NEW YORK – The classic '50s "woman's movie," long the Rodney Dangerfield of film genres, is back — and finally ready for its close-up.
Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven, starring a mink-coated and exquisitely suffering Julianne Moore, opens Friday — and the rapturous early reviews are predicting the smart period piece may be headed for a slew of Oscar nominations.
"The woman's film has always been down at the bottom of the critical ash heap, even if you dressed it up in the euphemism 'melodrama' to make it seem as respectable as gangster movies," says Jeanine Basinger, author of A Woman's View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women.
Writer-director Haynes hews closely to the conventions of '50s Technicolor weepies — stylized acting and dialogue, spotless cars delivered straight from the showroom and streets that were shot in New Jersey but look like a studio back lot.
He also introduces issues barely hinted at in movies made during that era.
Moore's housewife and mom of two young children has a husband, played by Dennis Quaid, who is struggling to suppress his homosexual desires through copious applications of Scotch.
When she catches him passionately kissing another man one night at the office, Moore finds comfort in the arms of her upwardly mobile black gardener (Dennis Haysbert).
That sets tongues wagging in their small Connecticut town — and has had early audiences reaching for their handkerchiefs.
Movie buffs will recognize the situation as a deconstruction of All That Heaven Allows, a 1954 picture now considered the crowning achievement of Douglas Sirk, a German-born intellectual who directed such classic tearjerkers as Imitation of Life and Written on the Wind.
Sirk, who died in 1979, once remarked, "There is a very short distance between high art and trash."
On the surface, All That Heaven Allows is a silly tale about a widow (Jane Wyman) who falls for her much-younger gardener (Rock Hudson), but breaks off their relationship because of her disapproving children and country-club pals.
But it's also a deeply subversive commentary on the emptiness and repression of the Eisenhower era that delivers an emotional wallop — and not a few laughs for contemporary audiences when Wyman tells Hudson (who we now know was gay), "You want me to be like a man," and he replies, "Only in one way."
Haynes told The Post from his home in Portland, Ore., that All That Heaven Allows was the first woman's film he ever saw, in a class at Brown University in the 1970s.
"Sirk showed that it was possible to derive extremely real feelings from extremely constructed and artificial means," said Haynes, who treats his story with utmost seriousness.
"I was interested in drawing some parallels to the '50s in today's culture. It's very easy to feel superior to the Eisenhower era, but this film wonders how far we've really come in dealing with race and sexuality."
There's no question the movie will hugely appeal to movie buffs. But will it play to contemporary women, who no longer have the luxury of catching a matinee with Jane Wyman, Joan Crawford or Barbara Stanwyck at Radio City Music Hall between lunch with the bridge club and martinis at home with hubby?
"It's certainly an unlikely genre to reinvent," says Terrence Rafferty, film review for GQ magazine. "The tough part will be getting people into the theater. If they can be persuaded, they'll probably find themselves caught up in it."