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Leave Her to Heaven(1946)

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teaser Leave Her to Heaven (1946)

SYNOPSIS

Love and obsession lead to murder in this sun-drenched film noir, now considered one of Hollywood's most biting psychological dramas. Still mourning her beloved father's death, Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney) wins writer Richard Harland's (Cornel Wilde) sympathy and then his love. But instead of living happily ever after once they're married, her pathological jealousy leads her to fire the servants, kill his brother (Darryl Hickman) and finally abort her unborn child for fear it will steal some of her husband's love. Even in death, she tries to keep Richard in her clutches by making her suicide look like murder.CAST AND CREW

Director: John M. Stahl
Producer: William A Bacher
Screenplay: Jo Swerling
Based on the novel by Ben Ames Williams
Cinematography: Leon Shamroy
Editing: James B. Clark
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, Maurice Ransford
Music: Alfred Newman
Cast: Gene Tierney (Ellen Berent), Cornel Wilde (Richard Harland), Jeanne Crain (Ruth Berent), Vincent Price (Russell Quinton), Mary Philips (Mrs. Berent), Ray Collins (Glen Robie), Gene Lockhart (Dr. Saunders), Reed Hadley (Dr. Mason), Darryl Hickman (Danny Harland), Chill Wills (Leick Thorne), Grant Mitchell (Carlson), Mae Marsh (Fisherwoman)
C-110 m.

Why LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN is Essential

Although it received only mixed reviews when first released, contemporary critics now view Leave Her to Heaven as one of the most subversive movies from Hollywood's golden age. What starts as a romance turns into a murderous melodrama and the beautiful female star, Gene Tierney, reveals violent undercurrents. The dream of domesticity she shares with leading man Cornel Wilde, a dream shared by many men and women as World War II came to an end, becomes a nightmare as her neurotic possessiveness leads her to kill her husband's brother and induce a miscarriage of her unborn baby. In addition, John Stahl's direction and Tierney's performance have aged extremely well and are now considered among the best work in Hollywood history.

Leave Her to Heaven was 20th Century-Fox's top-grossing film of the '40s, a testament to a high level of artistry achieved by all involved and a reflection of changing audience tastes after the war's end.

Leon Shamroy's heavily saturated Technicolor photography, which seems to represent the murderous passions blazing beneath the leading lady's icy exterior, is considered one of the most innovate uses of the process in its day and has been a heavy influence on the use of color in the films of Douglas Sirk, Martin Scorsese and Todd Haynes.

Tierney's Ellen Berent is often hailed as her best performance. As her first film in Technicolor it also was the first to capture the beauty that would make her a major Hollywood star in the '40s.

Tierney's induced miscarriage in the movie marks the first on-screen abortion passed under the Production Code since stricter Code enforcement was established in 1934. Bette Davis' character in Beyond the Forest (1949) would do the same to her unborn child, but the screen handling would be more circumspect. Although later films would hint at abortion, the Production Code would not pass a film depicting abortion as a medical alternative to pregnancy until 1966, when it allowed Alfie to present a woman undergoing the procedure.

by Frank Miller

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teaser Leave Her to Heaven (1946)

On the strength of Leave Her to Heaven's box office performance, Darryl F. Zanuck cast Gene Tierney to star in The Razor's Edge (1946), with Tyrone Power. He even juggled Power's schedule to take advantage of her rise in popularity (Power's Captain from Castile [1947] had originally been scheduled as his first post-World War II film).

Tierney and Cornel Wilde re-created their roles for a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation in 1947. Lux did the story again in 1953, but with Joan Fontaine and John Dehner in the starring roles.

In 1978, the daytime drama The Edge of Night took a page out of Leave Her to Heaven's book with the tortured romance of Dr. Miles Cavanaugh (Joel Crothers) and Nicole Drake (Maeve McGuire). Like Richard and Ruth, they were tormented by his insanely jealous wife, Denise (Holland Taylor), who eventually convinced her father to kill her but planted evidence framing Miles for the murder.

