All That Heaven Allows

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(1955, directed by Douglas Sirk)

- inducted 2016 –

“There is so much to adore about All That Heaven Allows, Douglas Sirk’s 1955 tale of a love affair between a socialite (Jane Wyman) and younger gardener (Rock Hudson). The acting is top-notch: Wyman leads us through Cary’s conflicts and confusion with her face alone, while Hudson’s soft-spoken and tamped-down performance is, in the context of a 50s melodrama, practically Bressonian. The crazy-artificial sets, particularly Cary’s house, are outstanding — Cary’s ‘perfect’ life reflected in what looks like a life-size doll house, every object placed just so, both lifeless and looming. And, Jesus, the colors! Every Argento and Refn film is a tribute to the battle between Cary’s cold-blue bedroom and her hot-red dress.

“But for me, it’s Sirk’s use of space that defines ATHA and marks it as one the greatest films ever made. Cary’s world is stifling and claustrophobic; so Sirk counterintuitively emphasizes how large her world is. There’s the majestic God’s-eye crane shot that opens the film, hovering over the burg of Stoningham in a kind of judgment. There’s Cary’s cavernous house, made up of giant rooms that never seem to connect to one another. Or consider the parties thrown by her friend Sara, which feel like a never-ending horizontal tracking shot, an endless Oldboy-esque corridor of busybody gossips and leering old men. In one bravura bit of blocking, Sara’s guests act as walls that hide, then reveal one of Cary’s spurned suitors, who emerges ready to strike.

“All of these spaces underline Cary’s isolation, and vulnerability because of that isolation. Ron’s spaces, while always smaller, appear to lack walls. He works outside, with the trees; his domain, an old mill, is essentially one big room, even when he refurbishes it into something more like Cary’s home. There’s a get-together at Ron’s friend’s house, a house that looks cramped for four, but is soon filled, like a clown car in reverse, with friends dancing, all in one room. It’s wild and chaotic, and the complete opposite of anything in Stoningham. In this world, smallness means closeness, intimacy, and there can be no barriers to intimacy.

“At the end, we see Ron’s major change to his home: part of the wall has been replaced with a large window. A window separates like a wall, but there’s transparency, and the intimation of responsibility — what can be seen through it cannot be ignored. Even though he’s injured, and possibly may not recover, Cary has accepted Ron into her life, and now the world is open to them, with all the beauty and uncertainty that entails.”

~ Kent M. Beeson

Principal cast: Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson, Agnes Moorhead, Conrad Nagel, Virginia Gray, Gloria Talbott, William Reynolds, Charles Drake, Hayden Rorke, Jacqueline de Wit, Leigh Snowden, Donald Curtis, Alex Gerry, Nestor Palva, Forrest Lewis, Tol Avery, Merry Anders
Screenplay by Peg Fenwick
Story by Edna L. Lee and Harry Lee
Producer: Ross Hunter
Director of photography: Russell Metty
Art direction by Alexander Golitzen, Eric Orbom (uncredited)
Set decoration by Russell A. Gausman, Julia Heron
Gowns by Bill Thomas
Film editing by Frank Gross, Fred Baratta (uncredited)
Music by: Frank Skinner
Makeup by Bud Westmore, Nick Marcellino (uncredited), Vincent Romaine (uncredited)
Hair stylist: Joan St. Oegger
Sound by: Leslie I. Carey, Joe Lapis

USA
Duration: 89 minutes
Languages: English
Filmed in color (Eastmancolor and Technicolor)
Sound mix: Mono (Western Electric Recording)
Cinematographic process: Spherical
Aspect ratio: 2.00:1
Printed film format: 35mm

Produced and distributed in the USA by Universal International Pictures
Premiered in London, UK on 25 August 1955
USA release date: 25 December 1955

Awards and honors:
- National Film Registry selection, 1995