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All That Heaven Allows: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray + DVD Dual-Format Edition Review

All That Heaven Allows (1955) movie poster All That Heaven Allows

Theatrical Release: December 25, 1955 / Running Time: 89 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Douglas Sirk / Writers: Peg Fenwick (screenplay); Edna L. Lee, Harry Lee (story)

Cast: Jayne Wyman (Cary Scott), Rock Hudson (Ron Kirby), Agnes Moorehead (Sara Warren), Conrad Nagel (Harvey), Virginia Grey (Alida Anderson), Gloria Talbott (Kay Scott), William Reynolds (Ned Scott), Charles Drake (Mick Anderson), Hayden Rorke (Dr. Dan Hennessy), Jacqueline de Wit (Mona Plash), Leigh Snowden (Jo-Ann Grisby), Donald Curtis (Howard Hoffer), Alex Gerry (George Warren), Nestor Paiva (Manuel), Forrest Lewis (Mr. Weeks), Tol Avery (Tom Allenby), Merry Anders (Mary Ann)

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The films of Douglas Sirk represent a somewhat forgotten chapter of American cinema.
Sirk's melodramas cannot be deemed influential or pivotal in the evolution of film. They didn't become widely appreciated until Sirk retired from directing in 1959. And, with one notable exception -- Todd Haynes' Academy Award-nominated Far From Heaven (2002) -- they haven't clearly been channeled or evoked in America.

One place where Sirk's work is not overlooked is The Criterion Collection. The boutique line, revered by film lovers, has included three of Sirk's best-known efforts in their "continuing series of important classic and contemporary films." One of the three, 1955's All That Heaven Allows, becomes the first to make the jump to Blu-ray. It does so in Criterion's Dual-Format Edition consisting of one Blu-ray and two DVDs.

Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson) and Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) have a heart-to-heart backlit by a beautiful ice blue in "All That Heaven Allows."

Set in the seemingly New England small town of Stoningham, All centers on Cary Scott (Jane Wyman), a widow and mother to two college-aged children. Rather than getting remarried to the only bachelor around, Harvey (Conrad Nagel), a "civilized" older man who "acts his age", Cary falls for Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson), a younger man who is her gardener. Strong mutual feelings form between Cary and Ron, who is giving up yard maintenance to plant trees full-time.

Unfortunately for them, the relationship draws frowns and gossip. As Cary's best friend, country club fixture Sara (Agnes Moorehead), explains it, the pairing of a wealthy widow and a lowly young gardener is bound to attract lies and rumors. Cary's children, overeducated blabbermouth Kay (Gloria Talbott) and martini-maker Ned (William Reynolds), are all for their mother getting remarried, but that's when they assume her new husband will be Harvey. They disapprove Mom marrying someone so different from their father, not to mention only a little older than them.

Cary has to weigh her personal happiness against her social status and the family's stability. At first talk of Ron moving the Scotts into the old mill he's remodeling, Ned takes off in a huff. When Ron won't slow things down as a concession to quiet the gossip, their relationship comes to an abrupt end.

Kay (Gloria Talbott) and Ned (William Reynolds) approve of their widowed mother dating...until they don't. Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson) is surprised to sell a Christmas tree to Cary Scott.

All That Heaven Allows is kind of stupid, but also kind of wonderful. Here is a movie taking stock of adults, something too few films have ever done, especially nowadays. Sirk presents these natural situations in a very staged, deliberate fashion. There's no denying that the "melodrama" label applies, negative connotations and all.
It may feel like a soap opera, a kind of ancestor to "Peyton Place" and "Desperate Housewives." At the same time, Peg Fenwick's screenplay, adapting a best-selling 1952 novel by Edna and Harry Lee (first published as a story in Woman's Home Companion), gives serious thought to the potential costs of one's satisfaction and how the views of a community affect the individual. It makes for a fascinating study of love, gender, status, and family in the 1950s.

One thing distinguishing the production, which reunited Sirk, Wyman, Hudson, Moorehead, and other key personnel two years after the Oscar-nominated Magnificent Obsession, is its use of color. Not the kind of movie typically made that way back then, when Technicolor was still something of a novelty, reserved for musicals, animation, and some Hitchcock thrillers, All makes use of the full color spectrum, at times resembling an evenly-distributed box of crayons. From fall leaves to obviously fake snow, from red hair to tan skin, the film brims with hues, almost to the point of a showy gimmick akin to in-your-face 3D. The night sky is somehow turquoise and one indoor scene applies rainbows to the faces of Cary and her daughter.

All That Heaven Allows is substantial for a screen romance, but also downright mushy. It's the type of thing you can easily expect to have been dismissed by critics upon release yet deservingly celebrated by Criterion and admitted into the Library of Congress' National Film Registry in modern times. From this film, you derive a pretty thorough understanding of mid-century customs and values. At the same time, there is a dubious medical diagnosis and the climax that weighs on the abrupt conclusion is as contrived and hokey as anything else in the film.

