All That Heaven Allows (Directors Suite) (1955)

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Released 9-Jul-2008

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Featurette-(23:02) Contract Kid : William Reynolds : V.good and unusual
Featurette-(15:13) Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven) talks on Sirk.
Featurette-(25:23) Hudson Profile : Mainly using poor quality trailers.
Theatrical Trailer-(02:39) Fair quality but LHS of image cropped at 1.33:1.
Audio Commentary-Full Movie : Melbourne lecturer with OK comments on film.
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1955
Running Time 85:02 (Case: 89)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (55:49)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Douglas Sirk
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Jane Wyman
Rock Hudson
Agnes Moorehead
Conrad Nagel
Virginia Grey
Gloria Talbott
William Reynolds
Charles Drake
Hayden Rorke
Jacqueline deWit
Case Amaray-Opaque-Dual
RPI $39.95 Music Frank Skinner


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

   

 "The camera is the main thing here, because there is emotion in the moving pictures.
Motion is emotion, in a way it can never be in the theatre." 
                                                                                                Douglas Sirk 



    Madman continue with the release of titles in their series Douglas Sirk : Directors Suite with the arrival of possibly the most loved of all the films made by that director. After the massive success of Magnificent Obsession in 1954, producer Ross Hunter reteamed the two stars Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson, again under the directorial leadership of Douglas Sirk, and in October 1955 All That Heaven Allows opened at Sydney's State Theatre where it played four sessions a day for six weeks.

    The plot is very simple. Based on a story by Edna L. Lee and Harry Lee, The screenplay by Peg Fenwick has attractive youngish widow, Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) filling her well-heeled single existence with charity work and Country Club society in picturesque autumnal New England, her best friend being Sara Warren (Agnes Moorehead). Cary has two children, Kay (Gloria Talbot) and Ned (William Reynolds) who are both off at college, returning to their mother for weekends and holidays. Cary's gardens are cared for by gardener Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson), a handsome, hunky outdoors Thoreau reading and living child of nature. Ron's lifestyle is totally alien to Cary, whose garden he tends, with Cary not even knowing what is is growing in her garden - imagery from Candide? Cary and Ron become friendly, Cary meeting Ron's best friends Mick (Charles Drake) and Alida (Virginia Grey), whose lifestyle is in sharp contrast to that of the Country Club set. Cary and Ron are in love and plan to marry, and after Cary spends a night in Ron's rustic cabin, complete with old mill and bubbling stream, the gossip tongues begin to wag, primarily that in the hard face of Mona Plash (Jacqueline de Wit). When Ned and Kay return for the holidays Cary breaks the news about her impending marriage to Ron. The kids are shocked - they expected Mum to marry safe old Harvey (Conrad Nagel), who presents no Oedipal threat to the offspring. The protests of the children in her ears, Cary and Ron attend a cocktail party being thrown by Sara. The social set bare their claws at Ron, who ends up clashing with the lecherous Howard (Donald Curtis), who had previously had his amorous advances rebuffed by Cary. Everyone is against Cary, friend, foes and family! Cary has to choose between her family, the mores of her old life, and Ron, with his "to thine own self be true" ethic. Cary chooses the former, and breaks off with Ron. It is not long before events show that Cary has been selfless, or was it weak, and that her children will reveal their selfishness at the first opportunity. Will Cary decide to return to the strong, manly arms of Ron, or will she sit alone, approved by her former social set,  watching herself reflected in the vacant, soullessly dead TV set, a Christmas present from her soon to be absent children. Cary's garden is shrouded in winter's snow, but what rebirth will spring bring? This will all be resolved by Sirk in just over eighty-five minutes.

    This is the stuff of melodrama, and Douglas Sirk, aided by his director of photography Russell Metty, plunges us into the fantastically emotional and artificial melodramatic world of his characters. Sirk's use of camera angles, composition, lush colour, costume, decor, music all are working towards our total immersion in this world. This is an artificial world appealing to our senses and our emotions, not to our minds. His very choice of actors is an appeal to the senses. Sweet, soft lovely Jane Wyman, with the dark, limpid doe like brown eyes. Remember that deer in the snow? Rock Hudson, rock by name and by nature - on screen, at least! Was there ever such a frame, such a profile, such a pompadour! Their hushed voices soothe and seduce. Sirk's criticism of the society is embodied in our immersion in their world and our sympathy for them. We deplore the actions of the petty minded in their opposition to Cary and Ron. In truth, we might behave exactly the same way in real life, but here we take the elevated stand embodied in the advice of Polonius to Laertes : "To thine own self be true." 

