Universal Backlot Blogathon: All That Heaven Allows (1955)
This post is an entry in the Universal Backlot Blogathon, hosted by Kristen at her blog Journeys in Classic Film. Please visit her site to read all the other great entries and let her know she’s doing a great job on hosting her very first blogathon!
“Black and white is more beautiful than color in my eyes.”
No, that’s not a quote from an actress, director, or fashion designer . . . it’s just a quote from me that I use as part of my Twitter bio. I have no idea if that’s corny or not, but it just came to me one day and I really liked it, so I’ve been using it ever since.
I’m referring to movies of course, and for me that quote applies probably about 95% of the time. I’ve come to love black and white movies so much that I just prefer them over color now.
But every once in a while I’ll watch an old movie in color that will be an exception to that rule. Such was the case recently when I watched All That Heaven Allows (1955), starring Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson.
When I first started watching the movie, I was struck by how beautiful and vivid the colors were. I was also happy when I realized it was set in a small, scenic New England town for the same reasons I discussed in my review of the movie The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry.
All That Heaven Allows was directed by Douglas Sirk, and if you’ve ever read any discussions about this movie or any of his so called “melodramas” such as Magnificent Obsession (1954), Written on the Wind (1956), or Imitation of Life (1959), you know there is much debate about the quality of those movies. Some think they are nothing but corny, overly sentimental soap operas while others believe they are great movies that provide important social commentary on life in the 1950’s.
I’ll leave that discussion for another time, but I’ll just say that I probably fall somewhere in between the two. This movie certainly has its flaws, but at least for this viewing I chose to just enjoy it for the vivid colors, unique visual style, and the sets on the Universal backlot which together were made to look like the small New England town.
All that Heaven Allows tells the story of Cary Scott (played by Jane Wyman), an upper middle class widow living in a small New England town, who falls in love with her much younger gardener Ron Kirby (played by Rock Hudson) much to the dismay of her disapproving children and society friends.
Throughout the movie, she battles her emotions as she is asked to choose between being with the man she loves or ending the relationship and sacrificing her happiness to regain the approval of her children and friends.
Douglas Sirk often used colors to convey those emotions, and while some may dismiss this as too gimmicky, I thought it was an interesting technique that I don’t recall having seen used in a movie before, not to this extent anyway.
Red and blue seemed to be his main colors of choice, and they were used several times in the movie including two key scenes that involved her children. In one scene, Cary’s daughter basically lays a guilt trip on her by crying about the town’s vicious gossip and claiming that her mother is ruining all their lives, as beams of red and blue light illuminate their faces.
In another scene, her son Ned, with an icy blue lighting behind him, sternly lectures her on why she should not marry Ron, threatening to disown her if she does. I’m not sure what, if anything, these specific colors were intended to symbolize, but they definitely added an extra dramatic effect to the scenes.
It wasn’t just the use of special lighting though where color came into play. When Cary wore a bright red dress and brought a date to one of the first parties she attended after becoming a widow, it drew the attention of the town gossip who sneered, “Of course there’s nothing like red for attracting attention is there? I suppose that’s why so few widows wear it. You have to be so careful.”
This insult was representative of the forming attitudes towards Cary and shows just what she was up against in her struggle to conform to society standards.
Universal Studios Backlot – The Paramount House and Colonial Street
Since this post is for a blogathon devoted to movies made on the Universal Studios backlot, I can’t end this post without saying a word or two about the backlot sets that were used in this movie. If the house that Cary and her children lived in looks familiar to you, it may be that you have seen it before in one of the movies or television shows that it also appeared in.
The house was originally built by Paramount Pictures (on property they rented from Universal) for the movie The Desperate Hours (1955) starring Humphrey Bogart and Fredric March. This is why the house was sometimes known as the “Paramount House”. Universal then altered its appearance and used it as Cary Scott’s house in All that Heaven Allows. It was changed again four years later and was used as the Cleaver’s house on the tv show Leave it to Beaver beginning in season three until the end of the series.
The house was located on the backlot’s “Colonial Street” set which included several houses made to look like a residential street. I found this great site that has pictures of the various houses on Colonial Street with descriptions about which movies and tv shows they appeared in.
From 2004 through 2012, Colonial Street was used in the filming of the tv show Desperate Housewives, in which the street was known as Wisteria Lane.
You can currently see the Wisteria Lane sets by going on the Studio Tour at Universal Studios in California. I went to Universal Studios back in the 1990’s and took the studio tour where I saw the Norman Bates’ house and hotel from the movie Psycho, but I don’t remember if I saw the Colonial Street sets. Now that I know more about the history of the backlot, I would love to take a trip out to California and take the tour again!
Have you ever taken the tour at Universal Studios? If so, what was your favorite part?
P.S. There were so many beautiful winter scenes in this movie including a charming Christmas scene in which young children are caroling down the street in a horse drawn sleigh. If you’re like me and are always on the lookout for movies with Christmas scenes in them no matter how short they are, this is the perfect movie to watch this December.