Sirk’s melodramas have gathered over the years quite a reputation, and one of the best has to be “All that heaven allows”. This is a story of a middle age widow (Jane Wyman) that falls in love with her gardener, but decides not to marry him because of pressure of her children and her peers.
But there is more to the film than that. It’s a very good portrayal of the influence that others may have on our life, and clearly says that in the end you have to follow your instincts and your feelings. Jane Wyman’s friends and children, in particular her son, are portrayed as heartless, selfish individuals, who place appearances before individual’s rights – it’s so easy to sacrifice other people’s life’s for them isn’t it? This could have probably done better, I believe, but it’s just on the right side of cliché – There is one scene where the colours actually suggested him to be something close to the devil.
The film also addresses the double standards of society towards men and women. It is socially acceptable for a middle age man to marry a young penniless woman, but the reverse is not, even if the young man may have his own business and seems not to suffer financial hardships (well, this is a 1950’s film after all). Quite liked how the point was made.
There is also a wonderful, subtle performance from Jane Wyman, and great support from Agnes Moorhead, as the other only sympathetic character in the film. The same cannot be said of Rock Hudson’s wooden performance, but then again, that didn’t surprise me in the least. His character failed to justify why Jane Wyman falls in love with him, other than his good looks, and his intransigence made him very unpleasant in the break-up scene.
And then there are the colours. Rich, vivid, beautiful colours, so fake and yet an integral part of the story telling process. One of the most fantastically shot films I have seen, it was impossible not to be drawn to it from the very start. I knew that Todd Haynes’ exquisite “Far from Heaven” had borrowed themes and visual from this film, but I had never realised the full extent.
It’s very hard not to compare this film with “Magnificent Obsession” another Sirk film with the same leads. “All that heaven allows” is the superior piece. And never was a television set so scary than in the Christmas scene.