"All That Heaven Allows" is likely one of the many films across the ages that were taken by the filmmaker and improved from what was on the page. Director Douglas Sirk made a few entries in the romantic melodrama (er, "chick flick", for use of a better word) genre in the 1950's. Although these pictures were somewhat sappy, they had intelligent, fully realized characters that engaged audiences. This film revolves around a middle-aged widow (Jane Wyman) who begins to fall for her gardener (Rock Hudson), who is several years her junior.
In an age where older/younger type relationships are the norm, during this period, things were different, as Cary (Wyman) certainly finds out. In her small community, status is everything, and falling for a gardener who is not only below her status but below her age sets off her gossipy neighbors and friends and doesn't exactly elicit a positive reaction from her grown and rather snobby children.
So, Wyman faces the personal struggle between her civilized city life and spending time with Ron (Hudson) in an idealic cabin in nature (a deer happens to wander by just to re-inforce the earthy feel). Both lead performances are excellent; the two had been previously successfully paired in Director Sirk's "Magnificent Obsession", so their re-teaming seemed ideal for this 1955 picture.
Although the story didn't always hold my attention firmly, Sirk's wonderful use of technicolor certainly did. Although not a natural looking format, the beautiful and fascinating use of color throughout the movie highlights some exceptionally well-composed sequences. Criterion's new DVD edition also brings this technicolor presentation to fresh life with a very nice new anamorphic transfer.
VIDEO: "All That Heaven Allows" is presented by Criterion in a 1.77:1 anamorphic transfer. The 16x9 enhanced digital transfer was mastered from the 35mm interpositive. Although the picture is often lovely and clean, the mention of the use of Criterion's MTI restoration system is missing, leading me to believe that it wasn't a part of the process. Sharpness and detail are slightly inconsistent, but still excellent; a few scenes here and there looked soft, while other scenes displayed fine depth to the image.
The main culprit keeping this from being a really outstanding transfer are some instances of wear. Although this is not consistently seen throughout the movie, there are infrequent marks and speckles that occasionally appeared, but no instances of "major" wear. Grain was also very light - some scenes had a minimal amount, while others remained grain-free. A couple of tiny instances of pixelation appeared, but I didn't see any instances of edge enhancement.
When the picture really impresses are the colors. The technicolor film offered bold, rich colors that often looked stunning, if not natural. Colors don't look to have faded in the least and still remain well-saturated and clean. This presentation of "All That Heaven Allows" is not without some bumps, but after 46 years, I was suprised to see the film still remains in this kind of condition.
SOUND: "All That Heaven Allows" is presented in mono audio, mastered from 35mm 3-track magnetic audio master. Like the picture quality, I was suprised at the condition of the sound. For a mono presentation, clarity and sound quality were noticably above average, with both the dialogue and score coming through warmly and clearly. The audio is never "thin" and remains a very comfortable and pleasant listen.
MENUS:: Criterion provides a lovely animated main menu, with a clip playing in the background and music from the movie.
Behind The Mirror: The back of the box states that there is "an hour" of excerpts from this 1979 BBC documentary on Sirk. Actually though, there is more along the lines of half that, as the documentary ends at about 31 minutes in. Although this packaging error is an unfortunate oversight, this still remains a very interesting piece, providing rare interviews with the director as he discusses his body of work. Through text cards that provide additional background as well as the director's discussions of his efforts, we get a full idea of his career.
Also: A gallery of vintage lobby cards, production still, behind-the-scenes photos and publicity shots; "Imitations Of Life" - an illustrated essay on the career of Douglas Sirk by director Rainer Werner Fassbinder; trailer.
Final Thoughts: "All That Heaven Allows" is a superbly filmed and well-acted piece, but not quite as remarkable or exceptional as some of the other films that Criterion has released from around this period. Their DVD is very enjoyable though, with great image and audio quality, considering the film's age. This is one of the company's $39.99 retail price titles, but it didn't seem to offer quite as much in the way of features as many of their titles at that price point usually seem to. For fans of the movie, "All That Heaven Allows" is certainly still worth picking up on this new DVD.