All That Heaven Allows: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray + DVD Dual Format Edition cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.75:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
BD: 1.0 LPCM (English); DVD: Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles: English
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: June 10, 2014 / Suggested Retail Price: $39.95
Three single-sided, dual-layered discs (1 BD-50 and 2 DVD-9s)
Clear Keepcase
Previously released as 1-Disc Criterion DVD (June 19, 2001)


Not surprisingly, Criterion makes All That Heaven Allows look great on Blu-ray. The 1.75:1 widescreen presentation features some light grain and miniscule imperfections and isn't as sharp as modern fare, but it still delights with those super vivid colors detailed above, which do a lot to distinguish this from other '50s films. The uncompressed LPCM 1.0 monaural soundtrack isn't quite as much a revelation and can't hide the slightly aged nature of the recordings. Still, for a seemingly minor movie shot 60 years ago, the quality of this Blu-ray's presentation deserves high praise.

In the 1992 documentary "Rock Hudson's Home Movies", Eric Farr puts himself in Hudson's movies, reads from his autobiography, and pounces on the homosexual subtext. Douglas Sirk speaks about his career at length in "Behind the Mirror."


Extras begin with a brand new audio commentary by film historians John Mercer and Tamar Jeffers-McDonald. These two Brits offer an engaging screen-specific discussion that satisfactorily addresses both the film's depictions in terms of 1950s morals and its technical compositions.
There's never any doubt the two speakers know their stuff and could go on at greater length about any one of the makers, especially Sirk and Hudson, each of whose changing critical perception is discussed.

On the video side, where everything is encoded in HD, we start with Rock Hudson's Home Movies (1:03:49), a 1992 documentary by Mark Rappaport that explores Hudson's on and off-screen personas. It using the actor's own words and clips from his movies with suggestive homosexual subtext to narrow the distance between romantic comedy lead and one of Hollywood's most famously closeted gay movie stars. It's a loving tribute but not of the most professional quality.

Next, we find substantial excerpts of a 1979 BBC program titled "Behind the Mirror: A Profile of Douglas Sirk" (57:15). In it, producer/host Mark Shivas interviews the director in Switzerland, where he then and often called home, while looking over his body of work from Germany in the 1930s through the 1950s highlights on which his career ended. His remarks are complemented by liberal excerpts of the films.

William Reynolds, one of the film's few surviving cast members, reflects on the movie and Douglas Sirk in the 2007 interview "Contract Kid." An aging, sunglassed Douglas Sirk is translated into French by subtitles in this 1982 episode of "Cinéma cinémas."

"Contract Kid: William Reynolds on Douglas Sirk" (23:04) is a 2007 interview of one of the film's few surviving cast members. He recalls the early days of his career, specifically All That Heaven Allows and Sirk's directing manner on it.

From the French TV show "Cinéma cinémas" comes a 1982 interview of Douglas Sirk (15:53). In his twilight, the director again looks back at his films. The picture quality is severely lacking on this show, presented in English with French subtitles.

The "All That Heaven Allows" trailer proves it's "All that" when it comes to phrases and fonts. The lovely Stoningham snow briefly adorns the Blu-ray's menu.

Last but not least, we get Universal's original theatrical trailer for All That Heaven Allows (2:32), full of bold onscreen exclamations.

Everything found on the Blu-ray also makes it to the newly-authored DVDs,
where everything but the commentary and trailer is relegated to Disc 2.

The menu serves up a scored montage of clips, eventually settling on a barely animated shot of the couple cuddling by the fireplace. As always, Criterion's disc-authoring skills leave nothing to be desired; the Blu-ray lets you set bookmarks and resumes playback of any unfinished item.

The three discs are held in one of Criterion's standard clear keepcases, joined, of course, by a substantial booklet. The 24-page staple-bound insert is comprised chiefly of two essays. Reprinted from the 2001 DVD, "An Articulate Screen" by University of London professor Laura Mulvey provides some context and a lot of analysis on the film. The other article, written for a 1971 issue of Fernsehen und Film and translated into English here, allows German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder to admire colorfully the film that inspired his work in the early '70s. The booklet also includes the usual information, regarding the transfer, aspect ratio (All came during Hollywood's sudden transition from the Academy Ratio to widescreen), and discs.

Happiness is fleeting for Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson) and Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) in "All That Heaven Allows."


Not recognized or appreciated in its day, All That Heaven Allows may seem like kind of an odd choice for The Criterion Collection. But there is much to admire about this colorful 1950s Douglas Sirk melodrama, which drastically differs from its contemporaries both visually and dramatically. Highly dated in some ways yet ahead of its time in others, this is exactly the kind of film that welcomes the type of thought and reflection that only Criterion can give it.

It gets plenty of that plus an eye-opening restoration in this three-disc Dual-Format Edition, which gains a number of substantial bonus features over Criterion's single-disc 2001 DVD release. While I maintain some reservations regarding the film, this set has too much going for it to warrant anything but an unequivocal recommendation.

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Reviewed June 9, 2014.

Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1955 Universal International and 2014 The Criterion Collection.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.