Douglas Sirk was, according to most, the master of melodrama. At the time of writing I am possibly not the best person to judge as this is the first of his movies that I have seen. Then again, if All That Heaven Allows is anything to go by, I am inclined to firmly agree with that statement. Bathed in lush Technicolor, this is a film that has a simple premise and draws focus on the romance between a man and a woman, and the social stigma they face as their apparently unconventional relationship goes public.
The themes at play are classic Hollywood, yet the traditional angle has been subverted. Here it is the man, Rock Hudson’s Ron Kirby, rather than a woman (Jane Wyman as Cary Scott) who is the younger in the couple. It’s funny in one sense because Wyman was only eight years older than Hudson at the time of filming (38 to his 30). Yet it still works – no offence to Wyman but she does look much, much older here. In fact that is a compliment in a roundabout way. She certainly looks the part. Anyway, I digress.
The social norms of the day are brought into focus nicely. He is your typical manual labourer/lumberjack type. He hunts animals, chops down trees, and goes to the lavatory as all good lumberjacks do. She meanwhile is part of the upper crust and hangs out with shallow people at the local country club. They meet, they fall for one another, and thus a story is born. It’s worth pointing out that her husband has long since died, leaving her to live in a big house with her son and daughter (selfish and self-obsessed in their own way). This isn’t an extra-marital thing, in case you were worried about that.
She is conflicted, because this new situation goes against everything she has experienced to date. He on the other hand isn’t concerned about what others think. It’s the difference between the two and, despite Hudson’s casting, it’s Wyman who is the central character here. She is the one who undergoes the most change throughout. In many respects, as good as Hudson is here, his character is merely the one to incite change and not much more. That and never raising his voice either. Quite the restrained performance for the era that truly gave us angry acting.
Despite this not being my usual choice of genre, I enjoyed this very much. It’s one of those stories that builds to its inevitable conclusion, even if the script tries to pull the rug out from under you on occasion. See the scene where Cary’s son tells her that her Christmas present is on the way. Don’t tell me you weren’t hoping for an “It’s A Wonderful Life” moment too.
Plus, as someone who has a growing appreciation for cinematography, everything looks amazing. The use of colour – still a novelty at that time – is incredible, if at times unrealistic. But this heightened reality adds to its depth rather than takes away. As a classic romance story, there’s none finer than this.