January 21, 2016

Symbiotic Collaborations - The Star-Director Blogathon - Rock Hudson/Douglas Sirk - All That Heaven Allows

Click here to visit CineMaven's Essays from the Couch.
It's a fabulous blog.

I chose to write about the the star-director combo of Rock Hudson and Douglas Sirk.

Rock Hudson (born Roy Harold Scherer, Jr.; November 17, 1925 – October 2, 1985) was an American actor generally known for his turns as a leading man in the 1950s and 1960s. He achieved stardom with roles in films such as Magnificent Obsession (1954), All That Heaven Allows (1955) and Giant (1956), and found continued success with a string of romantic comedies co-starring Doris Day. Hudson began a second career in television through the 1970s and '80s, starring in the popular mystery series McMillan & Wife and the soap opera Dynasty. Hudson was the first major celebrity to die from an AIDS-related illness.

Douglas Sirk (born Hans Detlef Sierck; April 26, 1897 – January 14, 1987) was a German film director best known for his work in Hollywood melodramas in the 1950s. He first achieved success as a theater director in post-WWI Germany. Sirk joined UFA (Universum Film AG) studios in 1934 and made a star out of Swedish singer Zarah Leander. Despite his great success, Sirk left Germany in 1937 because of his opposition to the policies of the Third Reich. Sirk's great period was during his association with Universal-International studios, beginning in 1951 and continuing until his retirement from filmmaking in 1959.

Hudson and Sirk made nine movies together at Universal-International from 1952-1957. The films are:

1. Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952) 
Wealthy Samuel Fulton is getting older and has no family of his own. He decides to leave his estate to the family of his first love, who turned down his marriage proposal years ago because he was poor. But he wants to test the family before leaving his money to them.

James Dean has an uncredited role as a young man in one of the soda fountain scenes.

Dir: Douglas Sirk With: Piper Laurie, Rock Hudson, Charles Coburn
Comedy - Technicolor - 88 mins.

2. Taza, Son of Cochise (1954) 
When peacemaking Apache chief Cochise dies, the Chiricahua Apaches are torn between following Cochise's peace loving son Taza and following the warlike renegade Apache warrior Geronimo.

The film was shot in 3D and released in the Polo-Lite 3D System using one projector.

Dir: Douglas Sirk With: Rock Hudson, Barbara Rush, Gregg Palmer, Rex Reason
Action | Drama | Romance | War | Western - Technicolor - 79 mins.

3. Magnificent Obsession (1954)  
When churlish, spoiled rich man Bob Merrick foolishly wrecks his speed boat, the rescue team resuscitates him with equipment that's therefore unavailable to aid a local hero, Dr. Wayne Phillips, who dies as a result. Phillips had helped many people, and when Merrick learns Phillips' secret, to give selflessly and in secret, he tries it in a ham-handed way. The result further alienates Phillips' widow, Helen, with whom Merrick has fallen in love. Merrick's persistence causes another tragedy, and he must remake his life, including going back to medical school, in an attempt to make amends and win her love.

Magnificent Obsession was previously filmed by Universal Studios in 1935, starring Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor. Both versions are based on Lloyd C. Douglas' book.

Dir: Douglas Sirk With: Jane Wyman (nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress), Rock Hudson, Agnes Moorehead, Otto Kruger, Barbara Rush, Gregg Palmer
Drama | Romance - Technicolor - 108 mins.

4. Captain Lightfoot (1955) 
A pair of Irish rebels have swashbuckling adventures in 1815.

The movie is a Hollywood adaptation of a book by W. R. Burnett written in 1954.

Dir: Douglas Sirk With: Rock Hudson, Barbara Rush, Jeff Morrow
Adventure | Drama | History | Romance | War - Technicolor - 92 mins.

5. All That Heaven Allows (1955) 
An upper-class widow falls in love with a much younger, down-to-earth nurseryman, much to the disapproval of her children and criticism of her country club peers.

The screenplay was written by Peg Fenwick based upon a story by Edna L. Lee and Harry Lee.

Dir: Douglas Sirk With: Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson, Agnes Moorehead
Drama | Romance - Technicolor - 89 mins.

