Tuesday 30 August 2022

Movie Review: All That Heaven Allows (1955)

A romantic melodrama, All That Heaven Allows is saturated with colours and emotions. Passions mix with virtue lessons in an obvious but undeniably attractive package.

In the suburban New England community of Stoningham, Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) is a wealthy widow tentatively returning to socializing. Her best friend Sara (Agnes Moorehead) encourages her to re-engage with the exclusive social club, where well-heeled suitors await. But Cary is most intrigued by her handsome and righteous arborist Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson), who lives a simple rugged life and enjoys the company of genuine friends. 

Although he is younger, of modest means, and from outside her social circle, Cary falls in love with Ron and they make plans to marry. Sara warns her friend that the community will be scandalized, and Cary is further shaken by the reaction of her two college-aged children, son Ned and daughter Kay.

Directed by Douglas Sirk and written by Peg Fenwick, All That Heaven Allows takes aim at upper middle class vanity. In an efficient 89 minutes, the narrative bounces a romance against societal and familial expectations, exposing hypocrisies and classist expectations guiding dreadful behaviours. The town gossip Mona (Jacqueline deWit, suitably insufferable), Cary's own selfish children, and lecherous men hiding behind cocktails all create a warped decision lens that deems Ron unworthy.

In addition to the hurdles thrown in the way of a romantic reawakening, the film is equally interested in a mother's dilemmas. As a widow Cary is expected to fade away into lonely irrelevance in front of a television set, while Ned and Kay are free to rage about her choices then pursue their own lives. Sirk and Fenwick allow Cary to confront immature and condescending attitudes, then empower her to chart an independent path in a laudable self-recognition of value.

Jane Wyman comfortably dominates the cast, although her acting sometimes defaults to mid-distance stares, while Rock Hudson does not so much act as represent an unshackled life. The music score by Frank Skinner is predictably sentimental and cluttered with crescendos.

The potent, brisk and syrupy plot is enhanced by stunning visuals. Starting with the rich colours of autumn before transitioning into an idyllic snow-covered winter, Sirk drenches the drama in vivid colours with impeccable framing, every scene a postcard-worthy composition. Nature, structures, and wardrobes are always perfectly harmonious, hues and arrangements popping off the screen in a display of meticulous perfection. The facade of beauty underlines the importance of keeping up appearances, and heightens the fervent struggle between pettiness and authenticity.

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