Release Date: December 25th, 1945 (New York City & Chicago)
Directed by: John M. Stahl
Written by: Jo Swerling
Based on: Leave Her to Heaven by Ben Ames Williams
Music by: Alfred Newman
Cast: Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain, Vincent Price
Twentieth Century Fox, 110 Minutes
“When I looked at you, exotic words drifted across the mirror of my mind like clouds across the summer sky.” – Richard Harland
Man, this movie started out fairly sweet and even though I knew it was a noir picture, I wasn’t quite expecting for the dark side of the story to be so, well… dark.
I guess it’s hard to think of Gene Tierney capable of anything evil, as she’s pretty much lovable in everything that I’ve seen. But I guess that’s the point, as her character goes from sweet beauty to psychotic bitch. And frankly, it’s unsettling and heartbreaking to watch it all unfold, especially in the modern era where we understand mental illness more than we did in the 1940s.
This great performance by Tierney led to her getting an Academy Award nomination. Granted, she lost to Joan Crawford’s performance in Mildred Pierce but that is fantastic company to keep.
It isn’t just Tierney that carries this picture, however, as Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain and Vincent Price give some breathtaking performances as well.
Side note: Vincent Price and Gene Tierney actually worked together four times and played off of each other so well, that I wish they had more films together. Other than this picture, they were together in 1941’s Hudson’s Bay, 1944’s Laura and 1946’s Dragonwyck, which is a pretty underrated gem.
What’s really unique about this motion picture is that it is considered film-noir but it is presented in color. That was pretty unusual at the time and it’s kind of strange seeing a noir styled film outside of the typical high contrast, black and white, chiaroscuro presentation. At first, I thought that the version I was watching might be one of those bastardized Ted Turner prints but it wasn’t. In a way, it’s interesting in color and it makes the film standout amongst its contemporaries but I feel like it actually shines too much light and life into the actual darkness of the movie.
However, I understand that the term “film-noir” didn’t even exist at the time and this was probably just Twentieth Century Fox trying to make a beautiful movie with a beautiful starlet. And, honestly, despite my preference for black and white in the noir style, I can’t deny that this is actually a very beautiful film. Especially in the first half, where it shows Cornel Wilde meeting the love of his life and living a sort of fantastical happy ending lifestyle.
The plot sees Wilde meet Tierney, they fall in love, they live in a fairly opulent and attractive world and everything seems perfect. After they are married, however, Tierney’s jealousy and psychotic nature comes out. She lets Wilde’s handicapped brother drown when she could have saved him, she becomes jealous of the baby she’s carrying and throws herself down the stairs and the she eventually commits suicide but not before framing her sister for poisoning her.
Leave Her to Heaven goes into damn dark territory and while that’s typical of noir, this is a different, more intimate type of darkness that carries more emotional weight than a heist gone bad or a femme fatale stabbing the male lead in the back.
In the end, this was a compelling motion picture that grabs you almost immediately and doesn’t let go until the final frame. It features one of Tierney’s top performances and also shows how good Vincent Price could be with straight drama.
Pairs well with: other movies starring Gene Tierney: Laura, Dragonwyck, Hudson’s Bay, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and Night and the City.