6. Never Say Goodbye (1956)  
In the present-day U.S., Dr. Michael Parker, a prominent surgeon, unexpectedly runs into his German-born wife whom he thought was dead. Victor, an artist and his "dead" wife's now boyfriend, berates Dr. Parker for "killing" her. The bulk of the story flashes back to Austria during World War II as we learn how Dr. Parker met and married his wife, and the one mistake that may have cost him his family.

The film is loosely based on the play Come Prima Meglio Di Prima by Luigi Pirandello. It is a remake of This Love of Ours (1945). Director Douglas Sirk is uncredited.

Directors: Jerry Hopper, Douglas Sirk (uncredited) With: Rock Hudson, Cornell Borchers, George Sanders
Drama | Romance - Technicolor - 96 mins.

7. Written on the Wind (1956)  
Alcoholic playboy Kyle Hadley marries the woman secretly loved by his poor but hard-working best friend, who in turn is pursued by Kyle's nymphomaniac sister.

The screenplay by George Zuckerman was based on Robert Wilder's 1945 novel of the same name, a thinly-disguised account of the real-life scandal involving torch singer Libby Holman and her husband, tobacco heir Zachary Smith Reynolds. Zuckerman shifted the locale from North Carolina to Texas, made the source of the family wealth oil rather than tobacco, and changed all the character names.

Dir: Douglas Sirk With: Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack (Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee), Dorothy Malone (Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner)
Drama - Technicolor - 99 mins.

8. Battle Hymn (1957)
A remorseful bomber pilot-turned-minister rejoins for the Korean War.

Colonel Dean E. Hess was a real-life United States Air Force fighter pilot in the Korean War. Hess's autobiography of the same name was published concurrently with the release of the film. He donated his profits from the film and the book to a network of orphanages he helped to establish.

Dir: Douglas Sirk With: Rock Hudson, Anna Kashfi, Dan Duryea
Biography | Drama | History | War - Eastmancolor and Technicolor - 108 mins.

9. The Tarnished Angels (1957) 
Story of a friendship between an eccentric journalist and a daredevil barnstorming pilot.

The screenplay by George Zuckerman is based on the 1935 novel Pylon by William Faulkner.

The Universal-International film reunited director Sirk with Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone, and Rock Hudson, with whom he had collaborated on Written on the Wind.

Sirk chose to shoot Angels in black-and-white to help capture the despondent mood of the era in which it is set. Faulkner considered the film to be the best screen adaptation of his work.

Dir: Douglas Sirk With: Rock Hudson, Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone, Jack Carson
Drama - B/W - 91 mins.

I'm going to focus on 1955's All That Heaven Allows.

All That Heaven Allows is one of director Douglas Sirk's best and most successful romantic films. It's also a scathing social commentary of the American bourgeoisie lifestyle of the 1950s masking as soap opera. All That Heaven Allows is predicated on a May-September romance. The difference here is that the woman, attractive widow Cary Scott (Jane Wyman), is older than the man, handsome gardener-landscaper Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson). Sirk builds up sympathy for Cary by showing how empty her life has been since her husband's death, even suggesting that the marriage itself was no picnic. Throwing conventional behavior to the winds and facing social ostracism, Cary pursues her romance with Ron, who is unjustly perceived as a fortune-hunter by Cary's friends and family--especially her priggish children: son Ned (William Reynolds) and daughter Kay (Gloria Talbott). Amusingly, Conrad Nagel was to have had a much larger part as Harvey, an elderly widower who carries a torch for Cary, but his role was trimmed down during previews when audiences disapproved of an implicit romance between a sixtyish man and a fortysomething woman! All That Heaven Allows was remade by unabashed Douglas Sirk admirer Rainer Werner Fassbinder as Ali--Fear Eats the Soul (1974), in which the age gap between hero and heroine was even wider.

