Friday, December 23, 2011

All That Heaven Allows (1955)

All That Heaven Allows ★★★ 2/5

Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) is a suburban widow. The movie opens with a sweeping camera shot panning through a neighborhood down to Scott's backyard where she awaits Sara Warren (Agnes Moorehead) for lunch. While Warren has to cancel lunch, she does invite Scott to a dinner at the country club. In the back of the scene, Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson) prunes and landscapes. Through this scene we establish she has some affluence and respect. She takes Warren up and goes to the club for dinner and dancing. Her escort to the club is a man her age who later makes a proposal they marry - not for love, but companionship. While at the club a married acquaintance dances her to the balcony, passionately kisses her and pleads for her to run off with him. She declines, but politely excuses his sexual advances with the grace and dignity of any 1950's woman. Meanwhile, the country club is full of gossiping and viscous women who want nothing more then to be the first to attack another woman's virtues. Particularly Mona Plash (Jacqueline De Wit).

Well, the love story comes in when Kirby returns in fall to complete her autumn landscaping. Kirby is much younger then her, and to me the meeting and suiting was awkward. After meeting her twice, and paying no attention to her at all, he randomly asks her to visit his home in the forest where he plants trees and lives in a greenhouse. Scott visits Kirby's home and finds along side the greenhouse he lives in is an old stone mill. She tours the mill and falls in love with the charm of the building. She proclaims how it would make a beautiful home and Kirby chuckles.

Soon after the tour of his home, Kirby brings her to a party hosted by his friends, and in the following scene he brings her back to the mill, which is completely renovated. It is there he asks for her hand in marriage. After a brief hesitation, they are soon professing their love for each other and trying to decide how to make the marriage work. The first obstacle comes when they run into Plash and she begins spreading rumors about Scott's new affair.

Scott has 2 children and she confides about the marriage proposal to them. They are shocked and appalled when they heard that the man she loved and wanted to marry was their former gardener who is equal to them in age. Kirby arrives at the home. While Scott's daughter is pleasant, her son does not hold back his objections. She then takes Kirby to the country club to introduce him to her "friends." The club proves to be a disaster. Mona Plash takes every opportunity to make cut throat remarks. The man who had passionately kissed her before at the club does so again. Now Scott is targeted as being easy. Others make comments about her being with Kirby because he is young. Some say he is after her for money. It gets pretty ugly. The children thereafter throw tantrums about the relationship and beg her to break it off. Her daughter even gets kicked out of the library because her Mother's reputation is so bad. So eventually, the marriage is called off so Scott can suffice and appease the country club community and her children.

At Christmas time, Scott heads to pick out a Christmas tree and who does she run into but Kirby. Kirby and his new love interest. Upset and alone she asks the tree to be sent to her and heads home. Kirby unwillingly leaves with his girlfriend. Scott's loneliness doesn't last long as her daughter comes home and flashes her engagement ring. Her eyes fill with heartbreak. Her son then talks about how he will be moving to France and since his sister will be married they sell the house. Initially the son had been so against the marriage between his Mother and Kirby because he didn't want the house to be sold. Sadness overcomes her. She goes to the doctor who is also a friend. He speaks to her as a friend and tells her to go to Kirby despite what everyone says. She takes his advice and runs to him . . . well, drives to him. He is outside and hears her calling for him. He runs to her and falls off a cliff. She has no idea and drives home. Eventually she learns of the accident and goes to be with him.

Often great films are defined by the actors in them. It is often the actors themselves that make a film great. Likewise, it is safe to say an actor can distract a film. During Rock Hudson's initial appearances in the film, his 1950's sex symbol status seemed to over shadow the picture. The shots of him are upward shots - from below his face looking upward with blue skies behind him. They were long and drawn out and were blatantly opportunities to simply capture Hudson's handsome look. I felt there was no substance to the character of Kirby, and that essentially the film tried to simply use the character to simply show off Hudson and bring women into the theater to swoon over him. The film is slow and there is no storyline that builds on their affection for each other. It just kind of happens . . .and to everyone's dismay. The degree of dismay was actually somewhat ridiculous. One would think if all these people talking so negatively are not even friends, then why even care what they think about one's marriage. It seems the lack of support from the family is quite overwhelming. Her isolation is somewhat disturbing. That someone would allow their life course to be so driven by everyone else. Only her doctor can see this. He is the only person who comes out and states the obvious - that she shouldn't care about what others say and do what will make her happy.

The movie left me wanting more. With such a strong title, I expected a sweeping drama. I didn't get that. The movie was slow and open ended. There was so much conflict built up between what she wanted and what others wanted that I wanted a resolution for it. For Scott to prove them all wrong and make them feel bad for their tormenting her. I was almost expecting a death in the film that would make those who harassed her and stopped her happiness feel ashamed and guilty for what they did. That didn't happen. The ending to me was not much of an ending. Or was it. perhaps the fact that there was no recourse with her protagonists was the film's way of saying none of them mattered and Scott's final decision in the film was more important than anything.

What I did like about the film were the social references. The glimpses at middle class 1950's America are interesting. To see the interaction of the country club and the meddling wives. The snide comments, the exquisite gowns and the importance of social standing. The country club scenes of All That Heaven Allows almost rival Mean Girls (2004). The home interiors nicely reflect those of typical 1950's homes. The furnishings and colors make for well laid out sets. The clothing exemplifies the 1950's beautifully. Perhaps one of my favorite parts is when Warren suggests to Scott she get a TV. Then when she gets the TV it is somewhat exciting to see. The whole notion that we are seeing life before people entertained themselves without a TV. I think that is what I liked best about the film - seeing the lifestyle of the 1950's suburbs.

Would I consider this film a must see? No. I would not. Rock Hudson has had much more worth while performances. Pillow Talk (1959) serves as a fine example as a movie which showcases Hudson's acting ability as well as his good looks. If it were me choosing the titles of 1001 Movies To See Before You Die, I would easily replace All That Heaven Allows with Pillow Talk. Pillow Talk is fun, witty, a classic film which continued to influence cinema even in this century.

Overall recommendation - watch Pillow Talk (1959) instead!

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