Loni Anderson took a stab at villainy for a 1988 telemovie adaptation called Too Good to Be True. Patrick Duffy co-starred as her husband, with Glynnis O'Connor as her half-sister, Julie Harris as her mother and Neil Patrick Harris as Duffy's brother.

by Frank Miller

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teaser Leave Her to Heaven (1946)

Ben Ames Williams' Leave Her to Heaven was one of the ten best-selling books of 1944, selling over a million copies. Its scandalous story focused on a woman whose pathological jealousy leads her to kill her husband's physically challenged young brother. When she realizes he knows she let the boy drown, she tries to hold him by claiming to be pregnant. Yet when she actually becomes pregnant, she induces a miscarriage because she fears the child will steal his love. Finally, convinced she's losing him to her half-sister, Ruth, she commits suicide but makes it appear that he murdered her. Not only was the book considered a hot, if controversial property in Hollywood, but Ellen Berent was one of the plum acting roles for a leading lady.

At the urging of directors John Stahl and Otto Preminger and writer Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Darryl F. Zanuck picked up the film rights for 20th Century-Fox. Initial speculation suggested that Tallulah Bankhead, who was currently starring at the studio in Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat (1944), would be cast as Ellen Berent, with Ida Lupino borrowed from Warner Bros. to play Ruth. The role was offered to Rita Hayworth, but she turned it down. Later, the studio announced they had cast Thomas Mitchell as Wilde's lawyer, Glen Robie. That role would eventually go to Ray Collins.

Eventually, Zanuck decided to stick close to home in casting Ellen. Gene Tierney had signed with Fox in 1940 and had been steadily building a fan following. With Laura (1944), she had her biggest critical success to date. Leave Her to Heaven would not only showcase her in a meaty dramatic role, but give the studio a chance to exploit her beauty in Technicolor.

Stahl, who had helmed the studio's critically and financially successful The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), was assigned to direct, with Jo Swerling as screenwriter. The Russian-born Swerling had been one of the Broadway writers imported to Hollywood with the coming of sound. After working at various studios and contributing to the screenplay for Gone with the Wind (1939), he wrote two big hits for 20th Century-Fox; the remake of Blood and Sand (1941) and Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat. He would later co-author, with Abe Burrows, the book for the hit Broadway musical Guys and Dolls.

Zanuck pushed Stahl and Swerling to maintain the book's original focus on Ellen's possessiveness, something he thought had been lost in their first draft. He also argued for keeping the film's framing device, though at first he advocated starting the film with Richard and Ruth's arrest. Later they agreed to keep the novel's framing, which starts with Richard's release from prison. Stahl and Swerling had also created a melodramatic ending in which testimony from Ellen's mother exonerates Richard and Ruth. Again, they stuck to the original novel, in which Richard reveals Ellen's crimes and serves a short sentence as an accessory for not turning her in to the police.

The industry's Production Code Administration passed the screenplay in 1944 with a curious note about Ellen's induced miscarriage: "It will be absolutely essential to remove any flavor...that Ellen plans to murder the unborn child merely because she is misshapen. It should be definitely established that her reason for murdering the child is that she thinks that the newborn will replace her in her husband's affections. This is important in order to avoid any of the flavor that is normally connected with what could be termed 'abortion.'" They rejected a later rewrite for suggesting that Ellen and Richard had had intimate relations before their marriage.

by Frank Miller

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teaser Leave Her to Heaven (1946)

The California filming locations for Leave Her to Heaven included Bass Lake in the High Sierras, Monterey and Busch Gardens. They also shot Ellen's first meetings with Richard and her father's memorial in Flagstaff and Granite Dells, AZ. Although most of the lake scenes were shot in Busch Gardens, a unit did film some long shots and other backgrounds in Warm Springs, GA.

On a Saturday night, before finishing work for the week, John M. Stahl asked Gene Tierney to run through the drowning scene so cinematographer Leon Shamroy could see the staging and know how to light it. When she finished, Stahl was upset. "That was perfect," he said, "just the way it should be done. But, oh God, you will never get it again, never in a million years." He refused to believe Tierney's protestation that she had been rehearsing it exactly that way for weeks which left her a nervous wreck on her Sunday off. Monday morning they shot the scene, and she nailed it.

