Superb Essay on the Objects in “All that Heaven Allows”
Posted on June 16, 2014 at 3:59 pm
Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman starred in two films directed by Douglas Sirk in the 1950’s, All That Heaven Allows and Magnificent Obsession. When they were released, they were considered glossy, if soapy, romantic dramas without much insight or artistic aspiration. But now both are highly respected, with Criterion editions and scholarly appreciations as thoughtful commentary on post-WWII re-definitions of class and culture. In All That Heaven Allows, Wyman plays a widow quietly being smothered by the constrictions of her suburban life. Her children want her to spend the rest of her life alone, urging her to get a television so she can be entertained at home and occasionally attend events at the country club. But she is drawn to her handsome young gardener (Hudson), a man of the natural world.
Celebrate Rock Hudson’s birthday this week with the movie that really made him a star, a remake of a Robert Taylor movie based on a popular book by Lloyd C. Douglas, who often included religious themes in his stories. (Both movies are included in the Criterion edition.)
Hudson plays a careless playboy whose boating accident deprives a beloved doctor of lifesaving equipment. The doctor dies. His widow (Jane Wyman) discovers that he had been quietly helping dozens of people, requiring only two things: that they never tell anyone and that they never pay him back. He asked them to pass the aid along to others instead. That was his “magnificent obsession.”
No one was better with melodrama than Douglas Sirk. In his first American film, he amped up the luscious technicolor but it was still not as purple as the emotions, especially after the playboy has another catastrophic encounter with the widow before finally finding a magnificent obsession of his own.