All That Heaven Allows


1h 29m 1956
All That Heaven Allows

Brief Synopsis

A lonely widow defies small-town gossip when she falls for a younger man.

Film Details

Genre
Romance
Drama
Release Date
Jan 1956
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 25 Dec 1955
Production Company
Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Co., Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 29m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Synopsis

In the New England town of Stoningham, widow Cary Scott is disappointed when her friend, Sara Warren, cancels a lunch date, and so invites her landscaper Ron Kirby to share the meal. Immediately, Cary is drawn to Ron's strength and calm, but his youth and blue-collar social status make a romance unthinkable to her. That night, Cary's children, budding executive Ned and co-ed Kay, come home and grant their approval to Cary's date with the sole local bachelor, staid hypochondriac Harvey. Cary and Harvey go to the country club, where a new neighbor, Tom Allenby, is already being targeted by a young blonde woman. After neighborhood gossip Mona Plash criticizes Cary's red dress as inappropriate, the married Howard Hoffer makes a pass at Cary, who deflects it. Harvey takes her home and there proposes to her, but Cary, who yearns for some of the passion she felt with her husband, demurs. Weeks later, Ron returns to prune the trees, and Cary is surprised at the disappointment she feels after he announces he is quitting in order to run his tree farm. When he asks her over to see his trees, she reluctantly agrees, only to be charmed by his rustic greenhouse cabin and down-to-earth manner. As she explores the abandoned mill next door, a bird frightens her and she falls into Ron's arms. Cary then turns to leave, but Ron stops her, and they share a passionate kiss. Weeks later, autumn progresses, and Cary, horrified by Sara's advice to buy a television set to keep her company, accepts Ron's invitation to a dinner party. It is held at the home of his friends, Alida and Mick Anderson, former suburbanites who, at Ron's urging, have turned to living on the land for fulfillment. Alida explains that they live by the words of Henry David Thoreau: "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away." As the party begins and she dances with Ron, a joyful Cary realizes how much she admires Ron's lifestyle and strength of mind, and feels a twinge of jealousy when she sees Alida's pretty niece, Mary Ann, flirting with him. By winter, Ron and Cary are spending all their time together, and he surprises her by showing her how much of the mill he has remodeled. When he tells her that he has built the house for them to share, however, she insists that the union would be impossible, because her friends and children would not accept him. She begins to leave, but breaks down crying, and soon after they declare their mutual love. Within days, Mona spies them together and spreads a rumor that they began their relationship before Cary's husband died. The faithful Sara suggests that Cary bring Ron to a party that weekend so their friends can meet him, but at the party, the local couples disdain Ron as "the gardener" and snub him. After Howard declares Cary a tease, Ron slugs him, and the couple quickly leave. At home, Cary tells Ned and Kay that she is going to marry Ron, and although they were amenable to her relationship with Harvey, they are horrified to think she might marry "beneath" her and sell the family home. After Kay cries that her life has been ruined by the gossip and Ned threatens never to return home, Cary tells Ron they must wait to be married. He demands that she choose between her love for him and her need for social acceptance, and even though she is devastated, Cary leaves Ron. Weeks later, her friends and family have welcomed Cary back into their fold, but she remains despondent and suffers headaches. Soon, the kids are too busy to visit, and a lonely Cary is crushed when she sees Ron and Mary Ann together. At Christmas, Kay shows off her engagement ring and Ned announces that he is moving to Paris and wants to sell the family house. When Cary sees their gift, a TV set, she breaks down, realizing that her rejection of Ron was pointless, and her future holds only loneliness and boredom. The next day, she visits Dr. Dan Hennessy, who opines that her headaches are caused by depression, and that she should marry Ron. Although she goes to Ron's, she hesitates at the door and returns to her car. Ron, who has been hunting, spots her from atop a hill and, in his rush to stop her from leaving, falls off a cliff and suffers a concussion. That night, Alida informs Cary that Ron is unconscious, and they race to his cabin, where Cary admires the beautiful home Ron has built and anguishes over why it has taken her so long to discover her true values. When Ron finally wakes the next morning, he is delighted to see Cary, who assures him that she has finally come home.

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Movie Clip

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Film Details

Genre
Romance
Drama
Release Date
Jan 1956
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 25 Dec 1955
Production Company
Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Co., Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 29m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.85 : 1

Articles

All That Heaven Allows


Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) is a widow living in a small New England town. Now that her two children, Kay (Gloria Talbott) and Ned (William Reynolds), are grown up and in college, she is becoming increasingly aware of her loneliness. While everyone implicitly expects her to marry Harvey (Conrad Nagel), an older man who cares for her but is not terribly exciting, Cary instead falls in love with Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson), a free-spirited gardener who is establishing a tree farm outside of town and who happens to be significantly younger than her. Cary has the support of her close friend Sara Warren (Agnes Moorehead), but she is pressured by her children and malicious small-town gossip to abandon the relationship. Confronted now by her empty existence, she decides to give their love a second chance.

Initially dismissed as a weepy "woman's picture," Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows (1956) is now considered one of the most enduring films of the 1950s, thanks to its engaging lead performances, beautifully stylized direction and piquant social critique. Indeed, the rediscovery of Sirk as a major Hollywood director is an appropriately ironic twist to the career of a director who made his reputation with melodramas. During the 1960s, relatively neglected Hollywood directors such as Howard Hawks and popular genres such as film noir and the Western started to receive renewed attention in film criticism, but the melodrama still tended to be ignored compared to more male-oriented genres. A key moment in the reexamination of the melodrama was the 1971 publication of the first edition of Sirk on Sirk: Conversations with John Halliday. In this book, Sirk revealed himself to be a fascinating raconteur of remarkable erudition, and the intelligence behind his films became more widely appreciated. Sirk's influence has since been acknowledged by directors such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Todd Haynes, both of whom in fact made their own riffs on the basic story of All That Heaven Allows in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) and Far From Heaven (2002), respectively.

