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All That Heaven Allows
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All That Heaven Allows More at IMDbPro »

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79 out of 96 people found the following review useful:

Scathing social commentary masking as soap opera.

9/10
Author: William J. Fickling (wfickling@sc.rr.com) from Columbia, South Carolina, USA
28 June 2004

Douglas Sirk is a truly underrated director, and this film shows why. Although this film becomes more highly regarded as the years go by, especially by non-Americans, it is usually regarded as just a well made soaper. Big mistake. This is a very angry film, a scathing commentary on the conformity and mindlessness that characterized much of the 1950s. Remember, this film was made in 1955, before there were any beatniks or hippies, before the civil rights movement, before there was any pot smoking, before anyone beyond the fringes questioned any of the basic values underlying capitalist America. America was at the peak of its power and prestige, and this was perhaps the first mainstream film that questioned the values that presumably were responsible for that ascendancy. Because this film is essentially about class and the primacy that human relationships must have over material gain, social acceptance, and social conformity.

Think of the forbidden (at the time) themes that this film deals with. Older woman, younger man. The shallowness, insipidity, and snobbery of the upper middle class arrivistes who have "made it," all of which masks their basic insecurity, unhappiness, and self-loathing. A male lead who doesn't care about acceptance by anyone, who doesn't care about money or success, who just wants to be happy and "do his own thing," well over a decade before that phrase was coined. The Wyman character foolishly (at first) decides that acceptance by her peers and children is more important than finding happiness with a man she truly loves, and what does she end up with for companionship? A television set! This was the decade in which "The Lonely Crowd" was published, and this film exemplifies that concept, as well as striking examples of other- vs. inner-directed, far better than any other film of its time.

Sirk was truly a visionary, well ahead of his time. This was why this film inspired Fassbinder's "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul" and Todd Haynes' "Far from Heaven." It is all the more powerful for having been made then and in not being a retrospective look, as is "Far from Heaven," from a more "enlightened" future time. For its social import, I rate this 9/10.

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64 out of 74 people found the following review useful:

Douglas Sirk's Visual Extravaganza

9/10
Author: Michael Bragg (Michael27@aol.com) from Foster City, CA
11 July 2005

At times, the aesthetic appeal of a film is so overwhelming, it surpasses the draw of the big-name stars and plot. And "All That Heaven Allows" is one of those rare examples. Anyone familiar with Douglas Sirk-directed projects knows his grandiose style. And this 1955 masterpiece sums up the best of Sirk drama, with the surface sheen, thundering music, noted stars and biting social commentary. This film, in fact, is so beautiful, that it requires repeated viewings just to be able to take it all in.

Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson re-team from Sirk's inferior "Magnificent Obsession" that was such a hit the year before. In this story, Wyman plays a wealthy widow bound to the claustrophobic confines of her uppity New England town. Her friends and two grown children do their best to convince her to marry Harvey, a stuffy and older neighborhood bachelor. But Wyman wants more. She ends up falling for her younger gardener, played by Hudson. After bonding over the virtues of the silver-tipped spruce, they embark on a love affair which is rejected by the community and Wyman's own children. They feel she is far too upstanding to be with a gardener. The reluctance of those around her to accept this relationship cause Wyman to have to choose between love or respect from her town.

Sirk takes what is a sappy, predictable tale and turns it into a visual feast. This is true eye candy for film buffs. Sirk sets the stage for this story against a heightened background of the reds, golds and yellows of a New England autumn. Every detail from Agnes Moorehead's red hair to sunsets to Wyman's lipstick and even the cars is given the Technicolor treatment to the max. Sirk's knack for visual irony is also heavily present throughout. The film opens with a shot of the town's clocktower with pigeons roosting. The pigeons are divided into two groups - a gaggle of black pigeons representing the townspeople on one end, and on the other are two white pigeons nuzzling, representing Wyman and Hudson and the division they face in this community. This is just for starters. Other stunning examples are when Sirk uses shades of blues and greys and reds to convey character's feelings of sadness or anger. And of course there is the famous television set scene. And through all of this emotion and cotton candy extravaganza is Frank Skinner's lush score that soars in all the right places. "All That Heaven Allows" is a first-rate classic that is a must for fans of Sirk or anyone who are devotees of lush melodramas from the studio heyday.

