Sunday 21 June 2020

Movie Review: Leave Her To Heaven (1945)

A colourful drama with noir shadings, Leave Her To Heaven explores a seemingly perfect marriage undermined by ruinous jealousy.

Author Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) meets beautiful rich socialite Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney) on a train. She claims he closely resembles her recently deceased father, and break off her engagement with lawyer Russell Quinton (Vincent Price) to marry Richard.

Richard is devoted to the the wellbeing of his brother Danny (Darryl Hickman) who is slowly recovering from leg injuries. But Ellen is exceptionally possessive and starts to resent Danny's intrusion on her marriage. She is also jealous of her adopted sister Ruth (Jeanne Crain) who develops a deep friendship and perhaps a crush on Richard. As the newly married couple vacation with Danny at an idyllic lake, Ellen's emotional avarice takes a dark turn.

Sometimes designated the first film noir in colour, Leave Her To Heaven is more of an overdone mishmash. While Ellen Berent is certainly a memorable femme fatale, director John M. Stahl is less concerned with noir elements and more interested in showcasing his Technicolor crayons with sparkling scenes of lakefront living. The film more often resembles an overheated melodrama, Ellen admitting early to an excessive demand for devotion and an inability to share attention, creating a sturdy but predictable foundation for misdeeds to come.

The film adapts the novel by Ben Ames Williams with hints of underdeveloped storylines hampered by the cinematic constraints of the era. Ellen's relationship with her deceased father is described in a few different vague terms but never confronted for what it may have been. Less excusable is the rather tepid depiction of the bond between Richard and Ruth, a source of much of Ellen's wrath but otherwise poorly defined. And finally Ellen as a potential victim of a mental disorder is never posited as a narrative avenue. Her venom towards others (and herself) is portrayed as simple evil, denying the film texture.

The final act suddenly transforms into amateur hour at the courthouse. In a ridiculous display of theatrics, Vincent Price takes centre stage as lead prosecutor and the Jo Swerling script demonstrates a childish disdain for basic court proceedings.

The cast members are surprisingly stiff, with only Gene Tierney glowing within the colourful aesthetic. Cornel Wilde is mechanical and Jeanne Crain underutilized.

Instead of a deft touch, sinister nuance, and shades of grey, Leave Her To Heaven opts for brash and bold.

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