Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tonight's Movie: All That Heaven Allows (1955)

ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS, a romantic melodrama directed by Douglas Sirk, begins with an exquisitely beautiful shot of a New England town in the fall. The film only gets better from there, with gorgeous scenery and Sirk's characteristic use of rich colors making the film worth watching in and of itself. The Criterion DVD print is stunning; by all means watch the movie on DVD if at all possible.

The plot concerns a well-off 40-ish widow, Cary (Jane Wyman), whose children are on the verge of adulthood. Cary unexpectedly finds herself romanced by a younger gardener, Ron (Rock Hudson). When Cary accepts Ron's marriage proposal, her children and so-called friends are shocked that she would marry someone so "unsuitable," outside their own moneyed social class, not to mention younger.

In its day the film was apparently somewhat dismissed as a well-done "woman's film," but in recent years Sirk's films have come to be more appreciated not only for their use of color -- the color in Sirk's even more melodramatic WRITTEN ON THE WIND (1956) is amazing -- but also for their social commentary and symbolism. ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS is filled with the interesting use of doors, screens, windows, and reflections -- it's too bad there isn't a commentary track analyzing all of that to add to the richness of the viewing experience.

The movie is well-acted by an excellent cast. Agnes Moorehead and Hayden Rorke, as Cary's best friend and doctor, are her lone supporters among their social set. William Reynolds and Gloria Talbott play her snobby, self-centered children. Lovely Virginia Grey is one of Hudson's friends, while Conrad Nagel plays the man her family considers a "suitable" match for Wyman.

The plot is quite similar to a film of nearly a decade earlier, Barbara Stanwyck's MY REPUTATION, in which she played a widow whose romance was similarly condemned by family and country club friends. I highly recommend that movie as well.

ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS runs 89 minutes. It's also available on video.

2016 Update: I saw this again in a lovely digital print at the TCM Classic Film Festival.


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