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61 out of 78 people found the following review useful:

Ahead Of Its Time

8/10
Author: Lechuguilla from Dallas, Texas
7 June 2005

Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) is a middle-aged, wealthy woman whose husband recently died. Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson) is Cary's younger, independent-minded landscape gardener. Ron reads Thoreau, respects nature, and values simplicity and honesty. Cary and Ron are attracted to each other. For Ron, marriage to Cary is an easy decision. But for Cary, the decision to marry Ron is harder. She must confront the disapproval of her grown children, and the disapproval of friends whose materialistic, country club values are inconsistent with the values of Thoreau.

In a town where people know each other's business, tongues wag. Feelings get hurt. Conflict erupts. The film's subdued lighting and vivid colors, combined with soft piano and velvety violin background music, create a tone that is sad and sentimental. Viewers are right to say that this Douglas Sirk directed film is a melodramatic soap opera.

Thinly veiled behind the simple plot, however, lies a profound message: "to thine own self be true". It is a message totally out of sync with 1950's America. Yet, the message would surface a decade later as the 1960's youth mantra: "do your own thing".

As an archetype, Ron seems too pure. And Cary's children and friends, shallow, selfish, vain, gossipy, and judgmental, are easy to dislike. This sharp dichotomy is somewhat unrealistic. But it gets the point across. And that point is a blistering indictment of 1950's American materialism and mindless conformity.

The film was thus ahead of its time. Despite its high technical quality, it was snubbed by the Oscars. In retrospect, "All That Heaven Allows" is superior to all five of the Oscar best picture nominees from that year. And its message is just as relevant now as it was fifty years ago.

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38 out of 44 people found the following review useful:

Wyman ready of a love affair, but not for love...

8/10
Author: Righty-Sock (robertfrangie@hotmail.com) from Mexico
10 June 2003

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It is ironic that during the 1950s, when the former Douglas Sirk was at his most successful in terms of audience appeal, he was virtually ignored by the critics... He is now seen, however, as a director of formidable intellect who, despite his background in classical and Avant-Garde Theater, achieved his best work in melodrama...

With its penetrating, literate screenplay, its fine and sympathetic acting, its tasteful sets and artwork, its wonderful music, cleverly adapted from some of the finest music of Franz Liszt and other romantic composers, 'All That Heaven Allows' is another film, passed over in its own time as "just another soap opera."

Sirk tries to capture the tensions of real everyday living in his representation of a lonely elegant widow steeped in a snobbish society...

Jane Wyman is (Cary Scott), a pleasant middle-aged widow who is having difficulty in adjusting to her status... She lives in comfortable circumstances in a handsome house, but her character is more concerned with maintaining a veneer of social respectability than with addressing reality...

Sirk turns a conventional love story, between Cary and her much younger gardener and nurseryman Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson) into a study of the fall of American idealism and innocence, and lush images of nature contrasting with claustrophobic, petty-minded snobbery of a country-club set...

Ron prefers to grow plants in his nursery near an old mill, and lives life according to his own rules - which do not comprise cocktail parties, gossip, and superficial camaraderie... He is obviously handsome, and Cary gives herself numerous reasons why she should not encourage him... The difference in their respective ages being, in her view, the most salient of all... But Ron keeps returning, it is obvious he is attracted to her...

But as their romance deepens, so does the widow's dilemma... The family, so often glamorized by Hollywood, is regarded as selfish and inhibiting, with the widow's teenage children horrified at the idea of another man tainting their dead father's sacred memory... So Cary retreats, and decides to walk away from a love that promises the chance to rediscover her own passion in his sensual embrace...

Sirk does interesting things with reflections, most notable the sight of Wyman reflected in the screen of a television set that her son and daughter buy her in Christmas to keep her company... Staring deeply into its surface, deep sadness closed her heart as she wanted to escape the pain of her mistake... Her physician (Hayden Rorke), whom she consults on her miserable headaches, tells her that there is absolutely nothing wrong with her, that she must stop living by the opinions, the smiles and frowns of others...

Wyman convincingly gives the impression of a woman torn between the fires of her own heart and her devotion to her family and friends... She and Hudson have a good chemistry together, and obviously the film, exquisitely photographed in Technicolor, carries off its intended effect perfectly...

