set, a Christmas present from the kids (`Here's all the company you need. Drama, comedy, all life's parade at your fingertips,' goes the spiel.) Pointedly, the set never gets turned on; it's seen but once again, reflecting flames from the fireplace, the focal point of simpler, less sophisticated times, and the values Hudson embodies.
Sirk takes this unlikely June-September romance and buffs it to the highest possible gloss, using his exquisite eye to enrich and deepen every frame. It's lush and sensuous - almost candified (at times gluttingly so) - and all but impossible to resist. When, at the close, a deer gambols up to nuzzle some snow off the windowpane in the mill Hudson has turned into his - their - home, it's an embarrassment of perfection. Never was Disney so magical.
Ahead Of Its Time
8/10 Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) is a middle-aged, wealthy woman whose husband recently died. Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson) is Cary's younger, independent-minded landscape gardener. Ron reads Thoreau, respects nature, and values simplicity and honesty. Cary and Ron are attracted to each other. For Ron, marriage to Cary is an easy decision. But for Cary, the decision to marry Ron is harder. She must confront the disapproval of her grown children, and the disapproval of friends whose materialistic, country club values are inconsistent with the values of Thoreau.2 years ago
In a town where people know each other's business, tongues wag. Feelings get hurt. Conflict erupts. The film's subdued lighting and vivid colors, combined with soft piano and velvety violin background music, create a tone that is sad and sentimental. Viewers are right to say that this Douglas Sirk directed film is a melodramatic soap opera.
Thinly veiled behind the simple plot, however, lies a profound message: "to thine own self be true". It is a message totally out of sync with 1950's America. Yet, the message would surface a decade later as the 1960's youth mantra: "do your own thing".
As an archetype, Ron seems too pure. And Cary's children and friends, shallow, selfish, vain, gossipy, and judgmental, are easy to dislike. This sharp dichotomy is somewhat unrealistic. But it gets the point across. And that point is a blistering indictment of 1950's American materialism and mindless conformity.
The film was thus ahead of its time. Despite its high technical quality, it was snubbed by the Oscars. In retrospect, "All That Heaven Allows" is superior to all five of the Oscar best picture nominees from that year. And its message is just as relevant now as it was fifty years ago.
Douglas Sirk's Visual Extravaganza
9/10 At times, the aesthetic appeal of a film is so overwhelming, it surpasses the draw of the big-name stars and plot. And "All That Heaven Allows" is one of those rare examples. Anyone familiar with Douglas Sirk-directed projects knows his grandiose style. And this 1955 masterpiece sums up the best of Sirk drama, with the surface sheen, thundering music, noted stars and biting social commentary. This film, in fact, is so beautiful, that it requires repeated viewings just to be able to take it all in.2 years ago
Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson re-team from Sirk's inferior "Magnificent Obsession" that was such a hit the year before. In this story, Wyman plays a wealthy widow bound to the claustrophobic confines of her uppity New England town. Her friends and two grown children do their best to convince her to marry Harvey, a stuffy and older neighborhood bachelor. But Wyman wants more. She ends up falling for her younger gardener, played by Hudson. After bonding over the virtues of the silver-tipped spruce, they embark on a love affair which is rejected by the community and Wyman's own children. They feel she is far too upstanding to be with a gardener. The reluctance of those around her to accept this relationship cause Wyman to have to choose between love or respect from her town.
Sirk takes what is a sappy, predictable tale and turns it into a visual feast. This is true eye candy for film buffs. Sirk sets the stage for this story against a heightened background of the reds, golds and yellows of a New England autumn. Every detail from Agnes Moorehead's red hair to sunsets to Wyman's lipstick and even the cars is given the Technicolor treatment to the max. Sirk's knack for visual irony is also heavily present throughout. The film opens with a shot of the town's clocktower with pigeons roosting. The pigeons are divided into two groups - a gaggle of black pigeons representing the townspeople on one end, and on the other are two white pigeons nuzzling, representing Wyman and Hudson and the division they face in this community. This is just for starters. Other stunning examples are when Sirk uses shades of blues and greys and reds to convey character's feelings of sadness or anger. And of course there is the famous television set scene. And through all of this emotion and cotton candy extravaganza is Frank Skinner's lush score that soars in all the right places. "All That Heaven Allows" is a first-rate classic that is a must for fans of Sirk or anyone who are devotees of lush melodramas from the studio heyday.
