All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk, 1955)

All That Heaven Allows 1This great romantic melodrama from Douglas Sirk shares a lot with his film from the previous year, Magnificent Obsession. It has the same intense Technicolor, combining with music from Frank Skinner to give a dream quality, and much of the cast is the same, including leads Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson. However, for me this film is even more powerful than its predecessor, partly because the plot is not so far-fetched – stemming more from the characters without so many exterior twists.

The story of this film can in some ways be seen as a role reversal take on Magnificent Obsession. In the earlier movie, Rock Hudson played a rich character who had to embrace a whole new philosophy and change his way of life for the sake of love. This time around, it’s Jane Wyman who has to follow a similar path. She plays Cary Scott, a well-off but lonely widow who doesn’t have enough to do now that her children are grown up. It looks as if the only life she can have now is one revolving around an empty succession of cocktail parties and country club meetings. When her children visit, they seem extremely keen to consign her to a premature old age (Wyman was still in her 30s here, though the character is clearly older), complaining if she wears a low-cut dress and apparently hoping she will make a “suitable” marriage to the staid, boring Harvey.  Their solution for her loneliness is to order her a TV set, even though she doesn’t want one. The television set and the layers of ornaments all seem like so many ways of trapping her in a gilded cage.

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Magnificent Obsession (1954, Douglas Sirk)

Magnificent Obsession 6Please note I do discuss the whole plot of this film.  So far I’ve written about a couple of lesser-known Douglas Sirk films. Now I’m on to one of his more famous melodramas, the glossy romance Magnificent Obsession – said to be one of the greatest weepies of all time. I’ll admit I stayed dry-eyed. For me the problem is that the soapy plot is just so far-fetched, even by the standards of this genre, and it’s hard to suspend disbelief enough to go with the emotions. Having said that, lead actors Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson are both excellent, Sirk’s direction is seductively smooth, and there are many great scenes and moments along the way.

One of those is the film’s opening. It is exciting, glamorous – and likely to hook most viewers from the start.  Handsome, rich playboy Bob Merrick (Hudson) is at the helm of a hydroplane which clearly cost a fortune, ignoring warnings from bystanders as he heads out across the lake and piles on speed. In an action film, this kind of sequence would be designed to make the audience marvel at the hero’s daring – for instance, with the pre-credits stunts in Bond films. It has much the same effect in this “women’s emotion picture”, as you find yourself willing Bob to avoid the inevitable crash. Yet, at the same time as demonstrating his courage, it also shows the character’s fatal recklessness and self-absorption – something underlined by the comments of those surrounding him. “Doesn’t that guy have a brain?” “He doesn’t need to, he’s got four million bucks.”

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Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945)

Agnes Moorehead, Margaret O'Brien and Edward G Robinson in Our Vines Have Tender Grapes

I was looking for a different Christmas film to watch, and this gentle MGM family movie directed by Roy Rowland, set in a small Norwegian-American community in Wisconsin and released just after the end of the Second World War, fits the bill perfectly. It was recently released in Warner Archive and is also sometimes shown on TCM. (I suppose it isn’t a Christmas film strictly speaking, but a lot of the story takes place around the season.) I’m not going to write a long review but just thought I’d post a couple of pictures, a link to the amusing trailer for the film,  and a few brief thoughts – and wish everyone who visits my blog a happy and peaceful break.

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The Left Hand of God (1955)

I’m not quite sure what I expected when I decided to watch this Humphrey Bogart movie, made late in his career. But one thing I definitely didn’t bargain for was a scene with Bogie at the piano, dueting with Gene Tierney – and with a large group of children sweetly singing along for good measure!

Humphrey Bogart and Gene Tierney

Humphrey Bogart and Gene Tierney

That scene has to be the most unexpected moment in this film. However, the whole role is something of a change for Bogart, who spends most of the movie wearing a dog-collar. It seems he has been improbably cast as a teetotal Catholic missionary, Father O’Shea, who arrives at a remote outpost in a China torn apart by civil war and revolution.

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