Directed by Douglas Sirk
Assistant Director: Joseph E. Kenny
Produced by Ross Hunter
Screenplay by Peg Fenwick - Story: Edna L. Lee and Harry Lee
Music by Frank Skinner
Music Supervision by Joseph Gershenson
Cinematography by Russell Metty
Art Direction by Alexander Golitzen and Eric Orbom
Set Decorations by Russell A. Gausman and Julia Heron
Sound by Leslie I. Carey and Joe Lapis
Edited by Frank Gross
Gowns by Bill Thomas
Hair Stylist: Joan St. Oegger
Make-up: Bud Westmore
Distributed by Universal-International
Production dates: January 6 to early February 1955
Release dates: August 25, 1955 (United Kingdom) and December 25, 1955 (United States)
Color: Technicolor
Technicolor Color Consultant: William Fritzsche
Running time: 89 minutes

Top: Jane Wyman as Cary Scott
Bottom: Rock Hudson as Ron Kirby

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

Vertical Row 1: Agnes Moorehead, Conrad Nagel, Virginia Grey, Gloria Talbott, William Reynolds
Vertical Row 2: Charles Drake, Hayden Rorke, Jacqueline de Wit, Leigh Snowden, Donald Curtis
Vertical Row 3: Alex Gerry, Nestor Paiva, Forrest Lewis, Tol Avery, Merry Anders

Did You Know?

All That Heaven Allows was a 1952 novel by Edna and Harry Lee. It was first published as a story in Woman's Home Companion. Besides retaining the novel's original title, Sirk's film is quite close to its source in terms of its underlying social critique, the general plot outline, the basic traits of all the main characters, and even some of the dialogue. There's one important difference. The climax of the novel echoes the theme of the widow buried alive in her husband's tomb: when the gas furnace goes out in her house, Cary becomes trapped in the basement while trying to fix it and nearly dies of asphyxiation. Sirk uses reflective surfaces to imprison Cary, such as frame-within-the-frame (behind windowpanes and the reflection in the television set during the Christmas sequence). Other reflective surfaces used by Sirk include the frequent use of mirrors and expressive, sometimes non-realistic use of shadows and colored lighting.

Sirk uses color saturation and light/dark contrast to communicate the emotions of his characters: oversaturated color for emotional overload and dark shadow for emotional repression.

A recurring color binary is red and blue. Red is a symbol for love, passion, and independence. Blue represents coldness, rigidity, and hostility.

Sirk's basic approach to All That Heaven Allows is revealed by his oft-quoted comment on the title: "The studio loved the title, they thought it meant you could have everything you wanted. I meant it exactly the other way round. As far as I'm concerned, heaven is stingy."

A major part of the movie revolves around the fact that Jane Wyman's character is supposed to be substantially older than Rock Hudson's character. In reality, Jane Wyman was only 38 and Rock Hudson was only 30 when they filmed this movie.

The pensive theme played on the piano over the opening credits and repeated periodically during the film is from Franz Liszt's popular solo piano piece Consolation No. 3 in D Flat Major.

The home of Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) was altered and used as the Cleaver home in Leave it to Beaver.

The book and film may derive "All That Heaven Allows" from the following poem:

Love and Life: A Song
By John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester

All my past life is mine no more,
The flying hours are gone,
Like transitory dreams giv’n o’er,
Whose images are kept in store
By memory alone.

The time that is to come is not;
How can it then be mine?
The present moment’s all my lot;
And that, as fast as it is got,
Phyllis, is only thine.

Then talk not of inconstancy,
False hearts, and broken vows;
If I, by miracle, can be
This live-long minute true to thee,
’Tis all that Heav'n allows.

Top: Rock Hudson, Jane Wyman, Douglas Sirk and Agnes Moorehead
Bottom: Douglas Sirk, Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson

