Film Review: Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

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

Review:

“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.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other movies starring Gene Tierney: Laura, Dragonwyck, Hudson’s Bay, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and Night and the City.

Film Review: Shockproof (1949)

Also known as: The Lovers (working title)
Release Date: January 19th, 1949
Directed by: Douglas Sirk
Written by: Samuel Fuller, Helen Deutsch
Music by: George Duning
Cast: Cornel Wilde, Patricia Knight

Columbia Pictures, 79 Minutes

Review:

Shockproof is a bit of a mixed and strange bag, as far as film noirs go. The first 90 percent of the picture is really damn good. However, the ending sort of pulls everything apart.

Douglas Sirk became quite the accomplished director over the course of his career. His greatness is also very apparent in this film and for the most part, Shockproof is a fine picture. Its negative aspects really had nothing to do with Sirk’s direction, style or the narrative he intended to put to celluloid.

The problem with the film is its ending.

The script was originally written with the male lead, a parole officer, getting gunned down in a shootout with police. An act of defiance against everything he once stood for because he felt forced to fight back against a system that was driving a wedge between himself and the woman he loved, his parolee.

The studio forced a rewrite of the last few scenes and this film gets a happy ending, where there are no consequences to the actions of the main characters. What this did was discount the entire point of the story, which saw a “by the book” officer of the law fall for an ex-con that wanted to better her life. Her ex-boyfriend, a gambler with mob ties, tries to keep her on the crooked path and eventually she shoots him to protect herself and her new love. This causes the parole officer to swerve off of the straight and narrow path and to become a criminal himself.

There should have been grave and serious consequences but what we get is some bullshit happy ending where everyone gets to live out there lives like nothing bad happened. Douglas Sirk was outraged by the changes and went on to disown the film and justifiably so.

Still, this picture is solid and Sirk should have been proud of the work he did up until the studio tied his hands and imposed their power over his art.

The film is well acted by both Cornel Wilde and Patricia Knight, who were actually married when this was made. I was especially impressed with Knight and am somewhat surprised that she didn’t have a big career after this. Then again, Hollywood politics were wonky back then and maybe her divorce from Wilde two years later had something to do with that.

Shockproof is certainly worth a view. It is really short too. But the positives far outweigh the negatives. Just keep in mind the ending that was originally intended, which would have possibly made this a noir classic.

Rating: 7/10