Leave Her To Heaven

Dir: John M. Stahl, 1945. Starring: Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain. Classics.
Leave Her To Heaven

What do you call a film noir without shadows? Is it still noir? Leave Her To Heaven is a total anomaly, a claustrophobic thriller that takes place in the wide open spaces of some of the most serene nature settings imaginable. It’s a murky psychodrama done in Technicolor. This isn’t the blazingly sharp Technicolor of Douglas Sirk, though, where every pink wall and cocktail shaker gleams with vivid detail. Leave Her To Heaven was made a good ten years before Technicolor advanced to what we think of as its signature bold and bright look. The Technicolor process was more primitive when Leave Her To Heaven was made, giving the film a weirdly unsettling brightness like the eerie orange glow before a heavy summer storm.

Cornel Wilde plays Richard Harland, an author who meets a beautiful and wealthy young woman named Ellen (played by Gene Tierney) on a train. Soon they are in love, get married, and Richard is smitten with his new bride. However, Ellen’s behavior becomes bizarre and her treatment of Richard more and more possessive and unreasonable. Much like her attachment to her dead father, her need to possess Richard totally has drastic and murderous consequences for the other people in their lives.

One of the film's stand-out scenes that is justly famous for its shocking cold-bloodedness takes place on a lake. Ellen stoically rows a boat while encouraging Richard’s younger, disabled brother Danny to swim farther out than he is able to, resulting in one of the most disturbing death scenes of any movie from this era. Ellen doesn’t stop there, though, and does some pretty horrific things that we might associate with a different, more psychologically sophisticated era of filmmaking like latter day Hitchcock.

There are some corny plot contrivances, of course - few movies from this era can escape them - but there is plenty to admire about Leave her To Heaven. Gene Tierney is both vulnerable and venomous in her role as the possessive wife of a man tragically slow to figure things out. The mix of melodramatic plot trappings, psychological disturbance, and the gorgeously haunting cinematography that renders nature an unsettlingly creepy and isolating place all contribute to the mysterious beauty of this very dark film.


Leave her To Heaven won an Oscar for Best Cinematography - Color. It was nominated for three additional Oscars: Best Acress (Gene Tierney), Best Art Direction - Interior, and Best Sound - Recording.


Posted by:
Jed Leland
Feb 25, 2011 12:13pm
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