Another masterpiece combination of styles and influences is the easiest way to describe All That Heaven Allows by German director Douglas Sirk. In this 1955 film, Sirk takes a standard melodramatic plot and executes it as artistically as possible.
Using the term melodrama in its literal sense, musical drama, Sirk Alludes to every plot change and moment with swelling musical cues and over the top crescendos. Still, what makes the film so appealing is his unique use of color, lighting and angels. Beginning his career in Germany during the 1930's, Sirk devoured all the expressionistic influences of the time. This is obvious from watching this film, which contains some of the most angularly beautiful filmed shots I have had the pleasure of watching.
Many of the shots are framed through windows or in mirrors giving the film a true sense of depth and a slight voyeuristic quality. As in some of his other films, Sirk uses a limited color palate to tell his story in terms that are more clear-cut. The contrast of the reds and blues that often dominate the shots seem to echo the influential films of the expressionistic era in the 1930's. He uses every possible color, set piece, and angle to summarize the futility of the situations and the broken love that Wyman feels. Her choice is not an easy one and this is often echoed visually in the film.
He takes the standard plot of the May-September forbidden romance between Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson) and the widowed Cary (Jane Wyman). She is a socialistic widow that has two college aged children that disapprove of her new romance when it's revealed that he has no monetary ambitions above simply "making it." When faced with the choice of her children or Kirby, she must make a choice and live with the consequences.
Even more interesting is the examination involved with the stigma of being a widow who wants to resume living after grieving her husband's death. It is all the little town can talk about and the rumors flow freely when their relation is exposed. Feeling bound by maternal duty, Wyman is heart-broken by the shallow cruelty that children can often display. In true dramatic fashion the ending is slightly contrived and soap opera clichéd, but the presentation makes the film worth the viewing.
As usual with a Criterion Collection release, the video is near flawless. Similar to their other Sirk release of Written on the Wind, this film shows the dedication to quality the company has. The colors are vibrant and the many dark areas in the film never degrade in quality or suffer from digital noise. Scant few print flaws rear their heads and do not hinder from the viewing of this film in the least. Lastly, the film is presented in its original 1:77.1 aspect ratio and enhanced for anamorphic televisions.
The digitally re-mastered Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack sounds bright and clear and suffers from no vocal loss throughout the film. The Extras:
In true Criterion style, the extras are extremely informative and well done. There is an hours worth of excerpts from the well done, BBC produced Behind the Mirror: A Profile of Douglas Sirk from 1979. The series of interviews with the late director is interspersed with clips and text to provide a brief and informative overview of his career. Also included is a set of essays by filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder on Sirk's career and six of his films. Lastly, there are trailers and photos related to the film, as well as, liner notes from film theorist Laura Mulvey.
Overall: It is another worthy addition to any serious film-lovers library. Sirk is considered by many to have perfected the balance of artistry and popularity in the melodramatic film. With an example such as this, it is hard to argue.