Episode 18: All That Heaven Allows

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Eager to chill out after the last episode’s grim antics in the swamps of the South, Sean, Cody and film expert Kris Hill settle down to tea in a pleasant suburban New England and become embroiled in a steamy melodrama with heavy environmental undertones. In Douglas Sirk’s 1955 masterpiece All That Heaven Allows, rich matronly widow Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) is powerless to resist the flannel-clad, Brylcreem-pompadoured sizzle emitted by free-spirited arborist Rob Kirby (Rock Hudson) who is some indeterminate number of years younger than her. But when she and Ron start gearing up the wedding machine, the whole town and especially Cary’s insufferable adult children rise in outraged revolt to enforce their incoherent vision of 1950s sexual morality. Environmental issues discussed include the physical and social legacy of New England’s colonial past, the curious unreality of American suburbs, white flight and racial covenanting, slow living in the hinterlands, and more.

How did patterns of land use from the very beginning of European colonization of New England filter down into the 20th century? What are the many different ways that suburbs came into being, or were deliberately created? Why will environmental historians pounce eagerly on any chance to discuss William Cronon’s Changes in the Land? What was the Hays Code and why is it such a big factor in this film? Who coined the term “Make America Great Again” and what, if anything, does it mean? How were the 1950s like the 1980s? Why does the shadow of Ronald Reagan loom so large over this movie even though he’s not in it? Is All That Heaven Allows one of the greatest films ever made, right up there with Citizen Kane? If so, why is its ending so hokey? All these questions and more are in the firing line in this unabashedly romantic episode of Green Screen.

Original trailer for All That Heaven Allows. Sorry for the poor video quality; it’s the best I could find.

Additional Materials About This Episode

This modern “honest trailer” highlights the gender and social issues in All That Heaven Allows in a way that Douglas Sirk, a satirist supreme, probably would have liked.

Many of the environmental aspects of the film that we found so interesting are on display in this scene from the film, fortunately remastered and hi-def thanks to the Criterion Collection.

More of the beautiful environment shown in the film–and Jane Wyman’s excellent performance–are visible in this, another Criterion Collection clip.

The Environmental History

Changes in the Land by William Cronon, the “Holy Grail” text of modern environmental history:

A capsule summary of Cronon’s Changes in the Land.

The infamous “Dogs Playing Poker.” This scene, or variations of it, was popular throughout the 20th century in a variety of media, including, as this example, rugs. It was closely related to more pastoral images including those of rural New England.

The main street of Sterling, Massachusetts, a town not unlike the film’s fictional Stoningham, Connecticut. It was on this street that a woman recognized the father of one of the podcast hosts, 62 years after he left the town, an incident discussed in the episode.

Movie Stuff

Laura Mulvey, “All That Heaven Allows: An Articulate Screen,” Criterion Collection website, June 10, 2014:

Turner Classic Movies, All That Heaven Allows (essay, from which material in the episode is drawn):

Bob Mondello, “Remembering Hollywood’s Hays Code 40 Years On,” NPR All Things Considered, August 8, 2008:

All That Heaven Allows (1955) at IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047811/
All That Heaven Allows (1955) at Letterboxd: https://letterboxd.com/film/all-that-heaven-allows/

Next Movie Up: Sherman’s March (1986)

The still from All That Heaven Allows is presumably copyright (c) 1955 by Universal Pictures. Its inclusion here is believed to be permissible under fair use. We are not the uploaders of any YouTube clips embedded here. 

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