Director: John M. Stahl
See it on YouTube here.
Writer Richard Harland (Wilde) approaches a bridge by boat, and is greeted by people who seem very uncomfortable. Harland looks around, a woman says "That poor man...". Harland steps into another boat and quietly rows on. A man speaks up, telling a fellow beside him that it was through him that Harland met that disastrous woman. The backstory unveils.
Harland meets his wife-to-be, Ellen Berent (Tierney), on a train. She notices a remarkable resemblance to her late father in Harland, something that at first seems pleasant. Everything is honky-dory at first (besides some dubious remarks about Ellen from her family, and the fact that she a little too early after meeting Harland broke her engagement to a previous fiancé, Russell Quinton, played by Vincent Price). Ellen meets Harland's beloved, crippled little brother Danny (Darryl Hickman), and encourages him in his illness.
Harland, Ellen and Danny move to a country place called Back of the Moon to live there together, but Ellen soon realizes that she hardly gets any time to spend alone with her husband. Harland writes a new book and Danny is always around. On top of that, her cousin and adopted sister Ruth (Craine). seems to have an affair with Harland. Or is it just in her imagination?
Soon weird things start to happen, making a cute countryside lovestory turn into a thriller.
To quote Raquelle at Out of the Past, Gene Tierney is THE SPAWN OF SATAN in Leave Her to Heaven. It was this film that made me realize that Tierney is not only beautiful, but also a darn good actress. (She was nominated to an Oscar for an Actress in a Leading Role, but lost to Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce.)
I never understand whether Ellen is really evil, just "loves too much" (wants all the candy for herself) or is in fact mentally ill. Is she lying about not remembering falling down the stairs, or did she actually have a black-out à la Laird Cregar in Hangover Square [post]?
After only having seen Tierney in Laura (1944) and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), I was quite shocked and amazed by her character in this film. My respect for her acting skills grew a noticable amount.
Gene Tierney - beautiful and competent.
There are a lot of discussions going on about which genre this movie belongs to. To me, the answer isn't very interesting (as I've said before, I don't like to categorize art), but the discussion is. IMDb tried to put the film in the three main categories Drama, Film-Noir and Thriller - quite a broad spectrum! But it's not entirely a drama, nor entirely a thriller.
I'm tempted to call it a Technicolor-Noir. We have an amazing Academy Award winning cinematography, playing with shadows, lighting and camera angles. (See the Vincent Price scene I picked out, below - a great example.) But the sparkling colors make the noir-feeling go down a bit. But we do also have a cool femme fatale that we can't be sure if we can trust, on the other hand.
But to me, the most unquestionable noir resemblance is the beginning - like Sunset Blvd. (1950) starts off by showing the male lead drowned in a pool, the first thing we meet here is the shattered remains of Richard Harland, destroyed by an evil woman.
Scene: Vincent Price makes his entrance. I love the dialogue in this scene. "What in the world brought you here?" "An airplane."
Notice the low angle and the lighting on Price's face when he enters the room, simply brilliant.
One last thing I'd like to discuss is, again, the title. I discussed this in my I Wake Up Screaming post [here] - I want to know why the movie title was chosen. As far as I can recall, "Leave her to heaven" wasn't a quote from the film itself.
Imdb's trivia section gave me a hint:
The title is taken from a line from William Shakespeare's "Hamlet".
Okay - but why? No direct Hamlet connection wasn't obvious to me at first glance.
Since I didn't want to be as predictable as to do a Google search, I find myself tossing around in my bed wondering about the title. Since I couldn't sleep anyway, I got up to search my bookshelf for a hude book called "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare".
In Act I, Scene V of The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (1599-1601), I find Hamlet just having spoken to the ghost of his dead father. His father, King of Denmark, had told him that his death was no accident, but that it was his brother who poisoned him in his sleep to take over the throne of Denmark and wed the Queen, Hamlet's mother! Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Hamlet has to avenge his father's death.
As early as in Scene II, Hamlet spoke to himself about his mother, uttering my favourite words of Shakespeare; Frailty, thy name is woman! And the "leave her to heaven" quote is also about his mother, who after being a widow for only a month gets married to her dead husband's brother.
Spoken by the ghost of Hamlet's father, the dead king:
Let not the royal bed of Denmark beA couch for luxury and damned incest.But, howsoever thou pursuest this act,Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contriveAgaint thy mother aught ; leave her to heaven,And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge,To prick and sting her.
And there we have it - the reference! Hamlet's mother is a treacherous woman, just as Ellen. As far as I, to whom Swedish is my first language, can understand 16th century English, I guess that both Hamlet's mother and Ellen will pay for ther crimes when their time comes. Leave her to heaven to be judged, is my interpretation. Anyone having another opinion?
(Note: I don't usually read Shakespeare when I can't sleep. I find keeping "who is who" in Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov much more effective.)