    The cast is perfection. Jane Wyman, earlier in her career a blonde wise-cracking secretary cum song and dance girl, had become type-cast as a Warner Brothers contract player, and married her occasional co-star, Pres to be, Ronald Reagan. On loan-out she did her better work, to Paramount for Lost Weekend (1945) and then to MGM for The Yearling (1946), which gained the actress her first Academy Award nomination. Miss Wyman was finally rewarded by her home studio when she was cast as the deaf-mute lead in Johnny Belinda (1948). Giving the performance of her career, the actress collected the 1948 Oscar as Best Actress of the Year. With two more nominations in next next few years, The Blue Veil (1952) and Magnificent Obsession, Jane Wyman's career was in full gear when she made this, her second Sirk film. She was a favourite of female audiences, who were largely responsible for the success of these films, the original newspaper ads featuring three photos of Miss Wyman, and only one of her male co-star. Despite the gloss of the Ross Hunter production, the actress conveys so much depth and warmth. Watch her in the early scene with Ron where she is obviously attracted to this rugged and serenely secure man (16:40). She is disappointed to learn that he won't be back in Spring. He reassures her, "Don't worry. I'll find you someone". It wasn't the garden she was worried about, and, slightly hurt, she turns to leave. Then comes the invitation to see his "silver tipped spruce", and she delicately opens to him once more. The action in this scene is all in Jane Wyman's wonderfully expressive eyes. Those eyes were used to incredible effect playing her Oscar winning "Belinda", and also in the climactic scene of  Hitchcock's Stage Fright (1950).

    Well documented in Robert Hofler's The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson, Rock Hudson's screen image was a fabricated one. Roy Fitzgerald had supplied the frame, but makers and shakers had supplied the teeth, name and personality. Rejected in 1948 by MGM,  "Roy" was advised by his agent to lower his high pitched, nasal voice. The method was to wait for a throat infection, then scream for hours at the Malibu surf, thus damaging the vocal chords. Once the chords healed the voice would be miraculously deeper and more seductive. There are a number of scenes in this film that have a detached, ethereal feel to them, part of that coming from the unnatural sound of the dialogue. When the actor's delivery of lines was not deemed sufficiently masculine, they were post-dubbed, or looped, until the director was satisfied. Regardless, Hudson's character here is a symbol of a natural, back to the earth lifestyle alien to the female central character, and as such there could be no simpler and less ambivalent symbol than the Ron created by Rock Hudson. The script may have Hudson's character voice his doubts as to whether or not he can maintain his single minded credo, not compromising in his desire to be united with Cary, but we have no such doubts.

    Also from the Magnificent Obsession team is Agnes Moorehead. Coming to attention initially as a member of Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre, appearing in his films Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, Agnes Moorehead is sometimes considered a "character actress", suggesting she had one character which was duplicated in each film. She was much more than that. There was no limit to what she could play, from Welles' classics through Show Boat and on to  TV's Bewitched. As  Sara, Miss Moorehead looks magnificent, glamorously statuesque in crystal clear photography, lips slashed with glistening scarlet. She plays the devil's disciple in her advice to Cary, but it is difficult to dislike this character. Trivia worthy is the fact that Misses Moorehead and Wyman appeared in five films together : Johnny Belinda (for Moorehead an Oscar nomination, for Wyman a win), The Blue Veil (a nomination for Wyman), Magnificent Obsession (again a nod for Wyman), All That Heaven Allows and Polyanna. The remainder of the cast are basically type-cast but as a consequence perfect for their roles. Virginia Grey was  a welcome face in movies from the 30s, and here has one of her most sympathetic roles, while William Reynolds has better material than was often the case, rising handsomely to the occasion, especially in his dramatic confrontations with Miss Wyman. (Note that the cover slick incorrectly third bills Barbara Rush, who does not appear in this film. Miss Rush did however co-star in Magnificent Obsession.)

    Technically this film is sumptuous. I doubt if any cast member was required to venture from the Universal backlot, but every scene has meticulous attention to detail, from rustic mill to swanky homes, from manicured gardens to natural outdoors, from sophisticated cocktail party to unselfconscious kicking up of heels, from tailored suits, male and female, to checked shirts and corduroys,  all are working towards the overall impact of the film. Complementing the visuals is the sensitive, emotional score by Frank Skinner, with melodies of Liszt and Brahms interwoven under Joseph Gershenson's musical supervision.

