Saturday, July 16, 2011

#344. All That Heaven Allows (1955)

Directed By: Douglas Sirk

Starring: Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson, Agnes Moorehead

Tag line: "How much does Heaven Allow a Woman in Love?"

Trivia:  The house Jane Wyman's character lives in is the same one the Cleaver family lived in for TV's LEAVE IT TO BEAVER

With All That Heaven Allows, director Douglas Sirk paints a disturbing mural of small-town America, revealing a side of suburbia often ignored by his contemporaries. By examining, in great detail, a closed-minded society, where unwritten rules are firmly adhered to and deviations from the norm are not tolerated, Sirk successfully de-glamorized what many, at the time, believed to be an ideal way of life. 

Cary Scott (Jane Wyman), a recently widowed middle-aged mother of two, falls in love with landscaper Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson), who also happens to be much younger. Cary is very happy with Ron, despite the fact that her children (Gloria Talbott, William Reynolds) and the rest of her upper-class society disapprove of the match. Before long, Cary is pressured to end the affair, and finds she must decide between remaining true to herself or sacrificing her own happiness for social stability. 

Throughout All That Heaven Allows, Sirk, with his observant camera and sharp color palette, pushes nonconformity over convention, the individual over the hive mentality. At first, Cary is just another member of a community in which everyone has their role to play. Hers is the kind but lonely widow who, without a husband to accompany her, doesn’t go out much anymore. Her neighbor and good friend, Sara (Agnes Moorehead), has made it her personal mission to set Cary up with the right man, meaning one who travels in the same social circles as themselves. 

Before Sara can settle on who this “Mr. Right” might be, Ron Kirby enters the picture. A free spirited man of nature, Ron introduces Cary to a much different world than the one she knows, and even brings her along to a party thrown by his good friends Mick (Charles Drake) and Alida (Virginia Grey). This scene contrasts an earlier sequence when Cary attended a soiree at her country club, during which she seemed stiff and uncomfortable around her “friends”. Thanks to Ron, she has a wonderful time at Mick's and Alida's party, and doesn't want the evening to end. 

It's clear that Cary has developed strong feelings for Ron, but because he’s not part of her society, she is forced to deal with a number of rumors circulating about the two of them. One particularly nasty bit of gossip even suggests that Cary's affair with Ron started prior to her husband's death. These rumors soon take their toll on Cary's children, who beg her to break it off with Ron. All at once, Cary's eyes are opened, and she realizes just how cruel this ‘polite society’ of hers can be. The town that has been her home for most of her adult life suddenly feels like a prison, from which there seems to be no escape. 

On the outside, Cary's community looks picture-perfect, with large houses lining the streets and perfectly manicured lawns as far as the eye can see. But, like everything else in this close-minded society, such appearances are merely artifice, an inferred perfection that masks a contempt for individuality. At its most basic, All That Heaven Allows is a story of the soul, a spirit that longs to break free of its invisible bonds.  

Regardless of the outcome, Cary’s eyes have been opened to the truth, and nothing will shut them again.

No comments: