#79. All That Heaven Allows (1955)
Directed by: Douglas Sirk
Written by: Peg Fenwick (story by Edna Lee, Harry Lee)
Starring: Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson
Douglas Sirk is one of the more forgotten mainstream directors of 1950’s Hollywood, and with a filmography including All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, Magnificent Obsession, and Imitation of Life, it’s difficult to understand why that is. Sirk was the master of melodrama, telling many beautiful stories of complicated or forbidden love affairs until his sudden retirement in 1959. His films inspired the likes of modern masters like German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, John Waters, and Todd Haynes. All That Heaven Allows was my introduction to the films of Douglas Sirk, and hooked me from the get-go. The story sees a suburban widow named Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) who falls in love with a much younger man (Rock Hudson). When news of the relationship spreads, Cary is shunned by her high-society friends and even her own children. Sirk’s brilliant technicolor film was shot by Academy Award-winning Russell Metty, whose luscious visuals make All That Heaven Allows a truly unforgettable experience. Sirk uses the film to explore themes of the nature of forbidden (or taboo) love, loneliness, and desperation, and uses creative camera techniques to accentuate these feelings, specifically in Wyman’s character. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, Cary Scott receives a new television for Christmas and sees her reflection in the screen – where she appears trapped in a box. Small moments like these add up to make All That Heaven Allows much more than a run of the mill romance film – turning it into a legitimate classic. Jane Wyman’s performance is another of the film’s strengths, more than making up for Rock Hudson’s occasional lack of charisma. Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows is a masterpiece, and a great starting point for exploring the director’s great melodramas.