    Perhaps the greatest success of All That Heaven Allows is that in its original 1955 release the audiences flocked, wept and adored it, leaving theatres totally convinced that Ron and Cary should "end up" together, defying the mores and narrow-minded hypocrisy of their society. There was then no intellectual appraisal of the "Sirkian method" and the director's cinematic style. Sirk's art was everywhere in evidence on the screen, but his art, or atifice if you prefer, was the medium for the message, not the message itself. Speaking personally, in the 50s Sirk's art worked totally on me, without my knowing why it had that effect. As a teenager I escaped more than once into this beautifully troubled world of beautiful romantic people. Years later I could return and "take it apart", but I'm grateful I had those earlier, totally emotional hours in the darkened movie theatres where I simply experienced and responded. I fear that sometimes today we tend to see the individual brush strokes, and not the complete painting.
 

 

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The video transfer of this movie is almost perfect.
   
    The transfer  is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. There are no problems with framing.
    I would suggest that this is not a "restored" print of the film, but the best obtainable print - or composite print.
    The transfer is extremely sharp and clear throughout. Detail is excellent, both in the interior and exterior scenes.
    There is a modest amount of grain, giving a totally cinema like experience to the viewing.
    There is a the most subtle softness on closeups of Jane Wyman in some scenes, but this was standard for the 50s.
    Blacks are deep and dark and the colour is brilliant. The opening scene in particular absolutely dazzles with the vibrancy of a rainbow of colours, highlighted by Agnes Moorehead's startlingly red lipstick. There is a slight inconsistency with colour, the leads hair being more red-tinged in some scenes, but this is only made apparent because of the other sections which are totally eye-popping.
    Overall, Douglas Sirk's now legendary expressionistic use of colour is wonderfully reproduced.
    There is no low level noise.
    
    The only film to video artefact was some slight aliasing on weatherboards (01:39) in the opening scene. Apart from this I was not aware of any.
    Reel cues have been removed.
    There is a small amount of white flecking, most noticeable around 45:19, which I expect was at a reel change. For the rest of the film you have to really concentrate intently to pick up any mark at all.

    There are English subtitles.
    The layer change occurs at 55:49 and is barely noticeable.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The audio is unremarkable, but it is in quite good shape.
    There are two audio streams, English and the commentary track. Both are in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono encoded at 224  Kbps.
    The dialogue was clear and easy to understand. Much of the dialogue is very quietly spoken - these are "nice" people - but there was absolutely no trouble with total comprehension.
    There is a minute amount of background crackle or pop, and there are no dropouts.
    There was no problem with audio sync with the transfer, despite the fact that a great deal of the dialogue was looped or post-recorded. Post-recording can create a certain distancing from the actors on screen, which in a realistic film could be damaging. In the artificially ideal world of All That Heaven Allows, that distancing almost adds to the romance
  Frank Skinner's romantic musical score adds more emotional depth to the film, enhanced by the contributions of Liszt and Brahms. All music is very nicely reproduced, though limited by its original mono source.
    
    

    

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

   

 

This is a very pleasing set of extras, including an OK commentary, a trailer, and three featurettes, ranging in quality of content from poor, to very good, to excellent.

.

   

Disc One:

Menu

    The Main Menu is presented very basically, 1.85:1 and 16x9 enhanced, with a framed blow-up from the film accompanied by the End Title music.
    The options presented are :  Play Feature
                                               Select Scenes : One screen using night crane shot of town square, with twelve chapters. No thumbnails and no audio.
                                               Set-Up:  Set-up screen uses one framed blow-up and has no audio. The options presented are:
                                                              Audio Commentary : On / Off
                                                              English Subtitles : On / Off

Audio Commentary :
 This commentary runs for the full length of the movie and is made by Dr Mark Nicholls, Lecturer in Cinema Studies at the University of Melbourne. Not as informed or informative as the commentary on The Tarnished Angels, and with some gross generalizations, but a nice balance is presented between the "intellectual" approach to Sirk's films,  this one in particular, and the sheer visceral pleasure of indulging in this fantastic, romantic world created on the screen. Errors and oversights include William Reynolds only being credited with two Sirk films, overlooking Has Anybody Seen My Gal?, a failure to identify David Janssen, the star of many future films as well as TV's Richard Diamond and The Fugitive, seen here in the "famous tilt-down" clinch with Gloria Talbot, and referring to Merry Anders' character, Mary Ann, as daughter of the Alida and Mick characters. Virginia Grey's dialogue establishes that Mary Ann is,  (her) "young cousin".

   

Disc Two:

Menu

On the second disc the menu is even more basic - no audio. The still is a very attractive shot of Rock Hudson patting a deer, in the snow, in front of the old mill.

