All That Heaven Allows (1955)

Genres - Drama, Romance  |   Sub-Genres - Melodrama, Romantic Drama  |   Release Date - Aug 25, 1955 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 89 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Michael Costello

Douglas Sirk's stylized romantic melodrama is one of the most fascinating of his films and the most thoroughgoing in its critique of American middle-class values. Its simple story concerns a romance between a 40-ish widow, Jane Wyman, and her young gardener, Rock Hudson, which scandalizes her social circle in a small New England town. "Sirk has made the tenderest films I know, they are the films of someone who loves people and doesn't despise them as we do," wrote R.W. Fassbinder about the director who was his primary influence. Sirk, a German immigrant who preferred to work in the frequently disdained genre of the "woman's picture," was able to imbue shopworn soap operas of trapped and oppressed women with a unique blend of humanism, social comment, and subterranean visual irony. Here, he points up the petty intolerance of the friends and grown children of a lonely widow, who are disturbed by the notion that she should still need love and sexual fulfillment. In a scene featuring the television as fetish object, Sirk deftly underlines the emptiness that he found in the rituals of American society. The director's characteristic use of mirrors, doorways, and various architectural details to frame compositions implies both limits of the world of his characters and the artifice of his narrative.