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Blind Spot 02: All That Heaven Allows (1955)

For my February Blind Spot pick I figured nothing would be more fitting than one of the most famous and acclaimed romantic movies of all time, All That Heaven Allows (1955). Directed by Douglas Sirk (Imitation of Life, A Time to Love and a Time to Die) and starring Old Hollywood stars Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson, it seemed like a promising film. And yet.

There is plenty to love and applaud in this 1950s romance drama. In line with other works from this director, the plot gives an actual voice to its leading female character by exploring themes that remain, to this day, underrepresented. Played by Jane Wyman, Cary Scott is an upper-class middle aged widow who falls for Ron Kirby, a much younger nurseryman played by Rock Hudson.

So there’s several societal taboos at play here: one, she’s older than him; two, she comes from a higher social-economic class; three, she’s middle-aged; and four, she’s a widow. The first two make the affair seems frivolous to the eyes of her high society peers, and the last two make it indecent.

It’s hard to know what shocks her grown children and friends the most: the fact that she’s dating a younger and poorer man, or the fact that she’s dating someone.

All That Heaven Allows (1955)
[pipdig_stars rating=”3″ align=”center” data-rateyo-star-width=”13px”]
Directed by DOUGLAS SIRK
Running Time: 1h29 min
All That Heaven Allows (1955) - Rock Hudson
photo by Universal International Pictures

It seems that at such a stage in life, she’s expected to give up love and sex in favor of companionship. To wear modest clothing. Watch some television.

It’s actually painful – if not downright infuriating – to witness her own children’s selfishness and thoughtfulness as they not only chastise her for a behaviour that embarrasses them, but also can’t even fathom the possibility that their mother wants a romantic relationship. It’s worse than negating her happiness, it’s disregarding it altogether.

In theory, all this sounds great as Sirk explores daring themes and builds a strong female lead. And yet – all of it is weakened by a somewhat cheap, predictable, and borderline boring plot.

To be fair, this is a melodrama – a genre that hasn’t aged very well. To a modern audience, they tend do to be cheap, predictable and boring, resorting to clichés and easy problem solving more often than not. It might be the one genre I can’t stand – even Cary Grant could not make me enjoy Penny Serenade.

But possibly my biggest issue with this film is how it focuses so much on the drama, on the obstacles to them being together, that it forgets to build their relationship and even their attraction. Cary and Ron fall hard and fast, but we barely see it. Is it not important?

Are we not supposed to care about them? I believed and felt for Cary because her character was actually well developed (and Wyman can act her face off). I felt her pain and desire but not for Ron, specifically. And that’s what ultimately made this movie fall short.

To end on a high note – and if for nothing else – All That Heaven Allows (1955) is worth it for the visuals. Russell Metty’s work is absolutely brilliant, with a startling use of light, color and composition. So even though I didn’t exactly like it, I’m not likely to forget it anytime soon.

Have you seen All That Heaven Allows (1955)?
If you’re participating in this year’s Blind Spot Series,
leave your February entry in the comments!
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