Monday, August 13, 2012

"Leave Her to Heaven" (1945)

This movie, told in flashback, shows Richard Harland, a writer, traveling home after spending two years in prison. Over the course of the film we learn how he came to end up in prison, regarding his relationship with two sisters. One, Ellen Berent, falls madly in love with him and they get married, merely on the basis that he reminds her of her father. Her adoptive sister, Ruth, is less blatant about her feelings but she’s obviously fond of Richard. Unfortunately for him, he married the sister who’s obsessed with him, who will “never let him go” and when others get in between her and her husband, tragedy strikes. This Film Noir shot in Technicolor is a chilling example of how quickly events can unravel people’s lives when love runs amok.

We meet Ellen, Ruth and Richard in a train scene where everything about Ellen seemingly separates her from her family, including her clothing. She has this imperious attitude with everyone though I suspect she would not have acted that way around her father. Throughout the movie we see how her and Richard’s relationship develops and we slowly come to an understanding about who Ellen really is, despite the face she puts on for everyone else.

Gene Tierney fit perfectly into the femme fatale role so common in that era and it doesn’t hurt that she has a stunning face. Darryl F Zanuck thought that she was the most beautiful woman in movie history and it’s that very juxtaposition between her looks and her actions in this movie that make the role so good. And consider this, Rita Hayworth was originally intended to play this role but turned it down. We know that she can play against type as in ”The Lady from Shanghai” but I’m not sure Hayworth could have been as icy as Tierney. Take for example, that scene in the boat, which is very reminiscent of a scene in ”The Little Foxes with Bette Davis. Both sit as still as rocks, actively not involving themselves in the scene, mouths firmly set, very chilling. Tierney also out acts everyone else. While I agree that she had a far juicier role, I think that people might not have taken her acting seriously because of her looks though it’s important to note that she was nominated for an Academy Award for this role. She is monstrous as Ellen but we delight in watching her play the character.

As for her sister Ruth, played by Jeanne Crain, I found her boring, annoying and saccharine, ugh. She seemed to melt into the background and her main character trait was that she liked plants. Really? How about you make her more of a rival to Ellen? Make her more interesting to make me believe Richard’s thoughts would start to stray, let us know more about her background and how she feels about Ellen and her adoptive parents. And then there’s Danny. Has there ever been child more annoying on film and is it wrong that I didn’t miss him at all when he wasn’t there? I did feel bad for the actor Darryl Hickman who was in the water so long that he caught pneumonia when they were filming that swimming scene. I don’t know if we’re supposed to identify with Ellen at all but at points I sympathized with her.

This film is essentially all desire and obsession and how it can destroy a person as well as everyone around them. This is a typical message drawn from Film Noirs but the fact that this is a colour Film Noir makes it special. The locations burst with colour and the settings are gorgeous, especially the lake, contrasting with the fact that the film is full of death and murder. Despite having some horrifying scenes this movie was Fox’s highest grossing picture of the 1940s.

I loved seeing Vincent Price in this because it’s nice to see him in roles when he was younger, before he moved into his horror movie phase. I laughed when the dog started barking after a knock on the door as I made a joke that evil was approaching and there he was! He was great, especially in the court room scene although it started to get a bit hyperbolic towards the end.

As for the moral of the story, it’s communication people. If Ellen had just talked to Richard about how she felt about their relationship, how she felt about her sister and how she wanted time alone with Richard because Danny kept turning up like a bad penny, this could have all been avoided. Possibly. Maybe. Probably Not At All.

Rating: If you're a fan of classic movies and like Film Noir, you should own this and not let it get too dusty from lack of attention.

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