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All That Heaven Allows

April 18, 2013

All That Heaven Allows (1955)
Director: Douglas Sirk
Actors: Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson, Agnes Moorhead

All that Heaven Allows

Synopsis: Middle-class widow, Cary Scott (Jane Wyman), falls in love with the groundsman (Rock Hudson) of her estate. Her children and country club friends do not approve….

Review: All That Heaven Allows is one of the great cinematic expositions with everything from the impeccable set design (Cary’s frosty family home compared to the gorgeous, homely mill that Ron renovates) to Douglas Sirk’s amazing eye for costume and colour attesting to his reputation as the king of mise en scène. The expressionistic use of colour is particularly memorable: from the vibrant reds of Cary’s lipstick and dinner dress that signify her yearning and blossoming, to a deliriously melancholic piece of costume – the turquoise shawl Cary wears when purchasing a Christmas tree off Ron, with its refulgent colour howling through the screen in an exquisite hue of sadness.

Sirk wasn’t just an expert in design and décor though as he conjures some wonderfully literate cinematography too. The opening and closing crane shot of the small, suburban town somehow manages to encapsulate the narrative’s theme of artfulness (the trees are depicted in all their autumnal splendour) versus mitigation (Cary’s yearnings will always be compromised by the society she lives in). The most memorable use of clever framing is the key thematic moment where the camera moves in on Cary’s despairing face, staring back at herself from the television screen at Christmas, symbolising that her de facto domestic entrapment is complete.

Sure, Sirk does prescribe his characters a slightly rushed and fudged ‘happy ending’ (an error Todd Haynes’ pseudo-adaptation Far from Heaven was to rectify), but the story still has worth as a highly emotive parable of self-determination and listening to your heart and intuition – not what ‘society’ believes you should be doing. (April 2013)

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