For over twenty years Douglas Sirk made great films that combined the cinematic elements of high art with the schmaltzy elements of soap operas. His color films have an ironic glossy façade that comment on the emptiness and vanity of the Eisenhower era upper classes. All That Heaven Allows, made in 1955, is one of the simplest but most accomplished films made in Hollywood in the 1950's.
A well-to-do widow (Jane Wyman) falls in love with a working class tree farmer(Rock Hudson). She is fifteen years his senior and, to almost everyone who knows her, their relationship together is considered totally inappropriate to the affluent community. Her social circle frowns upon her dating a young hunk and her two grown children also seriously disapprove; believing that the relationship will threaten not only their social standing but their inheritance as well. Ostracized from those closest to her she has to make a decision that will most likely affect her for the rest of her life. Because of this the film takes on a surprising element of suspense by the end.
Rock Hudson is at his best as the quietly unassuming but wise man and Jane Wyman is terrific as the staid woman who is torn between her love for Rock and her obligations to her closed-minded friends and family. The film is gorgeously shot in technicolor by Russell Metty and with its use of well lit primary colors it has the feel of fairy tale or an American upper class myth -- albeit of the three hankie weepie kind.
Since Sirk was a director with a strong visual sense it's great to have the DVD looking so sharp, crisp and clear. The film was shot with a lot of primary colors and on the DVD they look brilliant. The film is presented in a 1.77 to 1 aspect ratio and often has the look of old technicolor drenched photos of the 1950's. There are some scratches evident on the print (usually at reel changes) and there is some slight edge enhancement as well as some noticeable compression artifact in the background of some scenes but since the colors are so vibrant, the details so strong in each shot and the framing so masterful it's hardly worth complaining about.
The audio is in the original mono (Dolby Digital 1.0), with optional English subtitles. The soundtrack ebbs and flows to the film's melodramatics and the dialogue is sharp and clear – even though Rock and Jane both speak in hushed tones. The sound has good range for only being Dolby 1.0 and due to the film's occasional dramatic line delivery it doesn't need to be louder.
There is a 31 minute Sirk Interview that is excerpted from a documentary about him made in 1979 and it is divided into 12 chapters. Sirk talks candidly about most of the major films of his career, which started in Germany under the legendary UFA studios in the 1940's. Although he doesn't talk too much about All That Heaven Allows this is a must for any fan of his work. There is an enjoyable illustrated essay by Rainer Werner Fassbinder Imitation of Life: On The Films of Douglas Sirk that is quite idiosyncratic and were written quickly with a great amount of wit and unique insight into the style and content of Sirk's flms. Some of the comments are funny: 'Then later Jane goes back to Rock; because she keeps having headaches, which happens to all of us if we don't f*%# enough.' And some are candid; 'In Douglas Sirk's movies the women think. It's wonderful to see a woman thinking. That gives you hope.' There are some production photos and numerous one sheets as well as a vintage trailer. On the inside box there are exclusive liner notes by noted film theorist Laura Mulvey, who has great insight into the psychology of Sirk's films. The film is 88 minutes long and there are 21 chapters.
Sirk most critically lauded film is Written on the Wind (also available from Criterion) but this is the film that really exemplifies his mastery of the medium. By putting all the extra material on this DVD Criterion chose this to be the representative film of Sirk's career and they have done a great job with the transfer and all the extras. If you are interested in great 50's Hollywood cinema this is a fine DVD to have in your collection. Highly recommended.