Actor Rock Hudson
Photo: Tom Wargacki/
Onscreen and off, a love match between an older woman and a younger man can still raise eyebrows—as in this month's I Could Never Be Your Woman, in which a 40-something Michelle Pfeiffer falls for a 29-year-old (played by Paul Rudd). The pairing is the latest in a tradition epitomized by The Graduate and continued in recent years by films as wide-ranging as Y Tu Mama Tambien, In the Bedroom, and Lovely & Amazing.

The gorgeous grandmother of them all, however, is the 1955 Technicolor melodrama All That Heaven Allows, starring Jane Wyman as Cary, a wealthy widow who shocks her gossipy society set and her college-age children when she begins a relationship with her strapping, sensitive, and much younger gardener, Ron (Rock Hudson). Directed by Douglas Sirk, the film pivots between agony and ecstasy: Cary suffers the pain of rejection by her family and friends even as she revels in a new passion that has caught her completely by surprise.

All That Heaven Allows has inspired several brilliant tributes, including the riveting German tragedy Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, the opulent Julianne Moore heartbreaker Far From Heaven, and the frank British drama The Mother (featuring an explicit sex scene between a matronly Anne Reid and a pre-007 Daniel Craig). It's easy to see why the original has been so influential; its expressionist imagery seeps into the memory like indelible ink. The director bathes his characters in richly hued lighting and long, dark shadows, as if the cinematography were reflecting the heat and intensity of their inner weather. The bittersweet ending, meanwhile, takes on the shades of the viewer's mind: How you interpret it depends on the color of your current mood toward love and all its possibilities.