Leave Her To Heaven
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Leave Her To Heaven is a stylish psychological thriller starring Gene Tierney as Ellen, the stunningly beautiful wife of handsome writer Richard Harland, played by Cornel Wilde. Ellen panics as her perfect marriage unravels and Harland's work and invalid brother demand more and more of his attention. Her husband becomes unnerved by her compulsive and jealous behavior. And when the people close to him are murdered, one by one, it is obvious that this dream marriage has become a full-fledged nightmare. Based on the best-selling novel by Ben Ames Williams. This film won the Oscar(r) for Best Cinematography (Color) and received three other Academy Award(r) nominations: Best Actress for Gene Tierney, Best Sound Recording, and Best Art Direction (Color)/Interior Decoration.
Leave Her to Heaven is one of the most unblinkingly perverse movies ever offered up as a prestige picture by a major studio in the golden age of Hollywood. Gene Tierney, whose lambent eyes, porcelain features, and sweep of healthy-American-girl hair customarily made her a 20th Century Fox icon of purity, scored an Oscar nomination playing a demonically obsessive daughter of privilege with her own monstrous notion of love. By the time she crosses eyebeams with popular novelist Cornel Wilde on a New Mexico-bound train, her jealous manipulations have driven her parents apart and her father to his grave. Well, no, not grave: Wilde soon gets to watch her gallop a glorious palomino across a red-rock horizon as she metronomically sows Dad's ashes to the winds. Mere screen moments later, she's jettisoned rising-politico fiancé Vincent Price and accepted a marriage proposal the besotted/bewildered Wilde hasn't quite made. Can the wrecking of his and several other lives be far behind? Not to mention a murder or two.
Fox gave Ben Ames Williams's bestselling novel (probably just the sort of book Wilde's character writes) the Class-A treatment. Alfred Newman's tympani-heavy music score signals both grandeur and pervasive psychosis, while spectacular, dust-jacket-worthy locations and Oscar-destined Technicolor cinematography by Leon Shamroy ensure our fixed gaze. Impeccably directed by the veteran John M. Stahl (who'd made the original Back Street, Imitation of Life, and Magnificent Obsession a decade earlier), the result is at once cuckoo and hieratic, and weirdly mesmerizing. Bet Luis Buñuel loved it. --Richard T. Jameson
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Unusual for it's day is the very slow progression of Gene Tierny's character - an element of the writing that holds up well over the years. While in her introduction she seems a bit odd, the moment passes, and she appears to be the "perfect 40s woman" in every respect. It is only through time that we see other aspects of her personality, and... isn't that how life is!
Vincent Price turns in a beautiful performance, except for the courtroom scene where the dialogue (not his fault) is WAY over the top. This is a melodrama, and the second half of the film reminds us of it.
The DVD commentary includes the child star that played the younger brother with polio. He's not very kind to Gene Tierney, but to sounds as if she wasn't very kind to him, either. Ironically, while he faults her acting, it seems that she may actually have been using a "method" technique; being detached and cold off screen as well as on. Certainly, she gives a very superficial performance, but it works; especially as played against Jeanne Crain as her sympathetic adopted sister.
More than anything, this movie is lovely to look at. The cinematography is lovely; the locations, and color all beautiful. Being a "woman's film" the costumes are fantastic. This film is a perfect study for women's clothing of the era; especially as the characters as so delineated in their manner of dress. This was obviously a big budget movie, and it was masterfully done in all these technical aspects.
If you are a film buff, it is worth many viewings.
(additional note June 2009) - I have found over the years that this is one of my three most watched DVDs. It is not so much the story itself as the overall production that makes this emminently re-watchable. It has the glorious color, varied beautiful locations, interesting architecture, and over time, one appreciates how rich in detail this production is. ex: Jeanne Crain's character is playing a Chopin Nocturne by memory in an early scene. Not only does it set a mood, it tells us about the character -that she is intelligent, talented, and the ability to focus and work - we can see that she is beautiful. But this is such a subtle detail... the film is filled with this kind of detail, a "thriller/courtroom" elelment, and has all the surface beauty of a regular melodrama. It's embarassing to admit I probably turn this DVD on at least once a month.
OK where to begin. This is an excellent, entertaining rip snorting soap opera, but it is once again not a classic noir. I don't know why every movie made between 1940 and 1955 with a dour world view is classified as a "noir". That aside, this movie is prime entertainment. I recommend it.
Tierney is great. Ironic that she did need mental help in real life, if there is such a thing.