Leave Her to Heaven
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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).
by Frank Miller