All That Heaven Allows
Jane Wyman is a repressed wealthy widow and Rock Hudson is the hunky Thoreau-following gardener who loves her in Douglas Sirk's heartbreakingly beautiful indictment of 1950s small-town America. Sirk utilizes expressionist colors, reflective surfaces, and frames-within-frames to convey the loneliness and isolation of a matriarch trapped by the snobbery of her children and the gossip of her social-climbing country club chums. Criterion is proud to present this subversive Hollywood tearjerker in a new Special Edition.
The Criterion Collection presents Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows on DVD in the aspect ratio of about 1.77:1 on a dual-layer disc. The transfer has been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
The transfer, taken from a 35mm interpositive, looks decent but has a few issues that do mar it somewhat. Though the colours look bright and offer some strong saturation, everything leans a little too much to the yellow side, with skin tones coming off a little jaundiced and blues not coming out as pure as they could. Sharpness and detail is pretty strong, but some compression does blur it up. The print is in decent shape but there are still a number of instances of damage to the source along with some stains and possible mold on the sides of the frames.
In the end it’s decent but it’s open to improvement, and the recent dual-format edition offers a significant improvement.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track is fine enough in that you can clearly hear dialogue while the film’s score swells at the appropriate moments, but it’s a generally flat and lifeless affair. Fidelity isn’t altogether too hot and there’s a slight bit of distortion.
A product of its age but I still think it’s open to improvement.
Criterion’s special edition is surprisingly light on features starting with “excerpts” from a 1979 BBC documentary called Behind the Mirror: A Profile of Douglas Sirk. It presents an interview with Sirk, talking about his life and career, from the rather lengthy escape from the Nazis (he had to move from country to country within Europe until finally making the move to the States) and explains he got into film only as a way to find a job in the States (UFA, the studio in Germany, wanted him to come back because of past successes but he made it clear as long as the Nazis were in power he was never going back.) From here he talks about his films in the States and his move to his more popular melodramas (a term he doesn’t completely understand.) He explains what themes drew him to films like Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, and Written on the Wind, hoping that maybe it might attract European audiences on top of American ones. It’s an absolutely fascinating discussion with the filmmaker and it’s a wonderful inclusion. It runs about 31-minutes.
The disc the includes a small photo gallery featuring production and promotional photos, along with posters for the film. ”Imitation of Life” is a text feature presenting six essays by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, where he goes over Sirk’s films, covering their looks and themes. The essays are for All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, Interlude, The Tarnished Angels, A Time to Love and a Time to Die, and Imitation of Life. There is also an introduction and conclusion. The disc then closes with the film’s theatrical trailer and the included insert includes an essay by Laura Mulvey.
Despite the Sirk interview and Fassbinder’s essays, which are all great, this edition feels really light, especially for a higher-priced edition.
A ho-hum special edition from Criterion, it delivers an average transfer and a disappointing number of supplements for the price. The newer dual-format edition offers a significant improvement in all ways over this edition, and is the edition I would direct everyone towards, even those that are still DVD-only.