Douglas Sirk was born in 1897 as Hans Detlef Sierck to Danish parents living in Hamburg, Germany. After spending his childhood both in Hamburg and in Denmark, he studied law, philosophy and art history before joining the theater in Hamburg as a Dramaturg. During the Twenties and Thirties he earned a reputation as a leading stage director in Germany. In addition to staging the work of major German playwrights such as Brecht, Hauptmann and Wedekind, he produced Shakespeare, Shaw, Pirandello and Wilde.

Sirk's career as a film director began in 1934, when he directed several shorts for UFA before moving to feature films, starting with April! April! in 1935. His best-known German films are the melodramas Final Accord (1936), Zu Neuen Ufern/To New Shores (1937) and La Habanera (1937), the latter of which has recently been released on DVD. Thanks to the location shooting in Spain required for La Habanera, Sirk was able to secure a passport and leave Germany to reunite with his Jewish wife, who was already in Rome by that time. He then stayed in Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands--where he directed Boefje (1939)--before receiving an invitation to remake To New Shores with Warner Brothers and coming to America. When plans fell through, he directed Hitler's Madman (1943) for MGM instead. He then directed various films with United Artists and Columbia before moving to Universal in 1950, where he entered his most prolific period. Although he often bemoaned the scripts he was given at Universal, in their defense he said, "[They] didn't interfere with either my camerawork or my cutting--which meant a lot to me. In a way, I see their point of view, running a studio: a film has to make back its money. I think all the best directors would agree with me about that--Ford, Hawks, or Hitchcock certainly would. There has never been a time in show-business, going back to Calderon, Shakespeare, Lope de Vega, Moliere, when this hasn't been the case."

After the breakthrough popular success of the melodrama Magnificent Obsession (1954), Sirk teamed up again with producer Ross Hunter, cinematographer Russell Metty, lead actors Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman, and supporting actress Agnes Moorehead. Magnificent Obsession had been a remake of a 1935 John Stahl melodrama, which itself was adapted from a sermonizing Lloyd C. Douglas novel. For All That Heaven Allows, the source material was a 1952 novel by Edna and Harry Lee of the same title, first published as a story in Woman's Home Companion. Besides retaining the novel's original title, Sirk's film is in fact quite close to its source in terms of its underlying social critique, the general plot outline, the basic traits of all the main characters, and even some of the dialogue.

At the same time, Sirk's film is an excellent example of how as a director he was able to enrich the often formulaic scripts he had to work with during this period. His basic approach to All That Heaven Allows is revealed by his oft-quoted comment on the title: "The studio loved the title, they thought it meant you could have everything you wanted. I meant it exactly the other way round. As far as I'm concerned, heaven is stingy." However, the point is not so much that Sirk subverts the original intent of the story as that he adds more complex dimensions to it through visual detail, acting, lighting and composition of the shot. The daughter Kay's bookish references to Freud are treated with a certain comic irony, underlining her lack of self-awareness regarding her own feelings toward her mother's relationship with Ron Kirby. Ron's embodiment of the values of American individualism is made more explicit in the film through an allusion to Thoreau's Walden. In addition, Ron's character is given an element of vulnerability not present in the novel, as represented by the broken Wedgewood teapot Cary finds in his barn and his near-fatal accident towards the end of the film. The climax of the novel is perhaps too obvious in the way it echoes the theme of the widow buried alive in her husband's tomb: when the gas furnace goes out in her house, Cary becomes trapped in the basement while trying to fix it and nearly dies of asphyxiation. In the film, this theme is more subtly developed on a visual level throughout by positioning Cary within frames, most notably behind windowpanes and in the ominous reflection of the television set during the Christmas sequence. In addition to the device of the frame-within-the-frame, typical Sirkian stylistic flourishes in the film include the frequent use of mirrors or other reflective surfaces and expressive, sometimes non-realistic use of shadows and colored lighting.

Sirk's "happy end," in contrast with the novel, offers a more complex and interesting resolution of the fundamental problem of the story, which is the incompatibility of Ron's largely solitary existence in nature and Cary's domesticity and dependence on her old social ties. By the end of the film, Cary still becomes part of the home that Ron has built for both of them as she does in the novel, but here it is at the cost of Ron's temporary incapacitation, or "domestication," if you will. Their union, moreover, is blessed by the sudden appearance of a deer at the window. Sirk compares such transparently contrived endings with the deus ex machina (i.e., last-minute intervention by the "gods") of a Euripides play: "You see, there is no real solution of the predicament the people in the play are in, just the deus ex machina, which is now called 'the happy end,' and which both Hollywood and Athenians and assorted Greeks were so keen on. But this is what is being called Euripidean irony. It makes the crowd happy. To the few it makes the aporia [dramatic impasse] more transparent."

Rock Hudson became one of Douglas Sirk's most commonly used actors in the 1950s, from earlier works such as Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952) and the 3-D Western Taza, Son of Cochise (1954) to the better-known melodramas: Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind (1956) and The Tarnished Angels (1958). Sirk's account of his discovery of Rock Hudson is as follows: "Well, there had emerged a kind of B-picture creation at Universal against the trend of the time, as I thought, and as I was proven right later. This was partly caused by the lack of house-owned stars. The only thing to do in these circumstances was to manufacture a star, because getting more money depended on having a name in your picture. So I looked around, and I saw a picture Rock was playing in, with Jeff Chandler in the lead (Iron Man, 1951). He had a small part, and he was far inferior to Chandler, but I thought I saw something. So I arranged to meet him, and he seemed to be not too much to the eye, except very handsome. But the camera sees with its own eye. It sees things the human eye does not detect. And ultimately you learn to trust your camera." Thanks to the cultivation of Rock Hudson's image in the Sirk melodramas and his appearance in George Steven's Giant (1956), he became one of the top-grossing stars of the era.

