All That Heaven Allows (1955)

From Douglas Sirk, the granddaddy of soaps, comes the triumph All That Heaven Allows, a small-town melodrama of forbidden lovers in a world that will not accept them.

This movie is so impressive largely because it handles such sappy material with genuine dignity and humanity. The basic premise has Jane Wyman as an upper-middle class widow, falling in love with her gardener Rock Hudson. They come from two different worlds – hers of country clubs and garden parties, his of cabins and nature. (His background and interests barely get fleshed out, but who cares?)

The strong performances truly elevate the slim plot, making us believe their romance and desperation to a far greater level than we probably should. With each disapproval from neighbors and family, the impact and toll it takes on their love are truly painful to withstand.

This film resonates so well also because it is still relevant; the strong socioeconomic contrast that nearly keeps them apart is just as real today, arguably even more so given the ever-rising divorce rates.

We also get some classic Sirkian phallic symbols – from Rock Hudson wielding a rifle at waist level to his ascending blanketed knee upon Jane Wyman’s arrival in a pivotal scene, Sirk inserts plenty of sex into an (explicitly) sexless film.

In addition to these tongue-in-cheek visual cues, though, Sirk also creates powerful imagery to convey Wyman’s sense of entrapment. In one memorable scene, her children (who have just expressed their intolerance of her new romance) give her a new TV set, placing it in an open space between a chair and the fireplace. This contraption, referenced earlier to “keep housewives busy” during the day, is spatially trapping her in her home – even further driven as the camera zooms into the TV’s reflection of Jane Wyman staring sadly into the screen.

The strong performances and gorgeous technicolor visuals contribute to a masterwork that far surpasses its predecessor Magnificent Obsession and grazes the brilliance of Written on the Wind.

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