While shooting the drowning scene, Stahl was particularly tough on Darryl Hickman, who played Cornel Wilde's brother. He never even referred to him by name, calling him "boy" or "son" the entire time. Then word came back from Hollywood that studio head Darryl F. Zanuck thought the rushes were some of the best he had ever seen. Suddenly Hickman was one of Stahl's favorite actors, but he took to picking on Wilde and calling him "son" and "boy."

For the proposal scene, Wilde had trouble reacting convincingly to Tierney's advances, but each time they did a take the crew was so impressed, they whistled at her. Finally, Stahl said to Wilde, "They all seem to understand how the scene should be played. Why can't you?"

Leave Her to Heaven received four Oscar® nominations: Best Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Sound. Gene Tierney lost the Oscar® to Joan Crawford, who only pretended to be a murderer in Mildred Pierce (1945), but Leon Shamroy won for his Technicolor cinematography.

by Frank Miller

SOURCES:
Self-Portrait by Gene Tierney

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teaser Leave Her to Heaven (1946)

Awards & Honors

Leave Her to Heaven was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Actress (Tierney), Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Color, Best Sound, Recording and Best Cinematography (Leon Shamroy) which won the Oscar®.

THE CRITICS' CORNER - LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN

"Sumptuous Technicolor mounting and a highly exploitable story lend considerable importance to Leave Her to Heaven that it might not have had otherwise. Script based on Ben Ames Williams' bestseller has emotional power in the jealousy theme but it hasn't been as forcefully interpreted by the leads as it could have been in more histrionically capable hands."
- Variety

"Miss Tierney's petulant performance of this vixenish character is about as analytical as a piece of pin-up poster art. It is strictly one-dimensional, in the manner of a dot on an I. And Cornel Wilde is equally restricted as her curiously over-powered spouse. Jeanne Crain is colorless and wooden as the sister with whom he eventually finds bliss, and Vincent Price, Mary Philips and Darryl Hickman mechanically play other roles. Only the sets are intriguing, being elaborate and gadgety."
- Bosley Crowther, The New York Times

"No amount of strenuous plot trouble -- or even a long fall down a flight of steps -- seems to jar Gene Tierney's smooth deadpan. Walking or sleeping, in ecstasy or anger, joy or sorrow, her pretty, composed features seem to be asking the single gamin-and-spinach question: 'Huh?'"
- James Agee, Time

"Gothic Psychologizing melodrama, so preposterously full-blown and straight-faced that it's a juicy entertainment....There are scenes to cherish: Ellen impassively watching her brother-in-law drown; Ellen flinging herself down a flight of stairs to terminate an annoying pregnancy; Ellen going lickety-split on a charger, tossing her father's remains around the Technicolored New Mexico landscape...."
- Pauline Kael, 5,001 Nights at the Movies

"The success of Leave Her to Heaven belongs foremost to Gene Tierney. She was much more than Hollywood's most beautiful overbite. She had the preternatural ability to be alluring and icy at the same time; she could change emotional colors with magnificent yet subtle clarity. Wasn't she sweet and warm a moment ago? Maybe, but now she's ready to kill."
- Matthew Kennedy, Bright Lights Film Journal

"[Director John] Stahl, nearing the end of a career that stretched back to silent films, is best known today for directing a trio of classic 1930s 'women's pictures' such as Imitation of Life [1934] that were remade in color in the 1950s by Douglas Sirk. Stahl's use of space and the performances in Leave Her to Heaven, his only color film and Fox's most popular film of the 1940s, suggest he was at least the equal of the much-exalted Sirk as an artist of melodrama."
- Lou Lumenick, The New York Post

"[Technicolor] reached its astounding apogee in the lips of Gene Tierney, as red as a witch's apple. Each frame of her seems to be hand-tinted, as if she had ordered it. Her soft voice dies to a low whisper at the close of every phrase. 'I don't want anybody else to do anything for you,' she tells her husband. And with that, the great conservative promise of postwar domesticity -- the man, newly arrived or returned, waited upon by his woman -- tightens into a threat."
- Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

"A "film noir in color" (per Martin Scorsese) and a masterpiece of post-WWII American cinema (premiering just months after the August 14 armistice)...The onscreen melo boils, but director John M. Stahl's gaze remains spare and precise, very Japanese in its effects, like an acidic fusion of Ozu and Naruse. (A few of Tierney's gowns, stained with psychic-wound red streaks, even resemble kimonos.)"
- The TimeOut Film Guide