Upon its initial release, Variety characterized All That Heaven Allows a tad condescendingly as "[..] a film guaranteed to tug at the heartstrings of all middle-aged women who, occasionally, must think of the possibility of such a romance." The reviewer adds: "Director Sirk keeps things rolling along and manages to get his actors to make trite dialogue sound less so." As if afraid to admit directly that he liked the film, critic Hollis Alpert cleverly disguised his review as a letter from his "Aunt Henrietta" to Universal Studios, prefacing it with, "She wishes me to thank you for giving her the kind of heartfelt emotional experience she rarely gets from movies these days." Less kindly, the reviewer for Time wrote: "The moviegoer often has the sensation that he is drowning in a sea of melted butter, with nothing to hang on to but the cliches that float past." Today, fortunately, we realize that it's okay to weep at melodramas, especially when they¿re directed with such skill as All That Heaven Allows.

For classical music buffs--the pensive theme played on the piano over the opening credits and repeated periodically during the film is from Franz Liszt's popular solo piano piece Consolation No. 3 in D Flat Major.

Director: Douglas Sirk
Producer: Ross Hunter
Screenplay: Peg Fenwick, based on the story by Edna and Harry Lee
Cinematographer: Russell Metty
Music: Joseph E. Gershenson and Frank Skinner
Editor: Fred Baratta and Frank Gross
Set Designers: Russell A. Gausman and Julia Heron
Costume Designer: Bill Thomas
Makeup: Bud Westmore
Cast: Jane Wyman (Cary Scott), Rock Hudson (Ron Kirby), Agnes Moorehead (Sara Warren), Conrad Nagel (Harvey), Gloria Talbott (Kay Scott), William Reynolds (Ned Scott), Virginia Grey (Alida Anderson), Charles Drake (Mick Anderson), Jacqueline deWit (Mona Plash).
C-89m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by James Steffen
All That Heaven Allows