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39 out of 47 people found the following review useful:

Disney was never so magical - Sirk polishes weepy romance to an exquisite gloss

9/10
Author: bmacv from Western New York
17 January 2004

Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows could stand as a lesson about how, in gifted hands, movies can surmount and surpass their source material, elevating the routine into the rhapsodic. And that's more than a matter of just fleshing out the roles with appealing talent or supplying de luxe production values. It takes a sensibility that can suggest the complexity under the commonplace and spot the verities hidden beneath the clichés.

It's an alert sensibility that many emigrés from Europe, apprenticed in the artistic ferment between the wars, brought with them to Hollywood (among them this Dane, born Detlef Sierck). Hollywood gave them more money and security than they'd probably ever known, and when it also gave them hackneyed and meretricious scripts to capture on film, they devised new ways to freshen them up and, against all odds, make them work.

On its surface, All That Heaven Allows is little more than polite fiction from women's magazines circa mid-20th-century (and would today be a romance paperback with a beefcake cover). Youngish widow Jane Wyman starts keeping company with free-spirited Rock Hudson, her much younger gardener; despite wagging tongues among her country-club set and clucks of disapproval from her grown children, she finds, after many a twist and turn, true love.

But from his opening shot Sirk creates a dreamy, storybook world, so Disney-pretty that he might as well have started with `Once upon a time....' Swirling downward from a church steeple in a New England autumn, he shows us an affluent enclave just a commuter-train trip away from New York. Luncheons are taken on patios, station wagons the approved mode of travel and martinis the drink of the evening - the kind of town New Yorkers played by Bette Davis or Barbara Stanwyck meant when they referred to their `country' places in Connecticut.

In this idyllic bower, Wyman has resigned herself to a stately and well-appointed widowhood; she half-heartedly resists friend Agnes Moorehead's lures to put her back on the market (women without men, by choice or circumstance, just don't fit in). But Wyman's too classy for the boozed-up louts and gossipy shrews in her former set, and still too vital to succumb to valetudinarian Conrad Nagel's proposal for tepid `companionship.'

And that's when Hudson, come to prune the branches, catches her eye - and, somewhat less probably, she his. He whisks her out to see his tree farm, and they explore an old mill on his property (`I love to poke around old buildings,' she explains). When she suggests he fix up the dump and live there, it's to the horn theme from the last movement of Brahms' 1st Symphony. No wonder she ends up staying the weekend.

Here Sirk introduces a subtly subversive element: Hudson's friends, in discordant counterpoint to hers (who dismiss him as `nature boy' and a `good-looking set of muscles'). His are an amiably casual network of all ages and backgrounds who have opted out of the rat race or never cared to enter it (the `quiet desperation' passage from Thoreau's Walden screws the point home). Though their style of merrymaking brings to mind Old World folk festivals, they represent a segment of society rarely if ever seen in films of the era: Low-profile, thoughtful rebels against the smug status quo - post-war pioneers of the voluntary simplicity movement inflamed with a touch of ecological consciousness ( now laughed off as tree-hugging). It's a startling glimpse into a below-the-radar counterculture that must have been around even in the mid-'50s (and there's not a beret, goatee or bongo drum among them - they're presented without a hint of condescension or marginalization).

Hudson proposes, Wyman accepts. Even her children (Gloria Talbott and William Reynolds) are thrilled, so long as they assume her remarriage will be to stuffy, respectable Nagel. When they're told that their new stepdad will be the stud who cleans up the yard come spring and come fall, they go rigid with upper-middle-class snobbery. (And the specter of Mrs. Grundy floats in when Moorehead asks if people will think Wyman and Hudson were keeping company when Wyman's husband was still kicking.) Stranded between her familiar past and an uncertain future, Wyman begs for more time; Hudson, hewing to his mantra `to thine own self be true,' delivers an ultimatum....

Abetted by director of photography Russell Metty, Sirk paints this soapish weeper with a gorgeous palette of hues and tints (a feat that Todd Haynes emulated in his Sirk hommage Far From Heaven, for which this movie served as template). Now and again, he washes half the screen in an autumnal green-gold, the other in an enchanted-night mauve, situating characters at cross purposes in their respective halves.

