All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk, 1955)
An upper-class widow falls in love with a much younger, down-to-earth nurseryman, much to the disapproval of her children and criticism of her country club peers.
Melodrama, Technicolor, the 1950’s. Douglas Sirk! The formula is there and couldn’t get better. Remade in 1974 by Rainer Werner Fassbinder in his Ali: Fear Eats the Soul and in 2002 by Todd Haynes with his masterpiece Far From Heaven, Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows might be one of the most visually striking films that the German born director ever made. It’s a shame that I saw my first Sirk movie only two years ago, being such an enthusiast now. With recurrent lead actor Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman as a widow of the upper-middle-class who falls in love for her gardener who himself lives as a simple man living simply and growing trees. Their biggest problem is the disapproval of their relationship by Cary’s (Wyman) children and her circle of friends of the country club.
The story is filled with colourful characters like Kay (Gloria Talbott), Cary’s daughter, who delivers the Freudian motivations of the characters of the story. They represent the stereotyped fauna of upper-middle-class 1950’s conformism. It confronts what is socially acceptable and the real feelings of the people living in those societies. It’s interesting to see how this story can be adapted to any era and how Todd Haynes pushed his adaptation even farther while keeping it set in the same time period. It is sad in a way that lovers would have to hide their passion because of social boundaries and what it is considered as acceptable or not.
It is still a melodrama, but the acting is less over the top than Written on the Wind and the fake sets of the mill looks more natural and even if the snow and the exteriors are also fake we believe them and appreciate the movie in spite of that. I must add that the Criterion transfer is very slick and that the images and colours are superb.
With fewer Sirks on my list I think it won’t be long for me to revisit this talented filmmaker of visually stunning films and rich sub plotted dramas. All That Heaven Allows might easily be Douglas Sirk’s crowning achievement and one of the greatest films of its decade. I highly recommend this sensible and hugely enjoyable picture.