All That Heaven Allows

Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) is a widow living in a small New England town. Now that her two children, Kay (Gloria Talbott) and Ned (William Reynolds), are grown up and in college, she is becoming increasingly aware of her loneliness. While everyone implicitly expects her to marry Harvey (Conrad Nagel), an older man who cares for her but is not terribly exciting, Cary instead falls in love with Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson), a free-spirited gardener who is establishing a tree farm outside of town and who happens to be significantly younger than her. Cary has the support of her close friend Sara Warren (Agnes Moorehead), but she is pressured by her children and malicious small-town gossip to abandon the relationship. Confronted now by her empty existence, she decides to give their love a second chance. Initially dismissed as a weepy "woman's picture," Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows (1956) is now considered one of the most enduring films of the 1950s, thanks to its engaging lead performances, beautifully stylized direction and piquant social critique. Indeed, the rediscovery of Sirk as a major Hollywood director is an appropriately ironic twist to the career of a director who made his reputation with melodramas. During the 1960s, relatively neglected Hollywood directors such as Howard Hawks and popular genres such as film noir and the Western started to receive renewed attention in film criticism, but the melodrama still tended to be ignored compared to more male-oriented genres. A key moment in the reexamination of the melodrama was the 1971 publication of the first edition of Sirk on Sirk: Conversations with John Halliday. In this book, Sirk revealed himself to be a fascinating raconteur of remarkable erudition, and the intelligence behind his films became more widely appreciated. Sirk's influence has since been acknowledged by directors such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Todd Haynes, both of whom in fact made their own riffs on the basic story of All That Heaven Allows in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) and Far From Heaven (2002), respectively. Douglas Sirk was born in 1897 as Hans Detlef Sierck to Danish parents living in Hamburg, Germany. After spending his childhood both in Hamburg and in Denmark, he studied law, philosophy and art history before joining the theater in Hamburg as a Dramaturg. During the Twenties and Thirties he earned a reputation as a leading stage director in Germany. In addition to staging the work of major German playwrights such as Brecht, Hauptmann and Wedekind, he produced Shakespeare, Shaw, Pirandello and Wilde. Sirk's career as a film director began in 1934, when he directed several shorts for UFA before moving to feature films, starting with April! April! in 1935. His best-known German films are the melodramas Final Accord (1936), Zu Neuen Ufern/To New Shores (1937) and La Habanera (1937), the latter of which has recently been released on DVD. Thanks to the location shooting in Spain required for La Habanera, Sirk was able to secure a passport and leave Germany to reunite with his Jewish wife, who was already in Rome by that time. He then stayed in Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands--where he directed Boefje (1939)--before receiving an invitation to remake To New Shores with Warner Brothers and coming to America. When plans fell through, he directed Hitler's Madman (1943) for MGM instead. He then directed various films with United Artists and Columbia before moving to Universal in 1950, where he entered his most prolific period. Although he often bemoaned the scripts he was given at Universal, in their defense he said, "[They] didn't interfere with either my camerawork or my cutting--which meant a lot to me. In a way, I see their point of view, running a studio: a film has to make back its money. I think all the best directors would agree with me about that--Ford, Hawks, or Hitchcock certainly would. There has never been a time in show-business, going back to Calderon, Shakespeare, Lope de Vega, Moliere, when this hasn't been the case." After the breakthrough popular success of the melodrama Magnificent Obsession (1954), Sirk teamed up again with producer Ross Hunter, cinematographer Russell Metty, lead actors Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman, and supporting actress Agnes Moorehead. Magnificent Obsession had been a remake of a 1935 John Stahl melodrama, which itself was adapted from a sermonizing Lloyd C. Douglas novel. For All That Heaven Allows, the source material was a 1952 novel by Edna and Harry Lee of the same title, first published as a story in Woman's Home Companion. Besides retaining the novel's original title, Sirk's film is in fact quite close to its source in terms of its underlying social critique, the general plot outline, the basic traits of all the main characters, and even some of the dialogue. At the same time, Sirk's film is an excellent example of how as a director he was able to enrich the often formulaic scripts he had to work with during this period. His basic approach to All That Heaven Allows is revealed by his oft-quoted comment on the title: "The studio loved the title, they thought it meant you could have everything you wanted. I meant it exactly the other way round. As far as I'm concerned, heaven is stingy." However, the point is not so much that Sirk subverts the original intent of the story as that he adds more complex dimensions to it through visual detail, acting, lighting and composition of the shot. The daughter Kay's bookish references to Freud are treated with a certain comic irony, underlining her lack of self-awareness regarding her own feelings toward her mother's relationship with Ron Kirby. Ron's embodiment of the values of American individualism is made more explicit in the film through an allusion to Thoreau's Walden. In addition, Ron's character is given an element of vulnerability not present in the novel, as represented by the broken Wedgewood teapot Cary finds in his barn and his near-fatal accident towards the end of the film. The climax of the novel is perhaps too obvious in the way it echoes the theme of the widow buried alive in her husband's tomb: when the gas furnace goes out in her house, Cary becomes trapped in the basement while trying to fix it and nearly dies of asphyxiation. In the film, this theme is more subtly developed on a visual level throughout by positioning Cary within frames, most notably behind windowpanes and in the ominous reflection of the television set during the Christmas sequence. In addition to the device of the frame-within-the-frame, typical Sirkian stylistic flourishes in the film include the frequent use of mirrors or other reflective surfaces and expressive, sometimes non-realistic use of shadows and colored lighting. Sirk's "happy end," in contrast with the novel, offers a more complex and interesting resolution of the fundamental problem of the story, which is the incompatibility of Ron's largely solitary existence in nature and Cary's domesticity and dependence on her old social ties. By the end of the film, Cary still becomes part of the home that Ron has built for both of them as she does in the novel, but here it is at the cost of Ron's temporary incapacitation, or "domestication," if you will. Their union, moreover, is blessed by the sudden appearance of a deer at the window. Sirk compares such transparently contrived endings with the deus ex machina (i.e., last-minute intervention by the "gods") of a Euripides play: "You see, there is no real solution of the predicament the people in the play are in, just the deus ex machina, which is now called 'the happy end,' and which both Hollywood and Athenians and assorted Greeks were so keen on. But this is what is being called Euripidean irony. It makes the crowd happy. To the few it makes the aporia [dramatic impasse] more transparent." Rock Hudson became one of Douglas Sirk's most commonly used actors in the 1950s, from earlier works such as Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952) and the 3-D Western Taza, Son of Cochise (1954) to the better-known melodramas: Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind (1956) and The Tarnished Angels (1958). Sirk's account of his discovery of Rock Hudson is as follows: "Well, there had emerged a kind of B-picture creation at Universal against the trend of the time, as I thought, and as I was proven right later. This was partly caused by the lack of house-owned stars. The only thing to do in these circumstances was to manufacture a star, because getting more money depended on having a name in your picture. So I looked around, and I saw a picture Rock was playing in, with Jeff Chandler in the lead (Iron Man, 1951). He had a small part, and he was far inferior to Chandler, but I thought I saw something. So I arranged to meet him, and he seemed to be not too much to the eye, except very handsome. But the camera sees with its own eye. It sees things the human eye does not detect. And ultimately you learn to trust your camera." Thanks to the cultivation of Rock Hudson's image in the Sirk melodramas and his appearance in George Steven's Giant (1956), he became one of the top-grossing stars of the era. Upon its initial release, Variety characterized All That Heaven Allows a tad condescendingly as "[..] a film guaranteed to tug at the heartstrings of all middle-aged women who, occasionally, must think of the possibility of such a romance." The reviewer adds: "Director Sirk keeps things rolling along and manages to get his actors to make trite dialogue sound less so." As if afraid to admit directly that he liked the film, critic Hollis Alpert cleverly disguised his review as a letter from his "Aunt Henrietta" to Universal Studios, prefacing it with, "She wishes me to thank you for giving her the kind of heartfelt emotional experience she rarely gets from movies these days." Less kindly, the reviewer for Time wrote: "The moviegoer often has the sensation that he is drowning in a sea of melted butter, with nothing to hang on to but the cliches that float past." Today, fortunately, we realize that it's okay to weep at melodramas, especially when they¿re directed with such skill as All That Heaven Allows. For classical music buffs--the pensive theme played on the piano over the opening credits and repeated periodically during the film is from Franz Liszt's popular solo piano piece Consolation No. 3 in D Flat Major. Director: Douglas Sirk Producer: Ross Hunter Screenplay: Peg Fenwick, based on the story by Edna and Harry Lee Cinematographer: Russell Metty Music: Joseph E. Gershenson and Frank Skinner Editor: Fred Baratta and Frank Gross Set Designers: Russell A. Gausman and Julia Heron Costume Designer: Bill Thomas Makeup: Bud Westmore Cast: Jane Wyman (Cary Scott), Rock Hudson (Ron Kirby), Agnes Moorehead (Sara Warren), Conrad Nagel (Harvey), Gloria Talbott (Kay Scott), William Reynolds (Ned Scott), Virginia Grey (Alida Anderson), Charles Drake (Mick Anderson), Jacqueline deWit (Mona Plash). C-89m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning. by James Steffen

All That Heaven Allows on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD


In 2002 Todd Haynes directed Far from Heaven, a conscious attempt to re-visit Douglas Sirk's 1955 'women's weepie' potboiler All That Heaven Allows, right down to the oversaturated colors, bright fall foliage and lush vintage interiors. Although Haynes' film captures the right look, the original is so dependent on its '50s context that it can't be replicated now, at least not in the same way. Sirk's film illuminates a bygone 'consensus' America that won't tolerate even small deviations from accepted behavior. The frustrated wife in Far from Heaven not only discovers that her husband is gay, she seeks solace in an interracial relationship. Both of those issues of course existed in the 1950s, but polite society declined to acknowledge them. As taboo topics, they were banished from the media and mostly talked about in cautious whispers. Kept in a 'reality Kindergarten', readers and audiences of that decade were scandalized by the 'shocking' content of things like Peyton Place.