Of course, splitting or doubling the screen, through barriers or mirror shots, is one of Sirk's signature tropes, reaching its apex when Wyman's hangdog face stares back from a newly delivered television set, a Christmas present from the kids (`Here's all the company you need. Drama, comedy, all life's parade at your fingertips,' goes the spiel.) Pointedly, the set never gets turned on; it's seen but once again, reflecting flames from the fireplace, the focal point of simpler, less sophisticated times, and the values Hudson embodies.

Sirk takes this unlikely June-September romance and buffs it to the highest possible gloss, using his exquisite eye to enrich and deepen every frame. It's lush and sensuous - almost candified (at times gluttingly so) - and all but impossible to resist. When, at the close, a deer gambols up to nuzzle some snow off the windowpane in the mill Hudson has turned into his - their - home, it's an embarrassment of perfection. Never was Disney so magical.

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24 out of 26 people found the following review useful:

Wyman and Hudson re-team for this classy melodrama

9/10
Author: Michael Bragg (mbragg@menlocollege.menlo.edu) from Redwood Shores, California
17 February 1999

Due to the success of 1954's "Magnificent Obsession", Universal once again called on Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson, Agnes Moorehead, and director Douglas Sirk for this passionate, heart-gripping look at the hypocrisy of small-town America. Wyman, a rich widow in this well-to-do New England town, falls in love with her gardener (Hudson) and all hell breaks loose. Her community ridicules her and her grown children are horrified by her. She finds herself having to choose love or the respect of those around her.

The cinematography is beyond extraordinary, the score by Frank Skinner is unbelievably moving, Wyman is exquisite, and Sirk gives some of the best direction of his career. A really classy melodrama and completely worthwhile.

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27 out of 33 people found the following review useful:

Middle Aged Rebel Without a Cause

10/10
Author: graham clarke (grahamclarke@earthling.net)
20 March 2005

"All That Heaven Allows" is one of Douglas Sirk's most popular and influential films. It's not hard to see why. The central theme is one that will always be relevant, no matter what the decade. There will always be many who will resonate to the quest for freedom when finding their own lives constrictive and dissatisfying. Throughout time society's pressure to conform has caused much emotional upheaval in many a life, but the 1950's seems to have been a decade of a particularly ruthless conservatism. This social climate produced the McCarthy witch hunts, as well as some of Hollywoods finest movies, finally being avenged by the birth of rock 'n roll.

The theme of the constraints of society and the suffering it causes is naturally one that is particularly close to gay people. Two gay film makers were so affected by "All That Heaven Allows" that they remade it with their own particular perspectives. Fassbinder increases the age difference between the older woman and her younger lover and makes things even more extreme by giving them vastly different cultural and social backgrounds. Todd Haynes manages to pull of the miraculous feat of recreating the 1950's Sirk style and yet with contemporary sensibilities. "Fear Eats the Soul" and "Far From Heaven" stand on their own in their excellence, while both acknowledging the huge influence Sirk and "All That Heaven Allows" had upon them.

"All that Heaven Allows" was made the very same year as "Rebel Without a Cause" The rebellion in question in "Rebel without a Cause" is that of youth with all its pain, not to mention its glamour embodied by luminaries James Dean and Natalie Wood. Nicholas Ray created a truly iconic film of teenage rebellion against repressive parents and society as a whole. Sirk's film is in a way more daring. Despite the glossy sheen in which he has wrapped this work, the story is in fact the rebellion of a widow against her repressive children and the society to which she belongs. It makes a perfect companion piece to Sirk's "There's Always Tomorrow" which essays the unhappiness of a man (Fred Macmurray), who despite having achieved all society has expected of him, finds his life meaningless. There too his children are depicted as egoistic, uncaring and ungrateful. Both films are a devastating attack on family life and the social mores of the 50's. Sadly "There's Always Tomorrow" remains Sirk's most underrated and unseen film.

As a young man, Sirk read Thoreau and was enthralled. He insisted on including a scene in which "Walden" is read and quoted in "All That Heaven Allows". Thoreau's message " If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer" is central to the movie and to Sirk's work as a whole.

