Sometimes when you develop a special fondness for a film, you stay away from it. You’re afraid that if you go back to it, it won’t hold up or be exactly as you remembered. In this case, the opposite occurred. I found even more meaning, when I sat down to rewatch ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS. The two main characters drew me in to the story.
The relationship between Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson) and Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) starts innocently enough over a cup of coffee. Ron’s taken over his late father’s yard maintenance business and he’s at the Scott home one fall afternoon pruning branches. When Cary’s girlfriend Sara (Agnes Moorehead) is unable to stay for lunch, Cary invites the handsome gardener to join her, so the food won’t go to waste. They strike up a conversation about the trees in her yard, and an instant bond forms. Their subsequent romance will become a scandal in Cary’s community.
The film seems to be written and played for other Carys in the audience. Sirk’s storytelling is so smooth that you get caught up in it. And what people tell Cary in the movie, and what she even tells herself, seem like things a viewer can appreciate. The more philosophical speeches do not come across as preachy or unrealistic in any way. Even Sirk’s use of Thoreau is expertly weaved into the proceedings, telling us there’s a natural order in life. Especially in ways of the heart.
Cary is struggling to let go of the past, and she is also struggling to simplify her life. For years, she’s tried to please others and has been restricted by what everyone expects. Her friend Sara witnesses the awakening of her spirit. And while Sara will remain firmly entrenched in suburbia, bound by its inhibiting code of conduct, she supports Cary’s need to break away from it. Other members of the community are not as supportive, which we see at a cocktail party in Sara’s home. Cary has decided to introduce Ron to everyone, but many of the guests are unfriendly. One old gal is downright cruel.
Sirk likes to use reflecting surfaces in his melodramas. And we see many of them in this film, often in the form of mirrors and windows. His careful use of mise-en-scene (staging and scene composition) allows us to glimpse the internal states of characters, as their facial expresses bounce off these reflecting surfaces. In some instances, there is an added use of shadow. Or pieces of furniture and doors are used to conceal things or separate Cary from the people who are opposed to her.
Cary’s two college-aged children think she needs a television. It will keep her from being lonely, they reason; mainly, it will help distract her when she decides to break up with Ron. While Cary was getting to know Ron, she had no desire to sit at home and watch television. But after she calls things off with him, the kids give her a fancy new set at Christmas, and she is forced to contend with this symbol of her loneliness. Again Sirk uses a reflecting surface, this time the TV screen, to display her emotions.
Of course, the film would not have a happy ending if Cary gave in and resigned herself to being a lonely widow. When she realizes her children are moving on with lives of their own that no longer directly involve her, she knows she deserves more. She has to battle her way out of a depression that has enveloped her. It’s time to look towards the future and embrace it. At the same time, there are scenes which show Ron reflecting as well; and his own unexpressed desire to reconcile with her.
A subplot in the film involves the refurbishing of an old mill that Ron is turning into a home. It’s a place he intends to share with Cary, if she will let him. The living room in the renovated mill features a large window that looks out on to the pond and an area where deer roam during the cold winter months. It’s Walden personified, it’s a world with natural order, and it’s somewhere that Cary and Ron can both find happiness.
At one point Ron is hunting and falls off the side of a snowy cliff. He’s severely injured and nearly dies. The crisis rallies Cary to his side and precipitates their reunion. The children are no longer an issue. The disapproving community is no longer an issue. The only thing that matters is being together again. Heaven has allowed it, and it’s quite extraordinary.
ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS may currently be viewed on YouTube.