All That Heaven Allows (USA, 1955)

Directed by: Douglas Sirk. I knew that this one was a big one, and I’d always meant to check out more Sirk after seeing Written on the Wind in Film class, but as with a lot of things, it took The Story of Film to tip me over the edge and actually see it. Like Written on the Wind, I liked it, but there was a weird process where I was, in real time, dismissing the film as a well made but trivial domestic romance melodrama, and simultaneously being drawn in, almost hypnotically, to the incredible beauty of the images onscreen at any given time, the distilled mythical simplicity of the story, and the incredible fountain of subtextual meaning ready to burst from the screen at any given time. In Film class, it was all about affect, and how Sirk was a master of using the resonant power of affective energy to lend this striking and inimitable mixture of melancholy, longing, and tenderness to his films. So in that regard, this is of course an utterly compelling and, in a direct way, brilliant film. This relationship between Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson, this new archetype for modern postwar society of an older woman, slightly younger man, upper class woman, working class man, the shining of light on this modern day caste system that dictates people’s behaviour as much as any medieval caste system, the pivoting of the community to antagonize them and sow seeds of doubt in Jane Wyman’s mind, all of that is pure gold. And the film doesn’t rest there, it goes deeper, knowing that the ultimate manifestation of that community antagonism will be the family, and even though the way that her kids handle things is a little one-dimensional (they are the most transparently selfish and short-sighted little assholes in cinema), putting in Rock’s stubborn masculine mishandling of things kind of evens things out a bit—it’s not easy for poor Jane Wyman, she’s getting it out of both sides. Basically everyone is letting her down all the time, and the only thing that kind of helps put things in perspective is the good luck of Rock falling off a cliff, pressing re-start on the whole relationship. And for some reason, I thought that this was a famous, legendary sad ending, but I was slightly disappointed at how positively it ended—not hugely positive, but generally cathartic, where I seem to remember Written on the Wind being pretty devastating. But regardless—this is, again, a masterfully done and brilliant film. There’s a reason why everyone says this is One of the Great Films. I’m going to have to re-watch this ASAP.

2 responses to “All That Heaven Allows (USA, 1955)

  1. Pingback: Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (West Germany, 1974) | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2017 | Offhand Reviews·

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