Movies: A Heaven of Magnificent Obsessions

Their hairdos were lacquered helmets seemingly designed to crush thoughts about anything more complicated than the cheese dip's texture. Their faces were masks, the makeup preventing any expression broader than a polite smile. Their bodies were encased in push-up bras and grasping girdles, choking any hint of untoward sexual expression.

These were the ladies who lunched in Douglas Sirk's 1950s "women's pictures" (magnificent obsession, all that heaven allows, imitation of life). Universal Studios decreed the improbable luxe of their suburban decor and the oversaturated colors of the films' palette. reviewers of the time dismissed these films (though audiences lapped them up),...

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