All That Heaven Allows (1955)

"All That Heaven Allows" is the shining and shimmering queen of the melodrama. It's a work invested in its emotions and its characters and though not much happens in the film, it is a work complete and successful.
Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) is a widow who thinks of herself only in terms of what other people say. Her social life has crumbled since her socialite husband died and now she serves as an arm fixture for people to make comments about. She goes out with some of the only "eligible bachelors" in town who all appear to be men several times her age. A woman with two grown children, she is constantly hearing the phrase "a woman your age" in reference to another marriage.
Her children are peculiar: Ned (William Reynolds) seems content with his scholastic achievements and always returns home with a new venture in the world of academia. Kay (Gloria Talbott) is another story entirely. She is obsessed with psychology and forever rationalizes every conversation for a hope to look deep into the subconscious tendencies of humanity. She's young and naive and the film makes a point of quickly allaying all her theories and thoughts about men and women by having her date a football jock who doesn't understand a word she says.
Under pressure from her best friend Sara (Agnes Moorehead), Carey tries to step out a little more into the world of the sociable and instead finds that she enjoys the company of her gardener Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson) more than the rich and famous.
Ron is another peculiar sort, the kind of man who knows himself better than most characters we will see in such a drama. With people trying to find great truths about life and themselves Ron serves as the emotional rock (forgive the pun) at the center of it all.
A pupil of Thoreau, Ron sees life in its bare necessities. He lives with his trees and watches them grow. He has an obsession with the living plants and devotes his life to them. Carey finds him fascinating and quite romantically available.
Their interest in one another slowly blooms into love, but there's is not a romance that is supposed to have a happy ending. The judgmental eye of the upper class looks down on Ron because he comes from "humble birth" and he's only a common gardener. The idle tongues of the rich wag ferociously as word begins to spread about the two's affairs and soon Carey is drowning in all the disapproval and the condemnation.
She has to make a choice: love or social stature?
"All That Heaven Allows" is a movie about gossip and the lies we tell ourselves. As overly dramatic and loud as it comes across at points, it is also deeply perceptive and quite moving.
Shot in lovely Technicolor with all the tenderness one can imagine, the film pulls out all the stops to be as sentimental as possible; and yes, I do realize this...but I can't help but love it.
The film is unique for several reasons: it makes the uninteresting interesting. We have long since be subjected to movies about the unordinary ordinary. Dramas about conflicts in family and social life have long since ruled cinema and continue to rule. But "All That Heaven Allows" is one of the few that feels like it surrounds truly ordinary people living ordinary lives. It presents complex emotions from complex character who do selfish acts and think only of themselves. They masquerade as though they care, though we can all see that they don't.
"All That Heaven Allows" also gives us a great leading couple with Wyman and Hudson and their chemistry is instantly felt. It's such a tender movie and such a relentless one. It's influence is so great on the viewer that the simple appearance (and slight self-referential poke) of a television can change the complete dynamic of the movie.
It's wonderful cheesiness and gloriously romantic.

Score: ★★★★

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