Emerson's "to thine own self be true" is also quoted in the movie and has a particular poignancy as far as Sirk's career goes. A gifted intellectual with a sense of cinema shared by few, Sirk should surely have been destined to make greater films. When he signed to Universal thereby agreeing to make scripts that often bordered on the insulting, it could have been a case of selling out. The miracle of Sirk's work is that through it all, poor scripts and often second rate actors, he was always true to himself in expressing his views, while toeing the studio line and in fact making them a lot of money. Within the soppy, gorgeously presented melodramas, his cutting criticism of American society is always present. Like Milos Forman and Fritz Lang, the eye of the foreigner often has a distinct clarity and objectivity.

The leads in "All that Heaven Allows" were taken straight from Sirk's wildly successful "Magnificent Obsession". Jane Wyman gives an outstanding performance compared to "Obesession", while Hudson now a star, fails to fulfill the promise he shows in "Obsession". Here already his limitations are pretty evident. While seldom really awful, he would be seldom be really good. Agnes Moorehead again gives terrific support and again the legendary cameraman Russell Metty works his magic.

Heavenly.

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21 out of 28 people found the following review useful:

It's Sirk-o-riffic!

10/10
Author: Spuzzlightyear from Vancouver
17 September 2005

Amazingly fantastic film that I went gaga over today. I had never seen any of Douglas Sirk's movies up til today, and boy, was "All That Heaven Allows" a great introduction! The film follows the romance of Cary (played by Jane Wyman) and Ron (Rock Hudson). Cary is a well-off widower who somehow falls in love with her gardener much to her surprise. The problem that she has to overcome of course, is What Will The Neighbors Think? Yes, boys and girls, we have the classic 50's scandal. An older woman being with a younger man!! OK, let it be known that I LOVED this movie. Jane Wyman is fantastic here, and Rock Hudson? Well, what can I say? I can fully understand why he was considered a hug heartthrob in his day. Sure the plot is totally overblown and melodramatic, but I don't care, because Wyman and Hudson make it work so well, and have so much chemistry together.

It's so easy to watch this film and see how much Sirk influenced other directors, even though he was quite ridiculed for the same influences, his camera work, and especially his lighting choices you can see in a myriad of other movies since (see of course, the ultimate salute to him, Far From Heaven as an excellent example).

A simply fantastic piece of film-making here!

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21 out of 28 people found the following review useful:

Heavenly

10/10
Author: brooke-25 from Toronto
11 May 2003

It's 1950s small town America and rich society widow Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) has fallen in love with her gardener Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson), but can the gossipy town handle it? This beautifully filmed classic, directed by Douglas Sirk, is so touching. And even though it's considered a melodrama (and at times a bit syrupy--just watch for Bambi!) there is a deeper meaning underneath all that Technicolor. Listen for the Thoreau quote that Cary reads when she and Ron visit his friends, Mick and Alida Anderson. That's the whole lesson of the film summed up right there.

Added note: There's a classic line that Wyman says to Hudson in the car when he says that she should not let others influence her decisions, like his friend Mick, who had to learn how to be a man. She responds with "You want me to be a man." Then he says, "Well, just in that one way." It's funny now in retrospect!

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16 out of 21 people found the following review useful:

You go, girl!

Author: marcslope from New York, NY
18 November 2005

I'll simply align myself with the other commentators who are bowled over by this Sirkfest's vibrant colors, use of lush fake-Liszt and Rachmaninoff, and surprising willingness to attack materialistic '50s values (in this last instance, the film's hardly dated a bit). True, the central romance isn't always convincing -- what does Ron see in Carrie, anyway? -- and the film has to oversimplify its characters to make its points. Carrie's daughter, a social-working bobby-soxer who quotes Freud and wears unflattering glasses, is meant to be something of a joke (until she sheds some feminine tears and suddenly becomes sympathetic); while Carrie's older suitor, underplayed by Conrad Nagel, is looked on as less than a desirable man simply because he limits himself to one drink. (In common with many films from this period, an awful lot of liquor is consumed.) Too, there's an impossibly melodramatic third act, where the circumstances of Ron's accident are howlingly implausible. Nice, though, that the always-reliable Agnes Moorehead plays a socialite who's not as shallow as she first seems, and that Wyman gets to model some attractive '50s fashions. Also note the sumptuous midcentury interiors -- whether the happy couple ends up living in Wyman's suburban mansion or Hudson's renovated barn, I want to live in them both.

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