Sunday, January 31, 2016

An Older Woman, A Younger Man And "All That Heaven Allows"

Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) admires the length of Ron Kirby's (Rock Hudson) wood in "All That Heaven Allows".

Greetings, movie lovers.

It either is or soon will be Valentine's Day (depending on when I finish and post this piece). And you know what that means: love, love, love! Hearts! Flowers! Candy! Date night! So, in honor of Valentine's Day, your humble film historian has unearthed a big, glossy, sloppy, mushy romantic drama for your viewing (dis) pleasure.

Directed in 1955 by Douglas Sirk (the patron saint of big, glossy, sloppy, mushy romantic dramas), I give you "All That Heaven Allows" starring fun couple Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson.

Say what?

Yes, it's true! Rock Hudson, one of the hunkiest yet stiffest actors in movie history, and Jane Wyman (the Oscar-winning ex-wife of Ronald Reagan) are the May-December smitten kittens who's coupling causes an entire town to go berserk--and causes bad movie lovers to laugh uproariously from the opening credits to the final fade-out.

"Was it something I said?": Ron and Cary have their first date.

Our story begins in an upscale, neat-and-tidy, pearly white township in upstate New York. Wealthy widow Cary Scott (Wyman) dresses to the nines, mingles with her country club cronies and would vacuum in her pearls if she didn't have a maid to do it for her. Her smart-aleck son Ned (William Reynolds) is at Princeton and her annoying daughter Kay (Gloria Talbott) is studying social work. However, they only pester mom on the occasional weekend visit home. Despite being the picture of 1950's contentment, Cary is lonely and a little sad, even if she has difficulty admitting it.

Hoping to spread her wings a bit, Wyman attends a country club dance with dry-as-dust old friend Harvey (Conrad Nagel). He's lost his spouse too, and wants he and Cary to marry to ease their mutual loneliness. Far pushier is the married Howard, whom Cary makes the mistake of cha-cha-ing with at the dance. He maneuvers her outside and pants, "Why don't we meet in New York? I know a place."

After these downer encounters, is it any wonder Cary returns to her hermit ways?

After her best gal-pal Sarah (Agnes Moorehead) begs off a previously scheduled lunch, Cary asks landscaper Ron Kirby (Hudson) to join her. Because Ron is always so eager to trim her trees, he says yes.

It's at this innocent little nosh that the seeds of love--and scandal--begin to take root.

Married man Howard makes Cary an offer she sternly refuses.

As it turns out, Ron has always been sweet on widow Cary, but was too shy to say or do anything about it. Cary's invitation to lunch was just the opening Roy had been hoping for. As the weeks pass, their friendship deepens and Ron tells Cary about his plans to shutter his landscaping business and focus just on growing trees. Later on, he invites her to view the Silver Tipped Spruces he's been nurturing along. Ron drives Cary to his home, an old mill he's restoring. Wyman thinks it's a swell place and will make an ideal home for "the nice girl" he'll surely marry some day. To which Ron declares, "I've met plenty of girls, nice and otherwise"--and then plants a big, fat kiss on her!

Her loins finally stirred, Cary plunges head-first into love and Ron's free-spirited, bohemian lifestyle. After all, who wouldn't prefer Ron's set, a colorful clan who throw impromptu clam bakes and dance to folk music? Characters like Grandpa, a bee keeper and primitive painter, and Edna, head of the Audubon Society ( "and an outstanding bird watcher"), are tons more fun than those country club snoots like mean Mona (Jacquline deWitt), who live to spread gossip and act snarky.

Eventually Ron asks Cary to marry him and she says yes. When Wyman tells her kids she's engaged, they stupidly think it's to dull, dim Harvey. Imagine how their jaws drop and their eyes pop when ma explains it's to Ron.

Imploring her youngsters to give Ron a chance, Wyman asks Ned to whip up a batch of his "special martinis." To which Ned screams back, "This is no time for martinis!"

"There's no point in approaching this emotionally," the insufferable Kay declares. "Let's try to be rational." Turning to her mother and squinting her eyes, Kay asks, "Why did you keep this affair a secret? Were you subconsciously afraid (Ron) wouldn't fit in?"

Kids Ned (and especially) Kay are shocked that their mom plans to marry young Ron instead of old Harvey.

Ron, in a tux, arrives to meet Cary's fam--a meeting that goes over about as well as a dead rat in a punch bowl. Ned and Kay are appalled to discover the lovebirds plan on selling the family manse and living in Ron's restored mill. The annoying Kay tells Ron that a marriage to their mother would never work because "she's more conventional than you think", pointing out that (Cary) "has the innate desire for group approval, which most women have." However, the %@?! really hits the fan when Ned realizes that his late father's sporting trophy is no longer on the living room mantel.

"Was the trophy part of the clutter you were putting away?!" Ned spits before stomping off  "to study."

Suitably stunned, Ron and Cary move from one firing squad to another. BFF Sarah is hosting a party and Cary and Ron are the guests of honor. Mean Mona has her claws sharpened and is ready to pounce. Gushing about how great Hudson is at yard work, Mona meows, "Of course, I'm sure he's handy indoors, too." Remember married man Howard, the country club cad who propositioned Cary? He's at this shin-dig as well-- and fit to be tied that Wyman wouldn't give him a tumble, yet will let this gardener hoe her row (if you get my drift). Fueled by a bucket of martinis, Howard makes a drunken lunge at Cary. Ron decks the soused louse, while the society matrons present gasp. To Sarah's horror, her party comes to a crashing halt.