About Sirkian Style

Professor Laura Mulvey, Department of Film, Media and Cultural Studies, School of Arts, Birkbeck, University of London:
All That Heaven Allows contains all the elements of characteristically Sirkian composition: light, shade, color, and camera angles combine with his trademark use of mirrors to break up the surface of the screen. Here are all the components of the “melodramatic” style on which Sirk’s critical reputation is based and that has made him the favorite of later generations of filmmakers, from Rainer Werner Fassbinder to Quentin Tarantino, from John Waters to Pedro Almodóvar.
TCMDb (TCM Movie Database):
Sirk's style hinges on a highly developed sense of irony, employing subtle parody, cliche and stylization. At one time Sirk was seen as a filmmaker who simply employed conventional Hollywood rhetoric, but his style is now regarded as a form of *Brechtian distancing* that drew the viewer's attention to the methods and purposes of Hollywood illusionism. The world of Sirk's melodramas is extremely lavish and artificial, the colors of walls, cars, costumes and flowers harmonizing into a constructed aesthetic unity, providing a comment on the oppressive world of the American bourgeoisie. Sirk is renowned for his thematic use of mirrors, shadows and glass. Later, more obviously political filmmakers like Rainer Werner Fassbinder have been influenced by Sirk's American melodramas, which have been offered as models of ideological critique that may also pass as simple entertainment.
*The distancing effect is a technique used in theater and cinema that prevents the audience from losing itself completely in the narrative, instead making it a conscious critical observer.*

Examples of Sirkian Style:
  1. Douglas Sirk immediately throws us into 1950s suburbia--Universal-International's Colonial Street backlot--with the opening credits (see clip below).
  2. Note the pigeons in the church's clock tower are divided into two groups. There's a kit of black pigeons representing the townspeople on one end, and on the other end are two white pigeons nuzzling, representing Wyman and Hudson and the division they face in Stoningham, Connecticut.
  3. Note Franz Liszt's Consolation No. 3 in D Flat Major.
  4. Note Sirk's use of Technicolor to the max. The New England autumn colors are crisp and bright: shades of reds, golds and yellows. Agnes Moorehead's hair and lipstick are flaming red and her car is brilliant blue.
  5. The station wagon belonging to Sara Warren (Agnes Moorehead) is so 1950s suburbia. Note the 1948-1956 Connecticut license plate style.

Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson) is a gardener-landscaper-nurseryman. He represents the verdant and natural. He shows Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) the beautiful, colorful world around her. (Ron knows a hothouse flower when he sees one.) He clips a branch with golden leaves from a tree in Cary's yard. He tells her it's a Koelreuteria paniculata (Golden Rain Tree) and will only thrive near a home where there's love. Cary puts it in a vase on her dressing table. In the clip below, notice Cary's reflection in the mirror beside the vase of Koelreuteria: this suggests that Cary's image is artificial, and the foliage, symbolic of Ron, foreshadows events to come.

Cary chooses a gossip-generating, low-cut, crimson dress for her date to the elitist country club with Harvey (Conrad Nagel), an older man who can’t handle Cary's still-vibrant sexuality. Cary's son Ned (William Reynolds) makes a remark about his mother's dress. "Holy cats, Mother! I guess it's all right. But isn't it cut kind of low? Hope it doesn't scare Harvey off." At the country club, catty bitch Mona Plash (Jacqueline de Wit) says about the crimson color of Cary's dress, "Of course there's nothing like red for attracting attention, is there? I suppose that’s why so few widows wear it, they’d have to be so careful!"

Douglas Sirk's Masterful Use of Mirrors

Top 3: Interesting mirror shot from beginning of film. Video of sequence below.
4: Mirror above and alongside fireplace in Cary's living room. Video below.
5. Trapped in the TV set.
6. Check out the mirror. You can see Ron and Sara's husband, George as well as Cary and Howard.
7. Flames reflected in the hated TV set. Cary's reflection above fireplace.
8. Cary is the prisoner of a dead world, trapped in the still universe built by her late husband. The flowers are alive and represent Ron--and hope for Cary.

Sirk openly acknowledged his famous affinity for mirrors as a metaphoric device, a way to break up the space of the frame and to suggest alternate emotions and meanings. John Waters on what he would choose to come back as when he died, said, “A mirror in a Douglas Sirk film.”

Frames, Frames, Everywhere!

Top: A lonely and tearful Cary "trapped" behind the window frame.
Middle: In front of the window frames with Ron = freedom. :)
Bottom: Ned is figuratively confining his mother with the screen.

Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) is ominously reflected and framed in the TV set given to her as a Christmas gift by her children as a kind of second-prize to replace Ron Kirby. She's imprisoned in a sad and lonely world--buried alive like a widow in old Egypt.

