Saturday, March 22, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Ivy (1947) at the Noir City Film Festival

One of the films on the very first double bill I saw at a Noir City Festival was SO EVIL MY LOVE (1948), a dark, creepy period noir with Ray Milland as an unrepentant killer.

Fast-forward to tonight's Noir City screening of IVY (1947), and I felt that I was watching the female flip side of SO EVIL MY LOVE.

IVY was part of a double bill honoring Joan Fontaine which started off with Nicholas Ray's BORN TO BE BAD (1950). In BORN TO BE BAD Fontaine plays Christabel, a seemingly sweet manipulator who steals rich Zachary Scott from her cousin (Joan Leslie). I love Zachary Scott, but Christabel had to be nuts to walk away from the charismatic Robert Ryan in that movie, money or no money! It's one of my favorite Ryan performances, and when he finally says "I love you so much I wish I liked you," the audience actually applauded in appreciation.

The screening was followed by the original ending, which is also on the Warner Archive DVD release, and it's a hoot, but was unacceptable to the censors.

I first read about IVY a few years back in an elegantly written post by the Self-Styled Siren, and the film certainly lived up to her description. It was quite engrossing -- not to mention rather dark and disturbing!

Elegant Ivy (Joan Fontaine) and her husband (Richard Ney) are living in a shabby room, down to their last shillings thanks to Ivy's spendthrift ways, when she attracts the attention of wealthy Miles Rushworth (Herbert Marshall). Rushworth arranges a job for Ivy's husband but Ivy wants more...much more. As it happens, a poor doctor (Patric Knowles) is also infatuated with Ivy, and when paying him a visit Ivy steals some poison from his office.

Ivy has quite a plan, slowly poisoning her husband to death, then letting convenient circumstantial evidence send the doctor to the gallows while she goes to the arms of wealthy Rushworth. However, with Inspector Orpington (Cedric Hardwicke) on the case, things may not go as smoothly as Ivy believes.

The film builds to a deliciously appropriate ending, which immediately called to mind Diana Muldaur's infamous exit from L.A. LAW decades later.

Fontaine is exquisitely beautiful in this, her innocent white dresses hiding the evil which lurks inside; her ability to immerse herself in completely different characters with unique speech patterns and mannerisms continues to impress me deeply. Here she plays a casually homicidal, narcissistic woman who doesn't think twice about easing her husband out of her life so she can move on to something better.

This film comes in between two radically different performances: FROM THIS DAY FORWARD (1946), in which Fontaine played an optimistic bride encouraging her veteran husband in his postwar adjustment, and LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN (1947), in which she's a young girl mooning after a caddish musician. It's rather hard to believe that at one point in my life I found Fontaine a bit dull. The more I see of her work, the more I'm convinced she was one of the cinema's greatest actresses.

It's a beautifully designed film -- it's worth noting that the great production designer William Cameron Menzies was a producer -- and fascinating to watch, though like SO EVIL MY LOVE I think it's more of a one-time roller coaster ride than something I would want to return to regularly. Thinking of the opening and closing titles alone is enough to give me the shivers.

Lucile Watson is especially notable as the doctor's strong mother. The cast also includes Sara Allgood, Henry Stephenson, Molly Lamont, Isobel Elsom, Una O'Connor, Alan Napier, Norma Varden, and Paul Cavanagh. Joan Fontaine's mother, Lillian Fontaine (billed as Lilian), plays Lady Flora.

IVY runs 99 minutes and was directed by Sam Wood and filmed in black and white by Russell Metty. The creepy musical score was by Daniele Amfitheatrof. Fontaine's gowns were designed by Orry-Kelly.

IVY is not available on VHS or DVD. At present it can be seen on YouTube, albeit with Spanish subtitles.


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