Could things get any worse? Of course they can! When Cary arrives home, son Ned has packed his bags. He tells his mother that if she marries Ron, he will never speak to her again and stalks off into the night. Several days later, Kay comes home in hysterics. While studying at the library, she got into a shouting match with some locals who--GASP!--claimed Cary was doing it with Ron before the death of her husband! What's more, Kay was asked to leave the library! 

Seeing the turmoil her relationship with Ron is creating causes Cary to call the whole thing off. After all, what else could she do? It was simply too much to expect her children, friends, neighbors, fellow country club members and community to accept her love for a man so different (and so much younger) than her late husband.

Sob Sister: Grieving widow Cary has a blue Christmas without Ron.

Naturally, everybody is thrilled that Cary and Ron are kaput. Ned starts speaking to his mother again. Kay and her boyfriend get engaged. The country club matrons click their tongues and prattle about how good it is that Cary has come to her senses and dodged this bullet. The world is back the way it should be--except for Cary. She's holding her head up high, of course, and hiding her tears, but she's suffering. She misses Ron and his colorful friends. She misses having having someone to love. The poor dear begins having chronic head aches and shows all the signs of depression. So Cary hustles over to her doctor, hoping he can give her something for the pain.

Instead, Dr. Hennessay (Hayden Rorke, best remembered for "I Dream of Jeanne") gives Cary some advice: marry Ron! Why let her future happiness be dictated by a bunch of spiteful country club snoots? Her children are nearly adults and have their own lives to live. Who are they to deny their mother's happiness?

"Let's face it," the good doctor tells Cary, "you were ready for a love affair, but not love."

Finally freed from convention, Cary rushes over to Ron's place. He's been out hunting and sees Cary has driven over. They smile and wave to each other; they run with their arms outstretched for a loving embrace...except Ron trips running down a snowy hill, falls, conks his noggin and promptly passes out cold. D'oh!

While her cuddlemate lies on the couch in his blue jammies, Cary looks out the picture window of Ron's converted mill. A deer nibbles at food left outside. Snow blankets the ground. Then the sun breaks through the clouds in a heavenly shaft of golden light. The violins swell on the soundtrack and Ron opens his peepers at last. Cary kneels by his side; he smiles at her. No words are necessary. Never again will Ron and Cary allow themselves to be parted. Love has truly triumphed over all.

Lying comatose on the couch provides Rock Hudson's best acting in "All That Heaven Allows".


OK, I realize that the message of "All That Heaven Allows"--that you should follow your heart and ignore stifling convention--was pretty radical for 1955. The rest of the flick, however, is pure, unadulterated corn pone.

Take the casting of Rock Hudson as the free-spirited Ron; simply put, Hudson is terribly miss-cast. He's about as free-spirited and easy going as William F. Buckley. Sure, he wears flannel shirts, drives a Woody and lives in a converted mill, but these touches don't fool anyone. Nor, for that matter, does the infamous party scene at pals Mick and Alida's house, where Rock "plays" the piano and sings a ditty called "Flirty Eyes". Then he grabs Wyman and they do a frantic jitterbug, in the course of which Rock throws his head back several times and yells "Ho!"

If you think that scene seems nutty, it's topped moments later when Ron and Cary are driving home. The cuddlemats are discussing Mick (Charles Drake), a Madison Avenue drop out who served in Korea with Ron. Cary asks Ron if "fearlessness" was something he taught Mick. Ron says no; you see, "Mick had to (learn) make his own decisions" and that "he had to be a man." This causes Cary to inquire, "And you want me to be a man?"

"Only in one way." Hudson says.

"Why so serious?" Cary and Ron contemplate their relationship...or they each have tummy trouble. You decide.

After Rock, it's Gloria Talbott, as the psycho-babble spouting Kay, who gives the flick's second worst performance. Her character is so grating, you wonder if Kay was meant to be an in-joke by director Douglas Sirk. After all, she lectures people about "sex attraction", dismisses brother Ned's "typical Oedipal reaction" to their mom's red cocktail dress and announces that "after a certain point, sex becomes incongruous." Talbott's prissy, know-it-all act wears real thin real fast, to the point where you want to scream "Shut up!"every time she flaps her yap.

Then there is Jane Wyman as the love lorn Cary. Although she had earned an Oscar for "Johnny Belinda" and had appeared in such flicks as "The Lost Weekend" and "The Yearling", all Jane is required to do in "Heaven" is change her tastefully tailored outfits and look strained. However, I'm convinced Cary's pained expressions are not the result of emotional upheaval, but because her pumps are too tight or her earrings are pinching her lobes. Why? Because Wyman and Hudson have all the romantic chemistry of a couple of Ted Cruz supporters. You just don't buy them as a couple, even though "All That Heaven Allows" was their second flick together. (Their first paring was in "Magnificent Obsession", where playboy Rock kills Jane's hubby and blinds her in a car crash. He later falls in love with Jane and becomes a super-duper eye doctor in order to fix her peeper.)

Even though we are meant to identify with Jane and Rock, the only fun person in "All That Heaven Allows" is Jacqueline deWitt as the meanie Mona. This gal, who has a tongue like an ice pick, relishes stirring up trouble and stabbing her friends in the back. Whenever Mona's on screen, you wonder who this society shrew will harpoon next.

In final analysis, "All That Heaven Allows" is an improbable tale acted with GREAT SERIOUSNESS by the principals, who are at least to be congratulated for keeping a straight face through the whole, manufactured ordeal.

I, on the other hand, laughed till I snorted.

So, until next time, remember love can strike at any time, and SAVE THE MOVIES!