All That Heaven Allows

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ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS —- allow two fitting quotes from its director, Douglas Sirk: 1) “This is the dialectic—there is a very short distance between high art and trash, and trash that contains an element of craziness is by this very quality nearer to art.”  2)I certainly believe that happiness exists, if only by the simple fact that it can be destroyed.” *

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The artistic dream team behind a notable array of emotional, high-polish melodramas—director Sirk, producer Ross Hunter and cinematographer Russell Metty—reunite their favorite Manly Male, Rock Hudson, with Jane Wyman, who they’d guided to an Oscar nomination off their previous hit Magnificent Obsession. This beautifully set, shot, and directed 1955 drama has outgrown its original rep as a slick “woman’s picture” and matured via retrospect into a telling, rather subversive look at how class consciousness can let Love languish—-hopefully in clean and stunning Technicolor. You also get to decipher the pregnant exchange between ‘Ron Kirby’ (Rock) and ‘Cary Scott’ (Jane)—-RON: “Mick discovered for himself that he had to make his own decisions, that he had to be a man.”  CARY: “And you want me to be a man?”  RON: “Only in that way.”  —-cut to a sizable percentage of the audience being revived after choking on their Good & Plenty’s.

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Middle-aged widow Cary has two grown children (William Reynolds and Gloria Talbott), a dust-free Colonial-style home, a cheerfully arch BGF (Agnes Moorehead), seemingly safe status in the snooty country club and a hunk for a gardener who happens to be—gulp–younger than her, and well, he’s just a gardener.  But he has a way with planting seeds, and can divine when something needs watering. He also has a ditch-your-pumps-and-jump idyllic retreat in the country: a rehabilitated mill, with a fireplace made for (insert use here) and vista-vision windows where you can observe the local Bambi’s (the deer kind) come up and eat out of his hand. Get me a house with a waterwheel and I’ll take care of your mystery ailments.

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Hudson, 30, was still getting the acting thing down (a Giant was on the horizon), and Wyman, actually only 38 (‘kids’ Reynolds & Talbott were both 24) work smoothly, even though that Dutch-bob she’s topped with is the most unbecoming hairdo outside of Larry from The 3 Stooges.  Moorehead is customarily wasp-excellent, Reynolds shows a zap you’d never have guessed from his later zipped-up years on The F.B.I. , while the saucy Talbott has many of the best lines, superficially sexually frank but—in a jiffy— society-shamed.

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Peg Fenwick’s screenplay was taken from a story first published in “Woman’s Home Companion.”  On the surface, the movie appears just a glossy tearjerker, but under Sirk’s eye it makes for a bracing backhand to an out-of-whack values system.  In a show crowded with well-crafted images (Sirk & Metty’s angles, color scheme and lighting do wonders to impute feeling into the ersatz romance magazine material) the stunner is one that hasn’t the glorious tinge of a contented past but a chilling twinge of an alienated future.  Having resisted getting one of those new-fangled TVs, Cary is force-gifted one from her well-meaning but clueless kids.  While the installing salesman preens “turn that dial and you have all the company you want right there on the screen. Drama, comedy, life’s parade at your fingertips”, she sees her lonely and isolated reflection in the silent, waiting wonder-tube.  All in, a keen piece of the national puzzle, and the box-office results of $3,100,000 brought it to 27th place among 1955s bulging slate of all purpose/cross-purposed Americana.**

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Frank Skinner’s music score makes effective use of Franz Liszt’s “Consolation #3 in D-flat major.   With Conrad Nagel, Virginia Grey, Hayden Rorke, Charles Drake, Jacqueline deWit, Leigh Snowden, Nestor Paiva, Tol Avery, Merry Anders, David Janssen and Gia Scala (debut). 89 minutes.

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* Sirk: (Universal) didn’t interfere with either my camerawork or my cutting–which meant a lot to me. In a way, I see their point of view, running a studio: a film has to make back its money. I think all the best directors would agree with me about that–Ford, Hawks, or Hitchcock certainly would. There has never been a time in show-business, going back to Calderon, Shakespeare, Lope de Vega, Moliere, when this hasn’t been the case.” “The studio loved the title, they thought it meant you could have everything you wanted. I meant it exactly the other way round. As far as I’m concerned, heaven is stingy.”

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** Can we all just get along… Shut off that yapping monster in the corner to pause & ponder How & What we saw in & of ourselves in mid-boom 1955: Oklahoma!, Marty, To Hell And Back, Strategic Air Command, Bad Day At Black Rock, Mister Roberts, Battle Cry, Blackboard Jungle, Not As A Stranger, The Seven Year Itch, It’s Always Fair Weather, Davy Crockett King Of The Wild Frontier, The Long Gray Line, Kiss Me Deadly, Picnic, Trial, Violent Saturday and Rebel Without A Cause. 
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