a masterwork by a great artist. sirk does a great job of juxtaposing the beauty of the scenery with the artificial beauty of his characters. when he scratches the surface a seedy, hidden malevolence shows itself. rock hudson’s character in this one is great. he sees the world for what it is and cuts through the bullshit. in many ways he’s what i aspire to be. honesty is more important than appearances. faux friends should be eschewed for inner reflection and a meaningful life. jane wyman is caught in the middle, still feeling the familiar tug of the cushy life and not wanting to upset the status quo with her community, friends, and children. the toast hudson and his friends have summarizes it in a familiar fashion: here’s to them that wish us well, all the rest can go to hell.
sirk’s visual style is top notch. he fragments the frame to visually reinforce the idea that not all is well. he shows the characters in reflection, boxing them in as they are boxed in by society’s mores. showing us the two-sided personality we all carry with us – one for the outer world and one for our closest friends. his use of colors is great and great to look at. his use of shadow and light is also top notch. characters moving in and out of light within a scene. in one scene wyman is alone putting on makeup and her kids walk in. she’s in the blue half of the screen that is dark and they come from the door which casts a yellowish light into the room. the room is divided with these colors and the characters move around the room within these divisions, but wyman and the kids are almost always on different sides. it reminded me of a scene in rashomon where you have three characters in a triangle and depending upon where kurosawa puts the camera you get to think about the one, two, or three characters he shows. how do they relate to each other, what is that combination of characters thinking?
speaking of characters, there’s a colorful cast here and there’s an economy of storytelling that i really appreciate in films like this, the killing and paths of glory. all of them are in the 90 minute range yet they have 6 or more characters who are well-defined and interesting. many films spend over 100 minutes to barely establish one or two characters, much less a half dozen. wyman and hudson are well drawn, of course, but the lesser characters like moorehead, wyman’s daughter, wyman’s son, and the neighborhood gossip are all well-defined.
the music, too, is right where it needs to be. it punctuates emotional notes with the same style as the rest of the film. it’s clear, but not overly dramatic. really, that’s what sirk, in his best work, does so well – dances on the line of melodrama and understatement. he does it with great flair and a deft touch and it just works. these same stories (all that heaven allows, imitation of life, written on the wind) in the hands of a lesser director would overwrought and unwatchable.