All That Heaven Allows (1955)

All That Heaven Allows PosterJane Wyman, looking every bit of her forty-plus years in the role, plays Cary Scott, an upper class dame who had her husband go and croak on her last year. He left her some money, a house, two snotty young adult kids, an empty existence, and a hunky gardener played by Rock Hudson!

Before Rock can start planting his trees in Cary’s yard, the movie shows us the kind of pointless shell of a life that Cary has been living since her husband took the easy way out. She has a friend, the anvil-faced Agnes Moorehead (Endora from Bewitched) and she seems to like Cary as much as anyone, but we soon see that friendship in this little upper crust town is premised on everyone acting like they are supposed to. This means going out to the country club, enduring dull parties with self-important gossips, and dating old guys who have never heard of Viagra.

Cary is one of those smart, red-headed gals, so she’s looking for more out of life than listening to her Methuselah-aged male companion go on and on about his health problems.

To paraphrase the Bard, “cry havoc and let slip the hunky gardener!” Rock plays a landscaper named Ron Kirby. Ron’s dad used to run the nursery that takes care of the town’s tree needs and when he died Ron took over. Ron is very tan and has perfectly sculpted hair that any normal landscaper would never wear because when you start sweating, you’d be blinded by all that pomade dripping into your smoldering brown eyes.

Ron really likes trees and is planning to quit the pruning business and go into the major leagues of the tree profession: growing them. Cary can see that this is a different sort of guy than she is used to hanging out with at the country club, chiefly because he is young and ruggedly handsome.

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Rock leaves and returns in a few weeks to hang out with her trees again and he offers to take her out to his place to get a gander at his trees. (As long you keep that root in your pants, mister!)

She declines, but at the last second, realizes that hunky gardeners probably have very nice trees and hops into his station wagon and it’s off to the picture perfect countryside.

Like most hunky gardeners who dream of one day growing their very own trees, he has a really cool piece of property in the wilderness, complete with creek and scenic old mill.

Cary and Ron hang out at the old mill awhile and Cary conveniently falls down some stairs right into Ron’s burly arms. Some suckface follows and we now have ourselves a bona fide love affair!

We get to know Ron a little and he’s one of those guys who is supremely confident and not at all moved by money or concerned with what anyone thinks of him.

He has a whole raft of eclectic friends who raise trees, beekeep, watch birds and do artsy fartsy things that show they are likewise independent thinkers. At one gathering, there is even a scene where Cary is reading out loud from Walden by Thoreau!

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Ron starts fixing up the old mill into a really plush crib for he and his old lady and he asks her to marry him. She agrees and returns home to tell her kids the news. They think she’s getting married to the old guy and are surprised to find out that it is in fact the hunky gardener!

The kids immediately put the kibosh on it with the son telling his mother that he is putting her on suspension until she goes back to dating men that are old enough to be her grandfather and the daughter is so upset by what the townspeople are saying that she made a scene at the library and was asked to leave!

With the town, and more importantly, her kids dumping on her, the only thing left for Cary to do is dump Ron. Ron is a bit miffed about this, but still uses the opportunity to deliver one of his little be-your-own-woman speeches he’s fond of giving every chance he gets.

But dang it, for all their differences (he’s a rugged individualist who has all the answers, she’s a mindless sheep worried that the town gossip won’t like her hubby) these two still love each other and desperately want to get back together, but each of them is too proud to go to the other. So how do they get back together? Why tragedy of course!

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From Cary’s kids’ unreasonable reactions to her new romance, to her so willingly ditching a guy she loves, to Ron’s smug form of faux-enlightenment, the movie presents the idea of an unconventional relationship with the same primary colors that director Douglas Sirk used to shoot his movie in.

There aren’t any shades of gray here. The kids suck, then the daughter changes her mind completely. The entire town exists solely to keep Cary a grieving widow forever (except for the kindly doctor who exists solely to give her fatherly advice), and Ron the Hunky Gardener isn’t so much a fleshed out character as he is the idealized version of what it is to be a real man (hunt, woodwork, play piano, always be right).

Technically the film is a marvel to look it, the framing of the shots and the colors betray the hand of someone who knows how to shoot movie stars. Enjoyable though it was to look at, you keep wishing it was better, that it took some more chances and that it didn’t resort to the lame and almost laughable finish that finally brings these two together once and for all.

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