Wyman ready of a love affair, but not for love...
8/10 It is ironic that during the 1950s, when the former Douglas Sirk was at his most successful in terms of audience appeal, he was virtually ignored by the critics... He is now seen, however, as a director of formidable intellect who, despite his background in classical and Avant-Garde Theater, achieved his best work in melodrama...2 years ago
With its penetrating, literate screenplay, its fine and sympathetic acting, its tasteful sets and artwork, its wonderful music, cleverly adapted from some of the finest music of Franz Liszt and other romantic composers, 'All That Heaven Allows' is another film, passed over in its own time as "just another soap opera."
Sirk tries to capture the tensions of real everyday living in his representation of a lonely elegant widow steeped in a snobbish society...
Jane Wyman is (Cary Scott), a pleasant middle-aged widow who is having difficulty in adjusting to her status... She lives in comfortable circumstances in a handsome house, but her character is more concerned with maintaining a veneer of social respectability than with addressing reality...
Sirk turns a conventional love story, between Cary and her much younger gardener and nurseryman Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson) into a study of the fall of American idealism and innocence, and lush images of nature contrasting with claustrophobic, petty-minded snobbery of a country-club set...
Ron prefers to grow plants in his nursery near an old mill, and lives life according to his own rules - which do not comprise cocktail parties, gossip, and superficial camaraderie... He is obviously handsome, and Cary gives herself numerous reasons why she should not encourage him... The difference in their respective ages being, in her view, the most salient of all... But Ron keeps returning, it is obvious he is attracted to her...
But as their romance deepens, so does the widow's dilemma... The family, so often glamorized by Hollywood, is regarded as selfish and inhibiting, with the widow's teenage children horrified at the idea of another man tainting their dead father's sacred memory... So Cary retreats, and decides to walk away from a love that promises the chance to rediscover her own passion in his sensual embrace...
Sirk does interesting things with reflections, most notable the sight of Wyman reflected in the screen of a television set that her son and daughter buy her in Christmas to keep her company... Staring deeply into its surface, deep sadness closed her heart as she wanted to escape the pain of her mistake... Her physician (Hayden Rorke), whom she consults on her miserable headaches, tells her that there is absolutely nothing wrong with her, that she must stop living by the opinions, the smiles and frowns of others...
Wyman convincingly gives the impression of a woman torn between the fires of her own heart and her devotion to her family and friends... She and Hudson have a good chemistry together, and obviously the film, exquisitely photographed in Technicolor, carries off its intended effect perfectly...
Scathing social commentary masking as soap opera.
9/10 Douglas Sirk is a truly underrated director, and this film shows why. Although this film becomes more highly regarded as the years go by, especially by non-Americans, it is usually regarded as just a well made soaper. Big mistake. This is a very angry film, a scathing commentary on the conformity and mindlessness that characterized much of the 1950s. Remember, this film was made in 1955, before there were any beatniks or hippies, before the civil rights movement, before there was any pot smoking, before anyone beyond the fringes questioned any of the basic values underlying capitalist America. America was at the peak of its power and prestige, and this was perhaps the first mainstream film that questioned the values that presumably were responsible for that ascendancy. Because this film is essentially about class and the primacy that human relationships must have over material gain, social acceptance, and social conformity.2 years ago
Think of the forbidden (at the time) themes that this film deals with. Older woman, younger man. The shallowness, insipidity, and snobbery of the upper middle class arrivistes who have "made it," all of which masks their basic insecurity, unhappiness, and self-loathing. A male lead who doesn't care about acceptance by anyone, who doesn't care about money or success, who just wants to be happy and "do his own thing," well over a decade before that phrase was coined. The Wyman character foolishly (at first) decides that acceptance by her peers and children is more important than finding happiness with a man she truly loves, and what does she end up with for companionship? A television set! This was the decade in which "The Lonely Crowd" was published, and this film exemplifies that concept, as well as striking examples of other- vs. inner-directed, far better than any other film of its time.
Sirk was truly a visionary, well ahead of his time. This was why this film inspired Fassbinder's "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul" and Todd Haynes' "Far from Heaven." It is all the more powerful for having been made then and in not being a retrospective look, as is "Far from Heaven," from a more "enlightened" future time. For its social import, I rate this 9/10.