Light, Shadow and Windows

I like the use of shadow, light and color here.
Sirk employs high key lighting to cast dark shadows during particularly emotional scenes. Ron is dressed in blue and in the shadow. He's non-verbal and distressed about their break up. Cary is in the light but blends with the background. She's speaking out but is still repressed.

Another example of high key lighting to cast dark shadows for emotional impact. Also, this scene is shot from a high canted angle. It makes Cary look small and the space more confining. Using the two techniques, Sirk creates an intense, foreboding atmosphere which highlights Cary's emotional confusion. A moment later Cary finds out from Alida about Ron's accident.

The imagery of reflective glass is prominent in Sirk's films. It’s a distortion of reality; it’s never quiet wholly authentic. See how the pastel-colored glass takes in the exterior light and casts a falsified rainbow of illumination. Ron’s large window gives the appearance of being outdoors without really being outdoors.

Contrasts in the People of Stoningham

I wouldn't go to that party if you paid me.

The sign should say, "For Snobs Only."

The best party in town by a long shot.
I want to dance with Ron and Manuel.

Freedom vs. Restriction
Top: Plants and flowers represent Ron and freedom. The organic nature of plants and flowers contrasts with the hardness of the metal trophy.
Bottom: The trophy is a symbol for Cary's deceased husband and conservative bourgeois society. Cary can't be free until she rids herself of the trophy.

My favorite lines because Cary is a widow being buried alive by society just as the Egyptian widow of old:

Kay Scott: Personally, I've never subscribed to that old Egyptian custom. At least I think it was Egypt.
Cary Scott: What Egyptian custom?
Kay Scott: Of walling up the widow alive in the funeral chamber of her dead husband along with all of his other possessions. The theory being that she was a possession too, so she was supposed to journey into dead with him. And the community saw to it that she did. Of course, that doesn't happen anymore.
Cary Scott: Doesn't it? Well, perhaps not in Egypt.

My favorite scene because "Dr. Dan" (Hayden Rorke) tells it like it is:

Lines from the film that always make me giggle when I watch it because Rock Hudson was gay:

Ron Kirby: Mick discovered for himself that he had to make his own decisions, that he had to be a man.
Cary Scott: And you want me to be a man?
Ron Kirby: (Giving her a knowing smile) Only in that one way.

Young Rock in Red = Hot

The color red conveys warmth and passion. Ron was a warm and passionate man. The flash of red of Alida's skirt indicates Virginia Grey's character is friendly and loving.

Phallic Symbols?

Top: As Cary approaches him, does Ron's knee look like a giant erection to you?
Bottom L: Look how Ron is holding the tree. A huge, sprucy phallus with a silver tip?
Bottom R: Ron: "I can't shoot straight anymore." Ron is impotent (lacking power or ability). Look how the gun is being held. The phallic connotations of Ron's impotent gun are obvious.

The mill is one of my favorite movie residences. It's so pretty.

Visit Sirkville. Watch All That Heaven Allows


Caftan Woman said...

Of all of Sirk's melodramas, "All That Heaven Allows" is the most fully realized. Rock Hudson is a superb comic lead, but I think he did his best dramatic work - quite subtle - with Douglas Sirk.

CineMaven said...

Can't wait to dive into your post. I love Sirk. Thanks so much for joining the blogathon. :-)

Silver Screenings said...

Thanks for pointing out the use or mirrors and glass in this film. I don't think I've ever seen this one all the way through, but if I watch it again, I'll look for that.

I didn't realize, until I read your post, how many films Hudson and Sirk made together. To see them all in one list was quite an eye-opener!

Lesley said...

"I think heaven is stingy."—I'm with Sirk!

Thanks for writing about my favorite Sirk. I love others, especially Imitation of Life and There's Always Tomorrow, but this one is impeccable, the Sirkisn opera that as another commenter says is the most perfectly realized.

My question is: What's with the kids in Sirk? They're always awful, totally selfish little monsters who don't care how they ruin other people's lives as long as they are allowed to remain in their cocoon of entitlement.