Douglas Sirk's 1950s melodramas were popular but disposable entertainments that came into their own only when American critics, influenced by their French colleagues, began discovering a new vitality in Hollywood product of the Cold War years. Embraced by critics looking for formal values and proto-feminist ideas, Sirk gained a new respectability, even if the consensus was that he was worthwhile because his work transcended an unworthy genre. Made for Universal-International producers Ross Hunter and Al Zugsmith, Sirk's glossy pictures are soap operas loaded with romance, color, and a kind of 'High Hollywood' style that never quite becomes high camp. Fake and honest at the same time, they are artificial constructions filled with powerful real emotions. Douglas Sirk is a genuine original. The contemporary director that has really carried on the 'Sirkian' tradition is Spain's insightful Pedro Almodóvar.

All That Heaven Allows was an instant follow-up to Magnificent Obesession, Douglas Sirk's breakout Universal soaper that made Rock Hudson a star. That picture's great achievement was to prevail over story elements so absurd as to be insulting. No matter how preposterous things become, the movie always makes emotional sense.

The setup in Heaven is much simpler. The good-looking widow Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) has plenty of money but finds herself in a socially awkward position. One older suitor offers her 'companionship' and a middle-aged lothario (Tol Avery) tries to rush her into the sack, but Cary holds out for something better. She finds herself attracted to handsome, gracious Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson), her gardener. Cary is intrigued by Ron's simple approach to life and his disdain for her petty associates. Although the 'nature man' Ron is fifteen years her junior, she's captivated by the perfect home he makes for them in an abandoned mill. Cary can ignore the disapproval of her snooty friends, but is horrified when her own grown children throw tantrums at the thought of her marrying someone they assume is so obviously after her money. The thought of their mother having sex with a younger man is unthinkable. Cary impulsively calls off her engagement, a decision she soon regrets.

This insightful movie can be seen as an outgrowth of the glossy romance fiction found in '50s women's magazines, in which the mere suggestion of illicit sex or adultery was enough to arouse the presumably repressed target audience. Our Cary Scott is a bourgeois fantasy, an affluent woman untroubled by the basic problems of making a living. Cary has grace, good manners and keeps most of her inner doubts to herself. But when something perfect comes along that holds the promise of true happiness, social forces seem to militate against her.

Heaven is about the invisible chains of an informal, rigidly unforgiving social system. Local gossip Mona Plash (Jacqueline deWit) lurks like a viper, ready to slur Cary's reputation. Cary's best friend Sara (Agnes Moorehead) means well but is also intimidated by social pressure, and advises Cary to lay off the younger Ron. The real anguish comes via Cary's children. To our surprise, it is the conservative younger generation that harbors twisted notions of sex. Psychology-quoting Kay (Gloria Talbott of I Married a Monster from Outer Space) goes apoplectic over the idea of Mom marrying a (gasp) gardener. She tries to explain her humiliation to her boyfriend in psychological terms. Kay's idea of daughter-mother openness is to tell Cary to her face that, "when we reach a certain age, sex becomes incongruous."

Director Douglas Sirk understood melodrama and respected it as a worthy format -- a drama of strong emotions and interpersonal conflict, that uses stylistic tools -- image, composition, music -- to heighten the experience. To emboss a mother-daughter confrontation on our minds, Sirk interrupts the already-dynamic lighting to bathe Kay in wild red and green light from some weird universe of emotion. It's as if the room had been invaded by Mario Bava. Cary's son Ned (William Reynolds) cries that his mother's rash actions have put a screen between them. Sure enough, a real screen blocks our view of his frantic face.

The vulnerable-looking Jane Wyman is the perfect identification model for this stealth ode to domestic non-conformism. Her Cary is mature, but also desirable and unspoiled, the product of Eisenhower's consumer success story. She's raised her kids and kept up appearances, and now isn't sure what she should be doing with her life. Characters in a soap opera mostly talk their problems to death. Douglas Sirk uses every tool at his disposal to help communicate Wyman's predicament away from verbal exposition. Cary finds herself alone, staring into mirrors and through windows. Visual clues emphasize the choices open to her, which boil down to a snowy isolation versus a fireplace with Ron. Their relationship is represented by a Wedgewood jug Ron repairs to please her. When it is accidentally broken, the suggestion is that Cary may be emotionally beyond repair. Within this consistently artificial world, the blunt symbol is more than acceptable. Sirk uses romance-novel fantasy to dramatize very real human emotions.

All That Heaven Allows' glossiest fantasy is Rock Hudson's Ron Kirby. The ruggedly handsome Ron works in gardens but never seems to sweat or get dirty. He embodies Henry Thoreau's Walden Pond philosophy of getting free of the rat race, which in this movie translates into ditching the country-club social swim for honest and open-minded friends. With his private acres in a verdant forest, Ron lives awfully well for a gardener and owner of a one-man tree nursery. And don't forget the picturesque abandoned mill, ideal for romantic meetings. It's almost a Disney fantasy out there, as every view is a gorgeous nature postcard. Ron's best friend is a deer that comes up for a handout. Ron is not an intellectual. He hasn't read Thoreau's writing; he simply lives it. A confident outdoorsman yet totally housebroken, Ron is gentle, sensitive, patient and thoughtful to an extreme... in other words, he's like no man alive.

Strangely enough, Jane Wyman wasn't even forty when she played Cary Scott, who is presumed to be at least 45. Is the idea that Ron Kirby can't find a passionate, soulful woman nearer his own age? He's such a mellow woodchuck that we understand his lack of attraction to the bouncy blonde 'young thing' Mary Ann (Merry Anders). Sirk's direction keeps our attention focused on various misunderstandings and bitter ironies, and even a wild accident occurring at an emotional highpoint. It results in one of those 'movie' injuries, the kind where one gets to stay at home in front of the fire and look as handsome as hell, while supposedly near death.

