Tag Archives: Hayden Rorke

All That Heaven Allows (1955, Douglas Sirk)

The third act of All That Heaven Allows is all about agency. Who has it, how they avoid it, why they avoid it. For a while it seems like it’s about Jane Wyman having it, then about Rock Hudson having it. Wyman’s always implied agency, right from the start. Hudson, who doesn’t have a scene from his own perspective until the third act, has always had an air of agency but not an active one. At least not where Wyman’s concerned. The third act suggests it’s going to mix everything up.

And it does… sort of. Until it stops and gives up on the whole idea.

All That Heaven Allows is the story of somewhat recent widow Jane Wyman who starts a clandestine love affair with her gardener, Hudson. He’s younger (though barely looks it, which says more about Wyman than Hudson) and doesn’t subscribe to the fifties rat race. He’s happy being a gardener and going into tree growing, which Wyman’s friends and neighbors from the country club find to be a disgusting rejection of good capitalist ideals.

Of course, they’re all buying their Christmas trees from Hudson and his tree-growing pal Charles Drake, but whatever. The film never even slightly implies often drunken WASPs should be taken seriously. The only good one is Agnes Moorehead, who’s stuck in the life–the film implies–because she hasn’t got any children; she’s Wyman’s best friend. Though she kind of disappears in the third act when Wyman’s got to do her thinking and feeling (and living) for herself.

The film rarely lets Hudson and Wyman have a peaceful moment. During the initial courtship and flirtation, sure. Wyman’s unsure of Hudson’s affections–though never for the reasons everyone else is worried about–while Hudson is too good to be true. He’s six feet, four inches of thoughtful, considerate, zen man meat. The scenes where Wyman’s female friends are mortified by Hudson are hilarious, given all their husbands are grossly out of shape and completely bores. If not burgeoning rapists. So when it comes time for Wyman to have to chose between Hudson and her pals, the choice should be clear.

Especially since the film establishes from the start the only one she actually cares about is Moorehead. The rest are incapable of actual human concern.

But Wyman’s got two kids. There’s proto-feminist social worker Gloria Talbott and Princeton man William Reynolds. Talbott talks a big talk but pushes Wyman in front of a bus while gushing over her dimwit suitor, an uncredited David Janssen. Reynolds wants Wyman to live in reverence of his father’s memory. Peg Fenwick’s screenplay has very little time for Talbott and Reynolds, though they have a lot of scenes and a lot of dialogue, but it’s pretty clear they’re complete heels from their first scene. Sure, the townspeople are bores, drunks, and gossips, but Talbott and Reynolds actively feed off Wyman’s emotions. They drain her from the start.

And they don’t much like Hudson. He lives on some undisclosed acreage of prime, undeveloped land–which has been passed down generations–but he’s got to be after Wyman’s (i.e. her dead husband’s) money. Talbott’s exasperating but not malicious. Reynolds is malicious and woodenly so. Especially given the way director Sirk shoots the film.

Heaven has a lot of color and a lot of shadows. Outside it’s always a clear, sometimes snowy day. Inside there are various colors, warm and cool, and shadows. The shadows usually fall on whoever’s opposite Wyman, a way of focusing a spotlight on her but a somewhat naturally occurring one. Russell Metty’s photography is phenomenal.

Those shadows make most of the men in Heaven into caricatures, at least the ones in Wyman’s life. Not sweet doctor Hayden Rorke or even sweet, unexciting standby suitor Conrad Nagel, but everyone else. Reynolds is the harshest, because out of those shadows he’s firing daggers at mom Wyman. Ones she apparently has no defense for.

Hudson is apart from the gross displays of blue blood machismo–when he and Drake talk about masculine responsibility in the third act, it’s an actual surprise. Then it turns out to be some manipulative narrative efficiency and the damage is slight, but still there. Every misstep and short cut in the third act resonates because the film ends so perfunctory. The whole thing promises Wyman this fantastic arc, starts delivering it, dodges and implies Hudson’s going to get the feature arc, dodges him too and just finishes things up. It could go out happy, it could go out sad, it could go out cynical, instead it just… goes out without any ambitions. But satisfactorily enough.

Wyman’s great. Hudson’s really good. She gets a much better part. He remains a partial enigma until the end. He too got the shadowy face during some interiors. But he’s also got some great moments where he’s breaking through the mystery to reveal himself. The film really wants to be about Wyman realizing the shadowy faces don’t matter as much as her own, metaphorically speaking, but never quite gets there. It’s simultaneously five minutes too long and ten minutes too short.

The supporting cast is all good. Moorehead, Nagel, Virginia Grey. Grey even manages to get through Fenwick’s worst scene, talking through a series of generic colloquialisms in an exposition dump–which Fenwick, nicely, never repeats. Reynolds not so much. He’s effective, but he’s nearly as villainous as Donald Curtis’s country club sexual predator.

