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Monday, March 26, 2012

Movies of the Week... All That Heaven Allows and Magnificent Obsession

Can't you just feel the heat?
Well, me neither...
I am  the first to admit that Jane Wyman is about as far away from a sex symbol as one can get.  In her earlier pictures, those that I've seen, anyway, she was nothing short of "cute as a button".  Later on she was perfectly cast as Aunt Polly in Pollyanna and Angela Channing in Falcon Crest.  It's hard to get those two images out of one's mind.  Having said that, I'm a great fan of two of her best-known melodramas, both co-starring Rock Hudson, All That Heaven Allows and Magnificent Obsession
All That Heaven Allows, as well as Magnificent Obsession, are two of the many weepies made in the 1950's employing Technicolor, expert art direction and marvelous music to underscore their overwrought plotlines.  Think Peyton Place... think A Summer Place... or even better, think Imitation of Life.  Several of these films, and additionally such hits as Pillow Talk, The Thrill of it All and Midnight Lace, are produced by Ross Hunter, creator of many of the most stylish Technicolor hits of the mid-fifties and early sixties.  Watching these movies is a feast for the eyes and will make anyone who loves the mid-century style want to redecorate the whole house.  It will also make one wonder why we ever stopped dressing, decorating or living with such style and panache.

Even though it seems hard to think of Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson as a viable couple, you'll be surprised at how believable they are by the end of the films.  Believe it or not, there a real themes to these pictures as well.  All That Heaven Allows reminds us that to be really happy, we must be true to ourselves.  Success isn't defined by money or position, it's defined by the way we live our lives - with integrity and honesty.  There are even Henry David Thoreau quotations to underscore this, "To thine own self be true..." subtext.  Magnificent Obsession is about just that - the "magnificent obsession" of helping others, but doing so in a way that ensures that the recipient will never learn the identity of their benefactor.  In other words, doing good for the sake of doing good, not to garner notoriety and applause.  A sort of modern day version of Henry Van Dyke's The Mansion.  Of course, these messages are terribly simplistic, but it wouldn't hurt to be a little less complicated in our motivations.

The love birds are at it again in
Magnificent Obsession...

In Magnificent Obsession, Jane Wyman plays the widow of a much-loved doctor who dies suddenly because the one piece of equipment that will save his selfless life is being used to resuscitate Rock Hudson - a thoughtless and self-centered playboy who crashes his boat after criminally speeding it across the lake.  Of course, Jane and Rock meet quite by chance, fall in love, are torn apart by the truth and come back together for a grand ending.  Along the way, Jane goes blind and Rock goes to medical school in an effort to learn how to give her her life, and her site, back. 

Agnes Morehead is by Jane's side
in both films!  Generally remembered as Endora
from Bewitched, Agnes was a talented
and reliable addition to countless classics.
You'll love to hate her in Dark Passage!

All That Heaven Allows is a little different...  Jane is a widow...  Really, it is different, hold on...  and Rock is her arborist.  He's a man who knows what he wants and what he wants is to raise trees, with Jane by his side, in a fabulously converted mill in some unknown New England town.  Jane's two grown children are awful.  They demand that Jane give up Rock, tell her she can't possibly sell the house and by her a TV to replace the companionship that she sought from Hudson.  The TV proves cold comfort when her son and daughter both decide that they have lives elsewhere and, in a complete turnabout, tell her it's time to sell the house and get on with life.  Returning to Rock, it's not Jane who cheats death, it's Rock, and Jane's by his side all the way.  Another bonus in All That Heaven Allows is the presence of Endora herself - Agnes Morehead.  Seeing her flaming red hair and extraordinary features makes you realize that some people, Lucille Ball is another, were made for Technicolor!

"Merry Christmas, Mom!  Forget Rock Hudson, now
you have a TV!"

The stories and casting of the two films may be unlikely, but it doesn't matter...  Even without the script there's more than enough to make the two hours time well-spent.  By the end, you really will believe that Jane and Rock will live happily ever after...  Enjoy these trailers!

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