Some thoughts on LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN 1945

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CRAZY WOMAN

The French title for LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN  may not be as good but it does tell you in two words that GENE TIERNEY’s ‘Ellen’ is far from normal.

Seeing the beautifully restored print at the Glasgow Film Festival was such a treat. As I looked around me at the almost full cinema, I wondered how many were seeing it for the first time.

Imagine my surprise then when , 20 minutes into the film, my feeling was that it was slow moving. It’s supposed to be noir but so far it’s more like a romantic melodrama.

 

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The first gorgeous set in the film. Ellen (Gene Tierney) meets Richard (Cornel Wilde) whom she thinks looks very like her recently deceased father. She is engaged to lawyer Vincent Price but immediately breaks it off with him.

The two characters who could have been better written – Ellen’s mother,Mrs. Berent (Mary Philips) and Ellen’s adopted sister Ruth (Jeanne Crain). Their history with Ellen is only hinted at.

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Mary Philips, Gene Tierney

 

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Jeanne Crain

They both seem to have reached an accommodation regarding Ellen which amounts to never arguing with her. Ruth obviously accepts that she will always be in the beautiful Ellen’s shadow.

Ellen’s  obsessively close relationship with her late father appears to have caused a rift in the family relationships.

Ruth tells Richard that she was adopted as a child partly because Mrs. Berent felt excluded by Ellen and her father.

 

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Ellen is a manipulator. All that matters is what she wants. Other people’s feelings don’t concern her.  Richard is mesmorised and she knows it.

Gene Tierney’s husband, Oleg Cassini, designed some beautiful costumes for her.

 

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Richard is a writer. Ellen resents even the time he spends at the typewriter.

 

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Richard’s brother Danny (Darryl Hickman) has polio.

 

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One of the best scenes in the film. Ellen tries to convince  Danny’s doctor to tell  Richard  that Danny needs to stay in the hospital. She says “After all he is a cripple.”

As she is talking and the doctor is growing more horrified at her lack of empathy, Richard walks in and without a breath, she immediately changes – “Darling, wonderful news.. .” She says she has persuaded the doctor to let them take Danny home with them.

The doctor (Reed Hadley) is so bemused, he says nothing.

Ellen knows how to act ‘normal’, but sometimes the mask slips and the real Ellen is revealed eg telling an astonished  Ruth  she doesn’t want the baby; or when Richard invites Ellen’s mother and Ruth to their lodge. Ellen simply cannot conceal the fact that she doesn’t want to see them. They are an intrusion in her private world with Richard.

A very weak comment from Mrs. Berent about her daughter, “There’s nothing wrong with Ellen. She just loves too much.”

I think we can agree Ellen is a lot more complex!

 

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Now this is noir . Black and white photo of that moment when Ellen’s profoundly disturbed mind sends her crashing down the stairs in order to abort the baby she is carrying.

She only had one thing on her mind. To make herself beautiful again to Richard  The thought that she might do herself serious injury or even kill herself doesn’t seem to occur to her.

 

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Poor Vincent Price. What a one-note performance. Not his fault. The character was poorly written.

The court scene near the end of the film could have been so much better. As one IMDB reviewer said, “Wilde opens his mouth and the case disappears.”

It is so highly improbable that Richard relating what Ellen had told him before she died ( admitting killing Danny and their unborn child) would be accepted without any evidence.

And Richard’s prison sentence didn’t make any sense.

 

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Ellen after the fall down the stairs. It’s as if it never happened. She had her figure back, she’s beautiful again. Her husband is mourning the loss of their child but she hasn’t the capacity to appreciate other people’s feelings, even her husband’s.

 

Of course the famous lake scene in Leave Her To Heaven is unforgettable. Ellen lets her young brother in law die simply because he is in the way. She cannot share Richard with anyone.

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I was impressed by Mary Philips who played Ellen’s mother. I hadnt realised that Mary Philips was married to Humphrey Bogart from 1928 to 1938. She was a stage actress who only made about 20 films.

I’d love  to have seen Dana Andrews reunited with Gene Tierney. Cornel Wilde just didn’t seem up to the part of the husband.

I felt a bit for Jeanne Crain. This really was a supporting role and her character of Ruth isn’t very interesting. She is just too good in contrast to the complicated Ellen.  You wanted either Ruth  or her mother to stand up to Ellen  for once,  but it never happened.

The restored film is a stunning technicolor feast for the eyes – beautiful sets, locations ,clothes.  The Alfred Newman score fits perfectly. Director John M. Stahl ( Back Street, Imitation of Life) has made a highly charged  melodrama. Film Noir? I don’t think so.

(Anyone want to argue?!)

The Tierney character is undoubtedly noir, but the rest of the film isn’t. It reminded me of the 1950s  Douglas Sirk films like Written on the Wind.

Of Gene Tierney’s top roles, I still prefer LAURA !

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I wish I could have asked some of the first time viewers at the screening what they thought of the film. We were so lucky to see such a beautiful print.

 

 

 

6 responses »

  1. Sounds like you had a good time overall. The whole film is about Tierney’s glacial beauty and the obsessive and homicidal urges it hides. She’s an angel without a conscience and that keeps it solidly in noir territory for me – the color is not relevant but the heightened melodrama is.While a femme fatale isn’t a prerequisite for a noir Tierney is an unquestionably fatal woman, someone whose damaged psychology casts shadows all around her. Hers is the love that kills and you don’t get much darker than that.

  2. Because the whole film is wrapped around Tierney, I think the writers forgot to have at least one other strong character in the story.
    Maybe it was the father’s death that unhinged Ellen.
    What’s not in doubt is that the character provides lots of issues for discussion.
    You could argue that Ellen’s psychotic personality would rule out killing herself.
    I’ll always think of film noir as black and white!

    • Yes, the other characters are nowhere near as fleshed out, maybe it was felt that the film wouldn’t hold another one as complex as Tierney?
      On the B&W vs color issue, you’re by no means alone there. For me, film noir is such a nebulous form of filmmaking that I don’t feel any one ingredient is essential, it’s a blend of many elements and not all are necessary at all times. Certainly B&W allows the kind of chiaroscuro photography that characterizes so many of the classics but again, I’m OK with dispensing with that so long as there are other elements present (in sufficient concentrations) to compensate.

  3. Fair enough, Colin. I just feel black and white is essential to the look of Noir. Surely the original French critics who coined the phrase were solely talking about the post war B/W films .

    • Oh, I think almost certainly yes. As I said above, I reckon you are far from alone in your interpretation, and probably in a comfortable majority. I just tend towards a looser definition, but that’s my problem. 🙂

  4. There’s no doubt that what constitutes a noir is fluid as you suggest. So we all have our own definitions . It isn’t a genre after all but a phrase from a group of critics to describe a certain kind of nihilistic film they were seeing coming out of Hollywood.
    So, no problem! 😊

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