"The beautiful Tierney betrays her lovely countenance by playing one of the most evil creatures ever to slink across the screen....Tierney is fascinating as the ravishing killer, but Wilde and Crain are too tame by comparison. Price is his usual flamboyant self. Stahl's direction is well done, and the lensing by Shamroy in rich color is lush and eye-pleasing, the focus soft enough in the location shots in Arizona, Georgia, and Maine to qualify as film noir.
- TV Guide

by Frank Miller

back to top
teaser Leave Her to Heaven (1946)

SYNOPSIS: Love and obsession lead to murder in this 1946 sun-drenched film noir, now considered one of Hollywood's most biting psychological dramas. Still mourning her beloved father's death, Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney) wins writer Richard Harland's (Cornel Wilde) sympathy and then his love. But instead of living happily ever after once they're married, her pathological jealousy leads her to fire the servants, kill his brother (Darryl Hickman) and finally abort her unborn child for fear it will steal some of her husband's love. Even in death, she tries to keep Richard in her clutches by making her suicide look like murder.

Although it received only mixed reviews when first released, contemporary critics now view Leave Her to Heaven as one of the most subversive movies from Hollywood's golden age. What starts as a romance turns into a murderous melodrama and the beautiful female star, Gene Tierney, reveals violent undercurrents. The dream of domesticity she shares with leading man Cornel Wilde, a dream shared by many men and women as World War II came to an end, becomes a nightmare as her neurotic possessiveness leads her to kill her husband's brother and induce a miscarriage of her unborn baby. In addition, John Stahl's direction and Tierney's performance have aged extremely well and are now considered among the best work in Hollywood history.

Leave Her to Heaven was 20th Century-Fox's top-grossing film of the '40s, a testament to a high level of artistry achieved by all involved and a reflection of changing audience tastes after the war's end.

Leon Shamroy's heavily saturated Technicolor photography, which seems to represent the murderous passions blazing beneath the leading lady's icy exterior, is considered one of the most innovate uses of the process in its day and has been a heavy influence on the use of color in the films of Douglas Sirk, Martin Scorsese and Todd Haynes.

Tierney's Ellen Berent is often hailed as her best performance. As her first film in Technicolor it also was the first to capture the beauty that would make her a major Hollywood star in the '40s.

Tierney's induced miscarriage in the movie marks the first on-screen abortion passed under the Production Code since stricter Code enforcement was established in 1934. Bette Davis' character in Beyond the Forest (1949) would do the same to her unborn child, but the screen handling would be more circumspect. Although later films would hint at abortion, the Production Code would not pass a film depicting abortion as a medical alternative to pregnancy until 1966, when it allowed Alfie to present a woman undergoing the procedure.

The California filming locations for Leave Her to Heaven included Bass Lake in the High Sierras, Monterey and Busch Gardens. They also shot Ellen's first meetings with Richard and her father's memorial in Flagstaff and Granite Dells, AZ. Although most of the lake scenes were shot in Busch Gardens, a unit did film some long shots and other backgrounds in Warm Springs, GA.

Leave Her to Heaven received four Oscar® nominations: Best Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Sound. Gene Tierney lost the Oscar® to Joan Crawford, who only pretended to be a murderer in Mildred Pierce (1945), but Leon Shamroy won for his Technicolor cinematography.

Director: John M. Stahl
Producer: William A Bacher
Screenplay: Jo Swerling
Based on the novel by Ben Ames Williams
Cinematography: Leon Shamroy
Editing: James B. Clark
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler, Maurice Ransford
Music: Alfred Newman
Cast: Gene Tierney (Ellen Berent), Cornel Wilde (Richard Harland), Jeanne Crain (Ruth Berent), Vincent Price (Russell Quinton), Mary Philips (Mrs. Berent), Ray Collins (Glen Robie), Gene Lockhart (Dr. Saunders), Reed Hadley (Dr. Mason), Darryl Hickman (Danny Harland), Chill Wills (Leick Thorne), Grant Mitchell (Carlson), Mae Marsh (Fisherwoman).
C-110m.

by Frank Miller

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