Cary, a wealthy widow, falls in love with the much younger nurseryman, Ron Kirby. This provides gossip for the country club set, and her children are ashamed that she plans to remarry below her station. Ron is an independent man who can ignore the petty conventions of society, but can Cary also ignore them?
Jane Wyman ... Cary Scott
Rock Hudson ... Ron Kirby
Agnes Moorehead ... Sara Warren
Conrad Nagel ... Harvey
Virginia Grey ... Alida Anderson
Gloria Talbott ... Kay Scott
William Reynolds ... Ned Scott
Charles Drake ... Mick Anderson
Hayden Rorke ... Dr. Dan Hennessy
Jacqueline deWit ... Mona Plash (as Jacqueline de Wit)
Leigh Snowden ... Jo-Ann
Donald Curtis ... Howard Hoffer
Alex Gerry ... George Warren
Nestor Paiva ... Manuel
Forrest Lewis ... Mr. Weeks
Douglas Sirk is a truly underrated director, and this film shows why. Although this film becomes more highly regarded as the years go by, especially by non-Americans, it is usually regarded as just a well made soaper. Big mistake. This is a very angry film, a scathing commentary on the conformity and mindlessness that characterized much of the 1950s. Remember, this film was made in 1955, before there were any beatniks or hippies, before the civil rights movement, before there was any pot smoking, before anyone beyond the fringes questioned any of the basic values underlying capitalist America. America was at the peak of its power and prestige, and this was perhaps the first mainstream film that questioned the values that presumably were responsible for that ascendancy. Because this film is essentially about class and the primacy that human relationships must have over material gain, social acceptance, and social conformity.
Think of the forbidden (at the time) themes that this film deals with. Older woman, younger man. The shallowness, insipidity, and snobbery of the upper middle class arrivistes who have "made it," all of which masks their basic insecurity, unhappiness, and self-loathing. A male lead who doesn't care about acceptance by anyone, who doesn't care about money or success, who just wants to be happy and "do his own thing," well over a decade before that phrase was coined. The Wyman character foolishly (at first) decides that acceptance by her peers and children is more important than finding happiness with a man she truly loves, and what does she end up with for companionship? A television set! This was the decade in which "The Lonely Crowd" was published, and this film exemplifies that concept, as well as striking examples of other- vs. inner-directed, far better than any other film of its time.
Sirk was truly a visionary, well ahead of his time. This was why this film inspired Fassbinder's "Ali: Fear Eats the Soul" and Todd Haynes' "Far from Heaven." It is all the more powerful for having been made then and in not being a retrospective look, as is "Far from Heaven," from a more "enlightened" future time. For its social import, I rate this 9/10.
At times, the aesthetic appeal of a film is so overwhelming, it surpasses the draw of the big-name stars and plot. And "All That Heaven Allows" is one of those rare examples. Anyone familiar with Douglas Sirk-directed projects knows his grandiose style. And this 1955 masterpiece sums up the best of Sirk drama, with the surface sheen, thundering music, noted stars and biting social commentary. This film, in fact, is so beautiful, that it requires repeated viewings just to be able to take it all in.
Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson re-team from Sirk's inferior "Magnificent Obsession" that was such a hit the year before. In this story, Wyman plays a wealthy widow bound to the claustrophobic confines of her uppity New England town. Her friends and two grown children do their best to convince her to marry Harvey, a stuffy and older neighborhood bachelor. But Wyman wants more. She ends up falling for her younger gardener, played by Hudson. After bonding over the virtues of the silver-tipped spruce, they embark on a love affair which is rejected by the community and Wyman's own children. They feel she is far too upstanding to be with a gardener. The reluctance of those around her to accept this relationship cause Wyman to have to choose between love or respect from her town.
Sirk takes what is a sappy, predictable tale and turns it into a visual feast. This is true eye candy for film buffs. Sirk sets the stage for this story against a heightened background of the reds, golds and yellows of a New England autumn. Every detail from Agnes Moorehead's red hair to sunsets to Wyman's lipstick and even the cars is given the Technicolor treatment to the max. Sirk's knack for visual irony is also heavily present throughout. The film opens with a shot of the town's clocktower with pigeons roosting. The pigeons are divided into two groups - a gaggle of black pigeons representing the townspeople on one end, and on the other are two white pigeons nuzzling, representing Wyman and Hudson and the division they face in this community. This is just for starters. Other stunning examples are when Sirk uses shades of blues and greys and reds to convey character's feelings of sadness or anger. And of course there is the famous television set scene. And through all of this emotion and cotton candy extravaganza is Frank Skinner's lush score that soars in all the right places. "All That Heaven Allows" is a first-rate classic that is a must for fans of Sirk or anyone who are devotees of lush melodramas from the studio heyday.
It is ironic that during the 1950s, when the former Douglas Sirk was at his most successful in terms of audience appeal, he was virtually ignored by the critics... He is now seen, however, as a director of formidable intellect who, despite his background in classical and Avant-Garde Theater, achieved his best work in melodrama...
With its penetrating, literate screenplay, its fine and sympathetic acting, its tasteful sets and artwork, its wonderful music, cleverly adapted from some of the finest music of Franz Liszt and other romantic composers, 'All That Heaven Allows' is another film, passed over in its own time as "just another soap opera."
Sirk tries to capture the tensions of real everyday living in his representation of a lonely elegant widow steeped in a snobbish society...
Jane Wyman is (Cary Scott), a pleasant middle-aged widow who is having difficulty in adjusting to her status... She lives in comfortable circumstances in a handsome house, but her character is more concerned with maintaining a veneer of social respectability than with addressing reality...
Sirk turns a conventional love story, between Cary and her much younger gardener and nurseryman Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson) into a study of the fall of American idealism and innocence, and lush images of nature contrasting with claustrophobic, petty-minded snobbery of a country-club set...
Ron prefers to grow plants in his nursery near an old mill, and lives life according to his own rules - which do not comprise cocktail parties, gossip, and superficial camaraderie... He is obviously handsome, and Cary gives herself numerous reasons why she should not encourage him... The difference in their respective ages being, in her view, the most salient of all... But Ron keeps returning, it is obvious he is attracted to her...
But as their romance deepens, so does the widow's dilemma... The family, so often glamorized by Hollywood, is regarded as selfish and inhibiting, with the widow's teenage children horrified at the idea of another man tainting their dead father's sacred memory... So Cary retreats, and decides to walk away from a love that promises the chance to rediscover her own passion in his sensual embrace...
Sirk does interesting things with reflections, most notable the sight of Wyman reflected in the screen of a television set that her son and daughter buy her in Christmas to keep her company... Staring deeply into its surface, deep sadness closed her heart as she wanted to escape the pain of her mistake... Her physician (Hayden Rorke), whom she consults on her miserable headaches, tells her that there is absolutely nothing wrong with her, that she must stop living by the opinions, the smiles and frowns of others...
Wyman convincingly gives the impression of a woman torn between the fires of her own heart and her devotion to her family and friends... She and Hudson have a good chemistry together, and obviously the film, exquisitely photographed in Technicolor, carries off its intended effect perfectly...
# This film was selected for the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1995.
# This film seems to borrow its title from the last line of the poem 'love and life' by Jhn Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester: " All my past Life is mine no more, The flying Hours are gone: Like Transitory Dreams giv'n o'er, Whose Images are kept in store By Memory alone. The Time that is to come is not; How can it then be mine The present Moment's all my Lot; And that, as fast as it is got, Phillis, is only thine. Then talk not of Inconstancy, False Hearts, and broken Vows; If I, by Miracle, can be This live-long Minute true to thee, 'Tis all that Heav'n allows. "