As if bestowing Mother Nature's blessing on their union, a real Bambi shows up as Ron and Cary regard their joyous future in a picture window view of a wintry Garden of Eden. Sirk and Jane Wyman pitch Cary's emotions perfectly, to match the emotional needs of their viewing audience. Despite the heavy stylization around Cary and Ron, their feelings never seem phony. Loneliness is a universal problem, and class snobbery is something we all can relate to. The final kicker is the loveless abuse of Cary's children. After ruining her chances of being with the man she loves, they bring her a cruelly ironic consolation prize, a television. The salesman might as well be sealing Cary in her tomb: " ... turn that dial and you have all the company you want right there on the screen. Drama, comedy, life's parade at your fingertips." The sight of Jane Wyman staring into the electronic grave is chilling. It's acknowledged as one of the more powerful film images of the decade.

Criterion's Blu-ray of All That Heaven Allows is a major upgrade from the company's DVD release of 2001. The remastered HD images replicate the saturated Technicolor hues of the original, which pop off the screen and have a marked emotional impact. Cameraman Russell Metty makes everything look clean, and bright, while fabrics, furs and faces take on a tactile quality. Producer Ross Hunter clearly had Universal's full cooperation, as the overall production is flawless. Frank Skinner's music score borrows from the work of Franz Liszt.

The major extra from the old DVD was Behind the Mirror: A Profile of Douglas Sirk, a 1979 BBC docu- interview that remains the best speaking record of the director. To this has been added another French TV interview from 1982, a new interview with Universal contract actor William Reynolds, a trailer and a commentary in which John Mercer and Tamar Jeffers-McDonald analyze all of the film's striking compositional effects.

Of particular interest is Mark Rappaport's Rock Hudson's Home Movies, which aren't home movies but an analysis of the actor's unique position as a gay man -- who acts in movies -- as a straight character -- often pretending to be gay. Rappaport explains that Hudson had a reel of film that he showed to friends at his house, clips from his movies that inferred a gay subtext. What at first appears to be a joke -- Rappaport mattes himself into the picture and performs the role of Rock's secret voice -- soon becomes entirely convincing. Hudson's dramas and comedies are indeed packed with what really seem to be intentional byplay with his secret closeted identity. His masculine womanizers are forever inventing comic alter egos with coded gay qualities. Even the male relationships in his films - the clips do have to be a bit selective here -- often involve a character lobbying to fend off female romantic complications. Rappaport's video piece is made from dozens of sometimes-ragged film clips. The biggest surprise is that the fun adds up to good film analysis. Rock Hudson was first and foremost a nice guy, and we come to a better understanding of his strange predicament.

