Friday, October 7, 2011

Who'd You Rather? The Cary or Cathy Dilemma

                   In Living Color 
                              or     
                 Black and White?


Behind Door #1:
Imagine you are Cary Scott, a wealthy, forty-something widow, with two college age children. Now that your children have gone off to college, the last thing you would want to do is spend your evenings with the "widow's best friend", a television set.  It's an item you do not even own.  Your social calendar is full with activities, including getting together with your friends at the local country club, despite  occasional unsolicited advances of the tipsy husband of one of your friends.  As you are enjoying your life, you discover over the course of time a growing attraction between yourself and your hot, young gardener.  Your kids are encouraged that you have the attentions of an older distinguished gentleman, one that their late father would approve of as suitable replacement.  Sadly, though you find this gentleman's company enjoyable, and he is well established in your social circle, he has the sex drive of a cantaloupe. You find the company of the gardener and his social circle much more entertaining. Your friends get involved and try to discourage the relationship with the gardener. Your children accuse you of humiliating them, ruining their lives and try to convince you to end what they consider to be a foolish affair. What would you do?

Behind Door #2:
Imagine you are Cathy Whitaker, a married woman with a successful husband and two beautiful children. Your family held in such high esteem in your elite circle, that a glossy magazine features your brood as the ideal to aspire to. You are the hostess of some of the grandest parties in the community and are in the know with all the goings on in your wealthy affluent town. Unbeknownst to you, your husband is having "encounters" with random men he meets in bars and is prone to taking his dissatisfaction with his life out on you verbally, and on the rare occasions physically.  You also have a hot gardener that befriends you, he is a handsome African American man who treats you with kindness and compassion. You find yourself drawn to his attention like a moth to a flame. Your husband (who has already filed for a divorce from you to be with his lover) gets wind of your innocent interaction, gets angry and accuses you of ruining the family you built together your while your friends also express the same  disapproval of your platonic interaction with this man because he is black. How do you handle such a situation?

While you may be thinking these are pitches for a new television show or actual t.v story lines a'la desperate housewives, think again. Cary Scott is the main character in the 1956 social commentary film "All That Heaven Allows" so uncomfortable in its suggestion of an older woman and a younger man finding love, that it was not as well received in the U.S. as it was in Europe. A color film that one reviewer is quoted as saying "screams black and white and is really a film that I would have rather seen without color", watched present day is reminiscent of watching Father Knows Best reruns. The film suggested something so scandalous for its time, watching it in the present day, the fill still packs a wallop, as opposed to Cathy Whitaker's predicament in the 2002 film "Far From Heaven". The 2002 film set in 1957 Connecticut does not offer the same emotional shock to the system that "All That Heaven Allows" does, due to the fact that by 2002, interracial relationships and homosexuality are more part of the norm.

While both movies are similar as far as story line goes, the common thread that really connects them is how the strength of the era's acceptable social norms affect the life-altering decisions of these two women. The pressures of meddling children, or well meaning close friends and associates, tempt the women to forsake relationships with men they deeply care about. The irony of such loyalty to “proper conduct” and the “acceptable” behavior of the time emulated by the people that surround them is that there seems to be a blind side to this dedication. The social set that disapproved the of the behavior between Cathy and her gardener (which was platonic, yet evolving) were completely tolerant of her husband’s sexual trysts with a man and his abuse of her behind closed doors. They seem to accept his peccadilloes, with the attitude that they "went with the territory" of being in such high social standing. 

With Cary, it seems that her children were more content for her to be alone and comforted by the companionship of a television set, than allowing her to enjoy the affections of a younger man that truly loved her. They emotionally blackmailed her into isolation using the social norms of the time to keep her in her so-called place. The glue they kept her bound to a lonely existence with, is  citing ridicule of their own social standing  because of her involvement with a younger man who was supposedly socially inferior, as well.

Both movies, "All That Heaven Allows" and "Far From Heaven" are recommended as beautifully watchable, well made vehicles, that give a glimpse into the lives of 1950's America's mannerisms, etiquette, and a reminder of how much women's lives have changed since then and men's lives as well, for that matter.

*Memo from Maura-  Look for the most unintentionally hysterical verbal exchange ever on film with Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman, regarding whether he'd like her to be more like a man. A real gem of a joke that the Hollywood crowd had to have been in on. How did they keep straight faces during filming of that scene?






3 comments:

  1. Another fine read! Will you be covering Gone with the Wind? Or will Demita Usher?
    Btw- my mother and I just howled when we saw Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson read that dialogue about being more like a man! A hoot. One of my mother's favorite movies. Now we shall have to see Far from Heaven. We've not seen it yet.

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  2. 2 flix I will have to see now. Thanks. Love the photos!

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  3. All That Heaven Allows has always been a favorite of mine. Just saw it the other night on Encore. So well done. We are looking forward to more of Demita Usher's posts. You are in our prayers Maura.

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