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Leave Her to Heaven (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on May 22, 2013

Novelist Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) is heading to a New Mexico lodge owned by his attorney and friend Glen Robie (Ray Collins).  On the train, he meets Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney), who happens to be reading his book without knowing she’s sitting across from the author.  They both disembark at the same station, and Richard discovers that Ellen — along with her mother (Mary Philips) and adoptive sister Ruth (Jeanne Crain) — are also staying at Glen’s lodge.  They’ve arrived to scatter Ellen’s father’s ashes in his favorite place.  Ellen and Richard fall in love, she abruptly breaks off her engagement with a politically ambitious district attorney (Vincent Price), and the two are wed.  But as they try to settle into a life together, Ellen feels their romance is stifled by the presence of Richard’s disabled brother Danny (Darryl Hickman) and friend/caretaker Thorne (Chill Wills).  And when Ruth shows up for a visit, Ellen’s possessive jealousy rages.

There are certainly some downsides to this film.  Wilde is rather stiff and uninteresting, and Hickman is one of those cloying youths who says “gosh!” too much.  The courtroom finale, although it has a compelling performance by Price, features Collins as one of the most ineffective and aloof defense attorneys I’ve ever seen.  It’s never explained, and very strange.  And the movie does take some time to get going, it’s about 40 minutes before things start getting good.

But those early scenes are planting the seeds for Ellen’s psychosis.  In hindsight, it’s easy to identify the warning signs… severe daddy issues, impulsiveness, manipulation, self-absorption.  But when it’s all happening, we understand Richard’s inability to see the red flags.  For one, he’s blinded by her beauty… and the obvious but never stated sexual relations they’ve had.  But also, the hints of her disturbance are subtle, gradually building up to a femme fatale.  And it’s quite an unusual one.  Usually a femme fatale is fooling around behind the victim’s back, or hustling him for dough, or just plain mean.  Ellen is a femme fatale who does it for love… her own twisted, possessive, selfish love, but it’s all out of devotion to Richard and wanting him all to herself.

It’s an amazing performance by Tierney.  You can see the screws slowly coming loose.  She’s been in better movies — Night and the City, Where the Sidewalk Ends, arguably Laura — but I think this film showcases her best acting by far.  I rather like Crain, too… it’s a bland “good girl” role, but she manages to establish a presence.  And Price steals the show at the end.  Tack on gorgeous Technicolor photography and one hell of an iconic scene, and you’ve got some mighty fine (though not perfect) noir.  Rating: Very Good (84)


2 Responses to “Leave Her to Heaven (rewatch)”

  1. nancy said

    I have this at home and need to re-watch! But my recollection agrees with you – the movie is good because of Tierney. She is one of my favorite actresses, tho I don’t think she had to stretch much in my fav movies of hers: Laura and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Those are both so ridiculously romantic and old school fun that they are like comfort food to me.

    Another thing I dislike about this one is the over-saturated color. I am not fond of the early color efforts.

    • Oh, I adore Technicolor when it’s used properly! Singin’ in the Rain, The Red Shoes, A Matter of Life and Death, The Wizard of Oz… gorgeous films. The problem with Leave Her to Heaven is that the Technicolor elements were thrown out and only Eastmancolor prints remain. But it still looks pretty damn good on Blu-Ray. The color scheme is carefully thought out, with blues to match Tierney’s eyes.

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