By Glenn Erickson

All That Heaven Allows on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD

In 2002 Todd Haynes directed Far from Heaven, a conscious attempt to re-visit Douglas Sirk's 1955 'women's weepie' potboiler All That Heaven Allows, right down to the oversaturated colors, bright fall foliage and lush vintage interiors. Although Haynes' film captures the right look, the original is so dependent on its '50s context that it can't be replicated now, at least not in the same way. Sirk's film illuminates a bygone 'consensus' America that won't tolerate even small deviations from accepted behavior. The frustrated wife in Far from Heaven not only discovers that her husband is gay, she seeks solace in an interracial relationship. Both of those issues of course existed in the 1950s, but polite society declined to acknowledge them. As taboo topics, they were banished from the media and mostly talked about in cautious whispers. Kept in a 'reality Kindergarten', readers and audiences of that decade were scandalized by the 'shocking' content of things like Peyton Place. Douglas Sirk's 1950s melodramas were popular but disposable entertainments that came into their own only when American critics, influenced by their French colleagues, began discovering a new vitality in Hollywood product of the Cold War years. Embraced by critics looking for formal values and proto-feminist ideas, Sirk gained a new respectability, even if the consensus was that he was worthwhile because his work transcended an unworthy genre. Made for Universal-International producers Ross Hunter and Al Zugsmith, Sirk's glossy pictures are soap operas loaded with romance, color, and a kind of 'High Hollywood' style that never quite becomes high camp. Fake and honest at the same time, they are artificial constructions filled with powerful real emotions. Douglas Sirk is a genuine original. The contemporary director that has really carried on the 'Sirkian' tradition is Spain's insightful Pedro Almodóvar. All That Heaven Allows was an instant follow-up to Magnificent Obesession, Douglas Sirk's breakout Universal soaper that made Rock Hudson a star. That picture's great achievement was to prevail over story elements so absurd as to be insulting. No matter how preposterous things become, the movie always makes emotional sense. The setup in Heaven is much simpler. The good-looking widow Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) has plenty of money but finds herself in a socially awkward position. One older suitor offers her 'companionship' and a middle-aged lothario (Tol Avery) tries to rush her into the sack, but Cary holds out for something better. She finds herself attracted to handsome, gracious Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson), her gardener. Cary is intrigued by Ron's simple approach to life and his disdain for her petty associates. Although the 'nature man' Ron is fifteen years her junior, she's captivated by the perfect home he makes for them in an abandoned mill. Cary can ignore the disapproval of her snooty friends, but is horrified when her own grown children throw tantrums at the thought of her marrying someone they assume is so obviously after her money. The thought of their mother having sex with a younger man is unthinkable. Cary impulsively calls off her engagement, a decision she soon regrets. This insightful movie can be seen as an outgrowth of the glossy romance fiction found in '50s women's magazines, in which the mere suggestion of illicit sex or adultery was enough to arouse the presumably repressed target audience. Our Cary Scott is a bourgeois fantasy, an affluent woman untroubled by the basic problems of making a living. Cary has grace, good manners and keeps most of her inner doubts to herself. But when something perfect comes along that holds the promise of true happiness, social forces seem to militate against her. Heaven is about the invisible chains of an informal, rigidly unforgiving social system. Local gossip Mona Plash (Jacqueline deWit) lurks like a viper, ready to slur Cary's reputation. Cary's best friend Sara (Agnes Moorehead) means well but is also intimidated by social pressure, and advises Cary to lay off the younger Ron. The real anguish comes via Cary's children. To our surprise, it is the conservative younger generation that harbors twisted notions of sex. Psychology-quoting Kay (Gloria Talbott of I Married a Monster from Outer Space) goes apoplectic over the idea of Mom marrying a (gasp) gardener. She tries to explain her humiliation to her boyfriend in psychological terms. Kay's idea of daughter-mother openness is to tell Cary to her face that, "when we reach a certain age, sex becomes incongruous." Director Douglas Sirk understood melodrama and respected it as a worthy format -- a drama of strong emotions and interpersonal conflict, that uses stylistic tools -- image, composition, music -- to heighten the experience. To emboss a mother-daughter confrontation on our minds, Sirk interrupts the already-dynamic lighting to bathe Kay in wild red and green light from some weird universe of emotion. It's as if the room had been invaded by Mario Bava. Cary's son Ned (William Reynolds) cries that his mother's rash actions have put a screen between them. Sure enough, a real screen blocks our view of his frantic face. The vulnerable-looking Jane Wyman is the perfect identification model for this stealth ode to domestic non-conformism. Her Cary is mature, but also desirable and unspoiled, the product of Eisenhower's consumer success story. She's raised her kids and kept up appearances, and now isn't sure what she should be doing with her life. Characters in a soap opera mostly talk their problems to death. Douglas Sirk uses every tool at his disposal to help communicate Wyman's predicament away from verbal exposition. Cary finds herself alone, staring into mirrors and through windows. Visual clues emphasize the choices open to her, which boil down to a snowy isolation versus a fireplace with Ron. Their relationship is represented by a Wedgewood jug Ron repairs to please her. When it is accidentally broken, the suggestion is that Cary may be emotionally beyond repair. Within this consistently artificial world, the blunt symbol is more than acceptable. Sirk uses romance-novel fantasy to dramatize very real human emotions. All That Heaven Allows' glossiest fantasy is Rock Hudson's Ron Kirby. The ruggedly handsome Ron works in gardens but never seems to sweat or get dirty. He embodies Henry Thoreau's Walden Pond philosophy of getting free of the rat race, which in this movie translates into ditching the country-club social swim for honest and open-minded friends. With his private acres in a verdant forest, Ron lives awfully well for a gardener and owner of a one-man tree nursery. And don't forget the picturesque abandoned mill, ideal for romantic meetings. It's almost a Disney fantasy out there, as every view is a gorgeous nature postcard. Ron's best friend is a deer that comes up for a handout. Ron is not an intellectual. He hasn't read Thoreau's writing; he simply lives it. A confident outdoorsman yet totally housebroken, Ron is gentle, sensitive, patient and thoughtful to an extreme... in other words, he's like no man alive. Strangely enough, Jane Wyman wasn't even forty when she played Cary Scott, who is presumed to be at least 45. Is the idea that Ron Kirby can't find a passionate, soulful woman nearer his own age? He's such a mellow woodchuck that we understand his lack of attraction to the bouncy blonde 'young thing' Mary Ann (Merry Anders). Sirk's direction keeps our attention focused on various misunderstandings and bitter ironies, and even a wild accident occurring at an emotional highpoint. It results in one of those 'movie' injuries, the kind where one gets to stay at home in front of the fire and look as handsome as hell, while supposedly near death. As if bestowing Mother Nature's blessing on their union, a real Bambi shows up as Ron and Cary regard their joyous future in a picture window view of a wintry Garden of Eden. Sirk and Jane Wyman pitch Cary's emotions perfectly, to match the emotional needs of their viewing audience. Despite the heavy stylization around Cary and Ron, their feelings never seem phony. Loneliness is a universal problem, and class snobbery is something we all can relate to. The final kicker is the loveless abuse of Cary's children. After ruining her chances of being with the man she loves, they bring her a cruelly ironic consolation prize, a television. The salesman might as well be sealing Cary in her tomb: " ... turn that dial and you have all the company you want right there on the screen. Drama, comedy, life's parade at your fingertips." The sight of Jane Wyman staring into the electronic grave is chilling. It's acknowledged as one of the more powerful film images of the decade. Criterion's Blu-ray of All That Heaven Allows is a major upgrade from the company's DVD release of 2001. The remastered HD images replicate the saturated Technicolor hues of the original, which pop off the screen and have a marked emotional impact. Cameraman Russell Metty makes everything look clean, and bright, while fabrics, furs and faces take on a tactile quality. Producer Ross Hunter clearly had Universal's full cooperation, as the overall production is flawless. Frank Skinner's music score borrows from the work of Franz Liszt. The major extra from the old DVD was Behind the Mirror: A Profile of Douglas Sirk, a 1979 BBC docu- interview that remains the best speaking record of the director. To this has been added another French TV interview from 1982, a new interview with Universal contract actor William Reynolds, a trailer and a commentary in which John Mercer and Tamar Jeffers-McDonald analyze all of the film's striking compositional effects. Of particular interest is Mark Rappaport's Rock Hudson's Home Movies, which aren't home movies but an analysis of the actor's unique position as a gay man -- who acts in movies -- as a straight character -- often pretending to be gay. Rappaport explains that Hudson had a reel of film that he showed to friends at his house, clips from his movies that inferred a gay subtext. What at first appears to be a joke -- Rappaport mattes himself into the picture and performs the role of Rock's secret voice -- soon becomes entirely convincing. Hudson's dramas and comedies are indeed packed with what really seem to be intentional byplay with his secret closeted identity. His masculine womanizers are forever inventing comic alter egos with coded gay qualities. Even the male relationships in his films - the clips do have to be a bit selective here -- often involve a character lobbying to fend off female romantic complications. Rappaport's video piece is made from dozens of sometimes-ragged film clips. The biggest surprise is that the fun adds up to good film analysis. Rock Hudson was first and foremost a nice guy, and we come to a better understanding of his strange predicament. By Glenn Erickson

Douglas Sirk movies (Written on the Wind, All That Heaven Allows) - THE CRITERION COLLECTION DOES IT AGAIN WITH TWO DOUGLAS SIRK MOVIES!


