I hate referring to a movie as a melodrama as it paints this picture of being overly dramatic and soapish and whilst Douglas Sirk's "All That Heaven Allows" is known as a top melodrama it doesn't do it justice. Whilst on face value this is a story of a romance between two people from different social levels and of different ages it has much more depth than other similar movies. As it works through this tale it delves into aspects of sacrifice, of social expectations and leading a life on your terms and in doing so becomes more than just a melodrama and is powerful, touching and very romantic with knock out performances from Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson which match Sirk's expert direction.
Widower Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) leads a quiet life following the death of her husband, her grown up children visit at weekends and she occasionally socialises with her small group of friends. But that all changes when she becomes friends with Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson - Bend of the River) the young man who twice a year comes to tend to her garden and trees. Not only is Ron much younger than her but doesn't mix on the same social level but their friendship soon turns to love. But their relationship causes issues as her friends disapprove of Cary keeping company with the young man and also leads to issues with her own children as they equally dislike their mum seeing Ron. All of which leads to Cary having to chose happiness with Ron or sacrificing it for the feelings of others.
So on face value "All That Heaven Allows" reads like quite an obvious drama as we have respectable Cary Scott ending up falling for her gardener, the much younger Ron Kirby. And as such it works through various cliche aspects from Cary having doubts about embarking on a relationship with a man who is younger than her whilst also fretting about what others will think including her two children who turn up for weekends. It's not exactly that new, even back in 1955 when "All That Heaven Allows" was released and if that was all there was to the movie then it wouldn't be that remarkable.
But Douglas Sirk makes this story more than just cliche as he delivers layers of depth and one of the strongest of these is that of sacrifice. We watch as Cary has to battle her emotions as she falls for Ron but knows that her relationship is causing a wedge to come between her and her children who disapprove. She has to make a choice, a sacrifice which may or may not be worth it in the long run. This look at her sacrifice, how it affects her and those close to her makes for several marvellous scenes especially when it comes to discovering whether it was the right choice. And yes I am being evasive in detail because to explain would be to ruin much of what makes "All That Heaven Allows" so good.
But there is another significant aspect to "All That Heaven Allows" and that is leading life on your terms rather than those around you. It is tied in with the story of sacrifice but we watch as Cary comes to realise through Ron and his friends that he leads life on his terms with no fear. And it is this layer which gives this tale of romance, sacrifice and heart break so much more meaning and there are more layers than just these which combine to make a compelling and touching story.
On top of all this you have to say that Sirk also has an eye for a great shot from those in the garden of Cary's home to the old mill where Ron lives. It's hard not to fall in love with the mill and the huge glass window which looks out over nature especially when we have snowy scenes. Yes it does go a little too far as we watch Ron get close with nature but this the sort of home anyone would love to own.
And then making all of this come to life is Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson who ironically whilst playing a couple who are supposedly separated by age the real age difference was relatively small. Wyman as Cary is not only beautiful but she creates this wonderful character who on one hand has found love and purpose again yet on the other is chained to her life by those closest to her and social expectations. And then there is Hudson who is every ounce the easy going young man who lives life with a freedom by not being afraid. Both make interesting characters but also create this air of romance which brings a scene to life with real electricity as they get close.
What this all boils down to is that "All That Heaven Allows" is a melodrama but also much more with Douglas Sirk demonstrating that an obvious set up can become so much more by focusing on what lies beneath. It is touching and powerful, beautiful and romantic and features brilliant performances from Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson who set the screen alight with their chemistry.
Tags: Age Gap Romances