All That Heaven Allows
(1937, 98 min.) -- Mar. 7
The German La Habanera is set in "contemporary" Spain-and never mind that there's no evidence of the then-raging Spanish Civil War. Zarah Leander plays Astree Sternhjelm, a Swedish lass who falls in love with all things Spanish while on vacation in Puerto Rico. She ends up the mistress of charming but caddish aristocrat Don Pedro (Ferdinand Marion), who discards her when she gives birth to his child. Tragedy is averted when Astree finds true and lasting love in the arms of Swedish doctor Sven Nagel (Karl Martell).
(1955, 89 min.) -- Mar. 14
One of director Douglas Sirk's best and most successful romantic soapers of the 1950s, All That Heaven Allows is predicated on a May-December romance. The difference here is that the woman, attractive widow Cary Scott (Jane Wyman), is considerably older than the man, handsome gardener-landscaper Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson). Sirk builds up sympathy for Cary by showing how empty her life has been since her husband's death, even suggesting that the marriage itself was no picnic. Throwing conventionial behavior to the winds and facing social ostracism, Cary pursues her romance with Ron, who is unjustly perceived as a fortune-hunter by Cary's friends and family--especially her priggish son Ned (William Reynolds). Amusingly, Conrad Nagel was to have had a much larger part as Harvey, an elderly widower who carries a torch for Cary, but his role was trimmed down during previews when audiences disapproved of an implicit romance between a sixtyish man and a fortysomething woman! All That Heaven Allows was remade by unabashed Douglas Sirk admirer Rainer Werner Fassbinder as Ali--Fear Eats the Soul (1974), in which the age gap between hero and heroine was even wider.
Imitation of Life
(1959, 125 min.) -- Mar. 21
This glamorized remake of the 1934 film Imitation of Life bears only a passing resemblance to its source, the best-selling novel by Fannie Hurst. Originally, the heroine was a widowed mother who kept the wolf from the door by setting up a successful pancake business with her black housemaid. In the remake, Lana Turner stars as a would-be actress who is raising her daughter on her own. She chances to meet another single mother at the beach: African-American Juanita Moore. Moore goes to work as Turner's housekeeper, bringing her light-skinned daughter along. As Turner's stage career goes into high gear, Moore is saddled with the responsibility of raising both Turner's daughter and her own. Exposed to the advantages of the white world, Moore's grown-up daughter (Susan Kohner) passes for white, causing her mother a great deal of heartache. Meanwhile, Turner's grown daughter (Sandra Dee), neglected by her mother, seeks comfort in the arms of handsome photographer John Gavin. When Moore dies, her daughter realizes how selfish she's been; simultaneously, Turner awakens to the fact that she hasn't been much of a mother for her own daughter, whose romance has gone down the tubes.