Friday, May 11, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Leave Her to Heaven (1945) at the TCM Classic Film Festival

On Friday night at the TCM Classic Film Festival I saw the second of the three nitrate prints I watched at the festival, when LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945) was screened at the Egyptian Theatre.

The chance to see the Oscar-winning Technicolor photography of Leon Shamroy in a nitrate print was one of the most anticipated screenings for me at the festival, and it didn't disappoint.

LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN is pure psychological/crime soap opera of the very best kind, starring two favorite 20th Century-Fox actresses, Gene Tierney and Jeanne Crain.

Tierney plays Ellen, who "meets cute" with writer Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) on a train, not initially realizing he's the author of the book she's reading. Everything about this sequence -- Tierney's eyes, the teal of the train car -- is visually arresting, setting the stage for what's to come.

Richard reminds Ellen of her late father, and as we soon learn, Ellen's just a bit obsessed with Daddy. She's also soon obsessed with Richard and they quickly marry, but Richard has time to repent at leisure. Ellen is so controlling and jealous that she can't stand anything that takes his attention away, whether it's his work, his invalid brother Danny (Darryl Hickman), or her cousin Ruth (Jeanne Crain), who's also her adopted sister.

Ellen's so unwilling to share Richard that she even engineers her own baby's miscarriage...and her evil doesn't stop there.

In other circumstances I might not find this dark story appealing, but the movie is one of the most visually stunning films ever made; for anyone unfamiliar with it, check out the Blu-ray screen caps at DVD Beaver for an idea of the movie's look. As much as I hate to watch scenes like Danny's sad fate, I can't get enough of looking at Tierney, her amazing wardrobe, or the gorgeous sets. Tierney received an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress for this film.

Though she's overshadowed by Tierney's flashier role, the film also has a nice part for Crain as the steadfast Ruth, to whom Richard dedicates a book. (The dedication to "The Girl With the Hoe" inexplicably drew laughter at the screening, to my irritation.) One may wonder why Ruth and the family weren't more aware of Ellen's true personality from knowing her over the years, but I suppose it's possible a psychopath such as Ellen could have hid her true nature from her nearest and dearest.

Wilde's Richard is an oblivious fellow, not keying in on either Ellen's understandable desire to be alone with him as newlyweds or on her darker tendencies. He's a rather helpless man to whom everything happens, rather than being the instigator of much of the action himself.

LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN was directed by John M. Stahl. The supporting cast includes Vincent Price, Chills Wills, Ray Collins, Reed Hadley, Grant Mitchell, and Mary Philips (DEAR RUTH).

Jo Swerling's screenplay was based on the novel by Ben Ames Williams. The film runs and hour and 50 minutes.

LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN was released on DVD in the Fox Studio Classics series. It's been released on Blu-ray by Twilight Time. It also had a release on VHS in 1995.

Seeing this unique film in a rich nitrate print was a real thrill. My thanks to TCM for making it possible!

February 2020 Update: This film will have a new Blu-ray and DVD release from the Criterion Collection in March 2020.


Blogger Margot Shelby said...

I adore this movie. I wrote a review about it which I haven't published yet.

The visuals are truly stunning, I would go as far as saying it’s one of the most beautifully photographed films of the 40s. I love that this is glorious Technicolor Noir, madness and evil don’t have to lurk in dark shadows. They can blossom in bright sunlight.
Tierney plays it very well. Not even the barest confirmation of Ellen’s disturbed state appears until well past the 30-minute mark of the movie.

The way I understood it is that both the mother and the sister were well aware of Ellen's true nature. But both have retreated into their shells and have withdrawn from the battle. It's hard to fight such deviousness, and insanity.

5:29 PM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Upon past viewings, I find myself alternately distracted by the beauty on the screen or drawn more closely to the evil because of its setting and presentation. Nonetheless, I am always drawn to this disquieting melodrama.

5:28 AM  
Blogger Walter S. said...

Laura, good review of a classic stunner. Also, what a wonderful cast, but it is Gene Tierney's tour de force, that we remember.

Regarding Ellen's family not being aware of her true self over the years. I personally have known people and family members who only see what they want to see, and hear only what they want to hear. Also, I have known people, like Richard who are so oblivious to what is before their eyes. I'm thinking, at the moment, of one man in particular who was so oblivious of his wife's pain that she had to figuratively hit him over the head and across the face to make him realize how much she was suffering.

Margot Shelby gave a wonderful description, in her above comment, about the glory of Technicolor Noir. I wish that I could write like she does.

I have never read Ben Ames Williams' 1944 novel. Have you?

Having grown up on a small ranch in the Valle del Buho a "hoe" is a garden tool.

9:55 AM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

Thank you, Walter. Do you have a blog too?

I've never read the novel either. It may be worth checking out.

1:20 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm catching up now that I'm home from a long weekend in Palm Springs! Margot and Walter, really enjoyed the discussion of Ellen's personality/issues and how her family and Richard dealt (or didn't) with her. Very good thoughts! Margot, if you publish your review please let us know!

I haven't read the novel either -- might be interesting to do that and compare. It's still in print!

Caftan Woman, like you, I'm drawn to this one time and again.

Thank you all for adding some great thoughts to consider regarding this most interesting film.

Best wishes,

6:27 PM  

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