Fans of director Douglas Sirk will find a real treat in the DVD bins. Two of his wildest melodramas, Written on the Wind (1956) and All That Heaven Allows (1955), have been released in special editions with sharp new transfers, enhanced for widescreen. A noted director in his native Germany, Sirk was one of many who fled the Nazis in the 1930s for a new home in Los Angeles. It was there that he continued his filmmaking career, even though he essentially had to start over again, making B-movies for the major studios. Sirk's sense of style and reliable production techniques eventually found him making high-profile melodramas featuring big-name stars but Sirk's theatrical background and wide intellectual interests gave them a unique twist. His films are self-critical without ever abandoning direct emotional appeal, making his films among the most important work of the 1950s.

Written on the Wind is a startling, overheated tale about the schemes and fantasies of a decadent Texas oil family. Robert Stack and sister Dorothy Malone run amuck through the lives of ad executive Lauren Bacall and geologist Rock Hudson. Sirk's imaginative but controlled style only highlights all the activity. The disc comes with notes by critic Laura Mulvey and production material. All That Heaven Allows is a bit more sedate on the surface but may be even more intense. Jane Wyman plays a wealthy widow attracted to her gardener (Rock Hudson again) despite the disapproval of her children and friends, a set-up that Sirk turns into an indictment of narrow-minded thinking. The disc includes a BBC documentary on Sirk plus a wonderfully demented essay by German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, himself greatly influenced by Sirk. Both of the Sirk DVDs are from The Criterion Collection which is The Criterion Collection is distributed jointly by Home Vision and Image Entertainment. For more information, you can visit either Image or The Criterion Collection.

By Lang Thompson

Douglas Sirk movies (Written on the Wind, All That Heaven Allows) - THE CRITERION COLLECTION DOES IT AGAIN WITH TWO DOUGLAS SIRK MOVIES!

Fans of director Douglas Sirk will find a real treat in the DVD bins. Two of his wildest melodramas, Written on the Wind (1956) and All That Heaven Allows (1955), have been released in special editions with sharp new transfers, enhanced for widescreen. A noted director in his native Germany, Sirk was one of many who fled the Nazis in the 1930s for a new home in Los Angeles. It was there that he continued his filmmaking career, even though he essentially had to start over again, making B-movies for the major studios. Sirk's sense of style and reliable production techniques eventually found him making high-profile melodramas featuring big-name stars but Sirk's theatrical background and wide intellectual interests gave them a unique twist. His films are self-critical without ever abandoning direct emotional appeal, making his films among the most important work of the 1950s. Written on the Wind is a startling, overheated tale about the schemes and fantasies of a decadent Texas oil family. Robert Stack and sister Dorothy Malone run amuck through the lives of ad executive Lauren Bacall and geologist Rock Hudson. Sirk's imaginative but controlled style only highlights all the activity. The disc comes with notes by critic Laura Mulvey and production material. All That Heaven Allows is a bit more sedate on the surface but may be even more intense. Jane Wyman plays a wealthy widow attracted to her gardener (Rock Hudson again) despite the disapproval of her children and friends, a set-up that Sirk turns into an indictment of narrow-minded thinking. The disc includes a BBC documentary on Sirk plus a wonderfully demented essay by German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, himself greatly influenced by Sirk. Both of the Sirk DVDs are from The Criterion Collection which is The Criterion Collection is distributed jointly by Home Vision and Image Entertainment. For more information, you can visit either Image or The Criterion Collection. By Lang Thompson

Quotes

Personally, I've never subscribed to that old Egyptian custom.
- Kay Scott
What Egyptian custom?
- Cary Scott
Of walling up the widow alive in the funeral chambers of her dead husband along with his other possessions. The theory being that she was a possession too. She was supossed to journey into dead with him. The community saw to it. Of course it doesn't happen anymore.
- Kay Scott
Doesn't it?
- Cary Scott
I'm sorry Cary. I don't know what got into me. I know you're not like that. I apologize for what I said.
- Howard Hoffer
That's all right, Howard.
- Cary Scott
But I don't apologize for wanting you.
- Howard Hoffer

Trivia

This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1995.

Notes

According to January 1955 Hollywood Reporter news items, Colleen Miller was cast in the film, and Ilka Chase was originally cast as "Mona Plash," but neither actress appears in the final film. Studio press materials indicate that Jane Wyman's daughter, Maureen Reagan, was considered for the role of "Kay Scott," but was deemed too young to play the part. All That Heaven Allows marked the first onscreen appearance of Conrad Nagel, who plays "Harvey," since his starring role in United Artists' 1948 film The Vicious Circle, directed by W. Lee Wilder (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50).
       Director Douglas Sirk stated in a modern interview that Universal saw All That Heaven Allows as a chance to repeat the success of Sirk's 1954 film Magnificent Obsession (see below). To that end, they re-assembled not only stars Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson and Agnes Moorehead, but most of the production crew as well. In the same interview, Sirk stated that one of his most important boyhood influences was Henry David Thoreau's Walden, and that "this is ultimately what the film was about." Thoreau's themes of the natural man and the necessity of self-reliance are evident in the character of "Ron Kirby." Referring to the film's title, Sirk affirmed that he considered it to be ironic: "As far as I'm concerned, heaven is stingy."
       January 1955 Hollywood Reporter news items add Dani Crayne and Alberto Morin to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Italian actress Gia Scala made her feature-film debut in All That Heaven Allows. Scala was initially brought to the U.S. by Universal in 1954 to test for the role of "Mary Magdalene" in The Galileans, a film that the studio never produced.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Fall October 1955

Released in United States January 1956

Began shooting January 1955.

Completed shooting February 1955.

Selected in 1995 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.

Released in United States January 1956

Released in United States Fall October 1955