Outstanding music from Frank Skinner. Fantastic direction from Sirk. Heaven always looks amazing and the way Sirk, Metty, and Skinner (and whatever composer Skinner occasionally borrows from) come together to focus on the characters (read: Wyman) and the weight of their unspoken burdens and constraints… it’s awesome.

It’s also a shame the ending is so pat.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Douglas Sirk; screenplay by Peg Fenwick, based on the novel by Edna L. Lee and Harry Lee; director of photography, Russell Metty; edited by Frank Gross; music by Frank Skinner; produced by Ross Hunter; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jane Wyman (Cary Scott), Rock Hudson (Ron Kirby), Agnes Moorehead (Sara Warren), Gloria Talbott (Kay Scott), William Reynolds (Ned Scott), Virginia Grey (Alida Anderson), Jacqueline deWit (Mona Plash), Charles Drake (Mick Anderson), Donald Curtis (Howard Hoffer), Hayden Rorke (Dr. Dan Hennessy), and Conrad Nagel (Harvey).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE ROCK HUDSON BLOGATHON HOSTED BY CRYSTAL OF IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD AND MICHAELA OF LOVE LETTERS TO OLD HOLLYWOOD.


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Above and Beyond (1952, Melvin Frank and Norman Panama)

Above and Beyond breaks one of my severest rules–don’t start with narration and then drop it. Above and Beyond starts with Eleanor Parker narrating the film, mostly because otherwise she wouldn’t be in it for the first hour. Once she is in the film full-time, the narration quickly disappears. I can’t remember the last time there was narration, but I don’t think it was past an hour and twenty minutes, which leaves about forty percent absent of narration. The film’s about the guy who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. I’m not up enough on my World War II history (from the American perspective) to know where the film made allowances, but it creates a compelling enough reality of its own. In many ways, the character’s saddled with more immediate responsibility than anyone else ever had before, which creates the condition for its success even though it fails on certain narrative levels.

The audience knows what’s going on and understands what Robert Taylor (as the pilot and commander) is going through. Except Eleanor Parker, as his wife, doesn’t know and the story–for a good portion–is from her emotional perspective. The film takes place over two years, with only the last hour being told in scenic detail. The rest is summary, occasionally tied together with Parker’s narration, occasionally not. The film isn’t quite a biopic, because it’s Parker holding the first hour together. Though Robert Taylor gets a lot more screen-time (maybe ninety-five percent overall), Parker’s a constant. The scenes with the two of them together, therefore, have to be perfect. They have to establish them as a married couple, they have to establish them as characters worth caring about–and co-writers and co-directors Norman Panama and Melvin Frank pull off those scenes. Maybe five minutes in that first hour is dedicated to such scenes and Panama and Frank get the work done.

Parker’s an obviously choice as the film’s best performance because she gets to do so much–play wife, play fighting wife, play new mother, play friend–while Taylor only has two general moods: upset and more upset. But Taylor’s performance is the better one–not through any fault of Parker’s, but because Frank and Panama understand how to address the gravity of the situation. It’s through little moments with Taylor.

The film came out in 1952 and has either a complex morality about the actual bombing or an undecided one. It accepts most reasoning on the subject will end up being flippant, but the film’s not about the overall morality, but the character’s. Occasionally when you turn a big story–a too big story–into a movie, something gels and it holds. Above and Beyond is probably the best of that rather specific genre. Frank and Panama manage to maintain nice filmic sensibilities throughout–giving the audience something to laugh at, making the marriage compelling–while appreciating they can’t actually tell their story… because it’s too big.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama; written by Frank, Panama and Beirne Lay Jr.; director of photography, Ray June; edited by Cotton Warburton; music by Hugo Friedhofer; produced by Frank, Panama and Allan Fung; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Robert Taylor (Col. Paul W. Tibbets Jr), Eleanor Parker (Lucey Tibbets), James Whitmore (Maj. Uanna), Larry Keating (Maj. Gen. Vernon C. Brent), Larry Gates (Capt. Parsons), Marilyn Erskine (Marge Bratton), Stephen Dunne (Maj. Harry Bratton), Robert Burton (Gen. Samuel E. Roberts), Hayden Rorke (Dr. Ramsey), Larry Dobkin (Dr. Van Dyke), Jack Raine (Dr. Fiske), Jonathan Cott (Dutch Van Kirk), Jeff Richards (Thomas Ferebee), Dick Simmons (Bob Lewis), John McKee (Wyatt Duzenbury), Patrick Conway (Radio Operator), Christie Olsen (Paul Tibbets Jr), William Lester (Driver), Barbara Ruick (Mary Malone) and Jim Backus (Gen. Curtis E. LeMay).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 2: TECHNICOLOR.