Featurette : Contract Kid (23:02)
This one is a breath of fresh air. I have never seen interview footage of William Reynolds before, and this is twenty-three minutes of interesting first-hand comments on the Hollywood of the 50s. Shortly after his 1951 debut in William Wyler's Carrie, at Paramount, Reynolds became a "contract kid" at Universal, joining the throng of attractive young "stars of the future". Reynolds never became a star, but was a familiar regular in many films of the period. Here the charming, dapper seventy-six year old actor compares working with Sirk, Wyler and Henry Hathaway, the contribution of photographer Russell Metty, his impressions of Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson and the "A" picture as distinct from the "B". This is totally engrossing, and it can only be hoped that recollections such as these are being preserved before it is too late. Presentation is excellent, with a ratio of1.85:1 and 16x9 enhanced, with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.


Featurette : A Powerful Political Potential (15:13)
Todd Haynes,
the director of Far from Heaven (2002), a homage to Douglas Sirk, discusses that director's influence on Raimer Werner Fassbinder as well as on his own work. Haynes is engrossing and intelligent without ever being highbrow. His discussion of the criticism of radical political cinema versus the criticism contained within the cinema of popular culture, such as All That Heaven Allows, is a great starting point for an appreciation of Sirk's movies. Very nice quality presented 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.


Featurette : Hollywood Remembers Rock Hudson : A Profile (25:23)
You've probably seen this one before. It's one of those cheap pieces cobbled together from old trailers, generally of appalling quality, and, if you're lucky,  a few seconds of interviews. Here we get almost all of the trailer for The Golden Blade - a pleasure though to see the lovely, vivacious and talented Piper Laurie, who is still going strong and still beautiful, Written on the Wind looking dreadful in black and white, bits of Giant, Pillow Talk and Come September amongst others. This would be better if the trailer list was complete, but it is far from that. On the plus side there are about thirty seconds of an interview discussing his age advantage in beating other name stars for the Bick Benedict role in Giant, premiere and Golden Globe footage for Pillow Talk and brief references to his TV career and homosexuality.  Presented 1.33:1 in a 4x3 transfer.




Theatrical Trailer : (02:39) 
    
    This is the original theatrical trailer, and very interesting to see how the film was marketed - straight to the emotions. The quality is not as good as the film, but quite satisfactory, despite considerable telecine wobble. Unfortunately it is a 1.33:1 transfer of the widescreen image which has the full height, but slices off the left-hand side of the picture, resulting in, amongst other losses, Miss Wyman's first name being reduced to "ane".


Booklet : 
    
 
    This sixteen page booklet is an informed and insightful discussion of Sirk's films. The writer is Justin Vicari described as "both an academic and a creative writer who has won several poetry and prose awards". It's a pity that someone didn't pick up his error in repeatedly referring to Rock Hudson's character as "Rod" instead of "Ron". Could this have been a Freudian slip induced by Ron's "silver tipped spruce"? Worth a read, and includes eight shots from the film featuring the two leads.

Inside of Slick :
    Madman once again reproduce this valuable information found on previous Sirk releases, with approximately  five hundred words on Sirk, plus a Hollywood Filmography listing Sirk's twenty-nine Hollywood films, from Hitler's Madman (1942) through to Imitation of Life (1958).

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 release is a single disc release as part of  the Criterion Collection, which generally maintains a very high standard with its transfers. The Criterion releases are premium priced, but then so is the local Madman release. The extras on the Region 1 Criterion release are :
          * Thirty-one minutes of excerpts from Behind the Mirror : A Profile of Douglas Sirk. This is a 1979 BBC documentary which contains actual interview footage with Sirk.
          * Imitation of Life : On the Films of Douglas Sirk - an illustrated essay by Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
          * A collection of vintage lobby cards and production stills.
          * The original theatrical trailer.
          * Exclusive liner notes by "noted film theorist Laura Mulvey".

    The title is available in Region 2, either individually, single disc UK5.97 at Amazon UK,  or as part of the Douglas Sirk box set, which also includes Has Anybody Seen My Gal?, All I Desire, Magnificent Obsession, The Tarnished Angels, Written on the Wind and Imitation of Life. At UK17.97 this set sound most desirable, although there have been many complaints about the insensitive widescreen transfer of Magnificent Obsession, with assertions that Sirk's key composition of images has been severely harmed.

    A bit of an individual decision to be made here, depending on whether or not you would value the extras and, if so, which set of extras.
    

Summary

    This is an iconic film of the 50s. If  I was allowed one melodrama for a desert island, this would have to be it - I'd smuggle The Letter onto the island somehow. Using all the resources of film, Douglas Sirk has created one of the most visually intoxicating films while at the same time criticising the social mores impacting on the lives of his central figures. Two of those resources are Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson and they could not have been bettered. I make no apologies for this - it is a MUST.
    

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Garry Armstrong (BioGarry)
Saturday, August 23, 2008
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SpeakersVAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)

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