In retrospect, it’s surprising that it took so long for film critics to realize that there was more to Douglas Sirk’s 1950s melodramas than just high-toned production values and shameless tearjerking. The social commentary in movies like the 1955 hit All That Heaven Allows isn’t really smuggled in; Sirk uses color and composition to expose the rank materialism and selfishness of America’s monied classes, and to express admiration for those who choose a life of simple pleasures and spiritual pursuits. All That Heaven Allows is a great starter film for people who’ve never seen any of Sirk’s work, because it’s the film that’s clearest about its meaning, while still exhibiting an artistry and intensity that makes it a pleasure to watch. As Sirk tells the story of a well-off suburban widow (played by Jane Wyman) who finds herself drawn to the rustic lifestyle of her handsome young gardener (Rock Hudson), he excoriates country-club gossips, closed-minded snobs, and the heroine’s college-aged children, who are gossips and snobs in training. Sirk illustrates the movie’s themes through a florid visual design that filmmakers like Rainer Werner Fassbinder, François Ozon, and Todd Haynes would later copy.
I’ll be kicking off our All That Heaven Allows discussion next Tuesday with a visual essay scrutinizing some of the key objects in the film: a teapot, a television, a pan of cornbread, and more. And then on Wednesday, our All That Heaven Allows forum will dig into what the movie has to say about the conformity and skewed values of the 1950s. All That Heaven Allows isn’t currently streaming anywhere, but a new Criterion Blu-ray edition comes out next week, and TCM is showing the film next Thursday (as part of a month-long salute to Hudson that will also include screenings of other classic Sirk films). In the meantime, for those who’ve never seen All That Heaven Allows, here’s its trailer, which showcases Sirk’s remarkable gift for lighting and color.
Upcoming Movies Of The Week
June 16: Plan 9 From Outer Space
June 23: Ace In The Hole
June 30: Airplane!