“All That Heaven Allows” is a substantive melodrama about an older woman and a hot younger man. The film shines a spotlight on people’s eagerness to question the romantic lives of older women.
Jane Wyman is soulful as 40-ish widow Cary Scott.
In terms of money and status, Cary has everything she needs. She lives in a big house in a comfortable Connecticut suburb. She is friends with all the other upper middle-class folks in town. But life has become meaningless and lonely.
Cary loves her children, but they can’t save her from the ennui. They were raised upper class and don’t know anything different.
Cary’s son is achieving success without joy. Cary’s daughter is achieving education without wisdom.
The daughter just learned that ancient Egyptians used to entomb widows along with their dead husbands. That’s exactly how Cary feels: the town is trying to bury her in a tomb of stultifying respectability and conformity.
The only thing that interests Cary is the hot young gardener Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson). And we can’t blame her: Rock Hudson was impossibly hunky.
Everyone in her life disapproves of the relationship. Cary’s own son accuses her of liking Ron only for his muscles. But that’s not it at all. In fact, the film’s only weakness is the total lack of passion and chemistry between Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson.
Ron’s real allure is his alternative value system.
This is where “All That Heaven Allows” gets interesting. German director Douglas Sirk sneaks some bold social commentary into his soapy melodrama.
Materialism and social status rule Cary’s world. In Ron’s group of friends, these are alien concepts.
The most powerful scenes are the two parties that the new couple attend together: one at a rich couple’s house, one at the humble apartment of Ron’s best pal. The respectable people are shallow, judgmental, and petty. The bohemian crowd is inclusive and fun-loving.
Cary has a heck of a dilemma. Ron and his group is clearly superior. But conformity is alluring and it’s hard to leave your old life behind.
“All That Heaven Allows” shows that Cary’s choice is difficult but obvious. The film observes that people think they have the right to judge an older woman for having the audacity to love a younger, poorer man.
But older women should systematically ignore their critics and follow their hearts. You only get one short life. You should live it your way. And then live the second half of it in a whole new way if the opportunity presents itself.