I don’t watch too many films that date prior to the 1970’s, but when I do, I indulge in ones with a high reputation.
I have a bit of an admission regarding not this movie specifically, but the era in which it came out of. Films prior to, say, the mid-1960’s always felt a lot less serious to me, mostly due to them being within a set presentation and the acting being more akin to a stereotype than of real people… though perhaps real people acted like that during that generation. When I think of movies from the ’40s or ’50s, they’re generally musicals or overly dramatic romantic comedies or silly entertainment flicks. There are exceptions, of course (Citizen Kane and Sunset Boulevard spring to mind), but I usually have an aversion to older films on a general basis. They just don’t feel as serious to me, and I don’t like the acting style attributed to it.
That being said, All That Heaven Allows has small inclinations of these personal nitpicks, though it does enough in its own strength to keep the film prime and moving. While filmed in the mid-1950’s, I could see this being filmed in more modern times, sans the acting style and wardrobe choices. It didn’t take long for me to see it as just another film, which is a fantastic sign and prompted it to perform without fear. Even prior to the birth of my mother, this film stands as a testament to humanity’s endless loop of insecurity, as many themes present here stand today, and perhaps even more.
While I could start this off with a positive spin, as I did like this film a lot, I’ll start with the negatives, as there were very few things I had issue with in this film, but those few things were prominent. Most prominently, I didn’t care for how straightforward the story was told. This is most notable by how blatantly one-mood each of these scenes were from beginning to end. The introduction, the set-up, the good times, the bad times, and the happy resolution to end it all. I could say it’s formulaic, but for as old as the film is, one would probably argue that it was among the founders of the film formula.
To embellish this point, there are the good times within the film, when Cary, the lead protagonist, and her younger lover, Ron, are happy and learning the ways of love through one another. Then, however, she makes it known of her intentions to marry him, and then the entire world starts to fall apart around her. Her children (especially her son) sees it as a mockery of her status to be with a lowly gardener, and that he’d cut off all ties with her should she go through with it. Her daughter, uncomfortable yet tolerant initially, goes through public humiliation due to it, then gets into a fight with her boyfriend over it. It’s not so much the validity of it, which I could definitely understand, but the timing. She announces it for the world to see and suddenly everything turns to hell. It’s not like she’s intending to marry her dog! It feels somewhat silly how easily it all piles on.
And with the ironic cherry on top, her son, with one point against her marriage being that they would have to move out of the current home, announces that not only is he going away for a year-long trip, but that he intends to try and sell the home. The daughter, who empathizes with her mother once more, announces she’s engaged to her boyfriend, so she may not use the house much anymore, either. Funny how that works. One could argue, “See, it’s because they don’t really care about their current location as much as their personal comfort and reputation,” which I could get, but it only adds to the silliness factor for me. Wallow in misery, Cary, for your heart will never get what it wants.
For as much cheesiness there is to the story, it more than makes up for it in its dialogue and moral messaging. There are a lot of intriguing things to this film to take note of, many of which still apply to human nature today. How much is one’s reputation worth? What if it affects those you love? What is the worth in having a hierarchy system in which the rich and the glamorous retain all the power and class while “lowly” gardeners and housekeepers are given the blind eye? There’s a lot of subtle shots at the formations of power that humans subconsciously abide by in daily life, all wrapped up in an easy-to-process format. More than just a love story about self-invigoration, it’s a story about how cruel, how judgmental, and how unkeen to change humanity can be under the surface.
For as much as how the acting style here (which is really hard to explain. Straight? Monotone? Fast-paced? It’s so prevalent in older films that it’s almost an unconscious distinction) is not to my taste, they do well with it, particularly Jane Wyman as Cary. Most of the actors in this film did a good job (though I don’t think Hudson seemed committed until later on), but Wyman was the star. When she was onscreen, the plot moved forward with her, carefully as she shifted her way back and forth between fragile widow and passionate dreamer. She wasn’t so screen-gripping that every moment with her was pure bliss (and I would argue Hardy was more astounding in his role in the last movie I reviewed), but her ability as an actor was on full display here, easily filtering between the roles of heartbroken widow, reborn spirit, kindly mother, and frightened creature in a situation far beyond her capabilities.
Such a fast-paced film, as well. So much happens over the course of 90-ish minutes that it’s hard to imagine it’s only 90-ish minutes. Every scene is carefully controlled so that only the most necessary information is provided, every line, every facial cue is done precisely as is required to make the scene flow naturally. There’s no comedy bullshit, no bloated interaction to fill the time. It’s a machine that runs on the efficiency of its narrative device, which becomes so captivating that it’s easy to lose oneself in the lives of these poor, old souls. There were various scenes in the ending portion (particularly those discussed above) that made me feel as though time had gotten much slower, in that all the artificial tension and hostility made it more insufferable. This is only a chunk of what the film has to offer; the whole remains one that’s easy to recommend.
I will end this precisely as the film would—succinctly and with heart. I urge you, the reader, to give this film a shot. (It’s available on Youtube.) It’s not a perfect one, nor will it likely sweep you off your feet. All it has to offer is the energy of a single phrase: Be true to thine own self. Fin.
Final Score: 8/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.
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Thank you for your time. Have a great day.