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technicolor noir: leave her to heaven.

 
Even though summer is far from my favorite, I couldn't resist talking about the technicolor dreamscape that is Gene Tierney and Leave Her to Heaven, and as Martin Scorsese said best, "Gene Tierney is one of the most underrated actresses of the Golden Era." And I think this film proves that very statement.

DIRECTED BY JOHN M. STAHL | 1945 | 20TH CENTURY FOX | STARRING GENE TIERNEY, CORNEL WILDE, JEANNE CRAIN, VINCENT PRICE, AND MARY PHILIPS | CINEMATOGRAPHY BY LEON SHAMROY
The film was adapted from the nineteen-forty-four novel of the same name by Ben Ames Williams. The novel's title was taken from the ever appropriate, Shakespeare's Hamlet. In the scene that the Ghost urges Hamlet not to seek out his revenge against Queen Gertrude, suggesting to Hamlet that he, "leave her to heaven, and to those thorns that in her bosom lodge to prick and sting her."

In film noir fashion, the bleak and colorless world of cities and crowds and smoke-filled clubs, we find characteristics that repeat across the entire genre. The Bogart type is one, a protagonist who is tainted with conflicts, both internal and external, a hard past or a job to be done. This character is normally faced with a femme fatale, the Bacall of this example if you will. The glamorous, straight-talked antagonist. The kind that can light her own cigarette but it'll let you do it anyway. She is the one that sets the carpet out and tempts our Bogart. The femme fatale is a role that has been carried out by many actresses during this time period of classic film and even of modern films as well. The "if it's not broken, don't fix it" type of role, same with our conflicted hero. Even though the femme fatale was a common role in the forties, a decade that perfected it, Gene Tierney's performance in Leave Her to Heaven is a touch different, more complex on paper and potent on screen.

Tierney, if you've read the post on Laura, was no stranger to the film noir genre. I find her an unappreciated member of our now iconic ladies that adorned this genre through the forties. She appeared in Laura, The Shanghai Gesture in nineteen-forty-one, two films in nineteen-fifty, Where the Sidewalk Ends and Night and the City, and in nineteen-fifty-four, Black Widow. Though she is now remembered as the haunting Laura, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performances in this film, portraying the even more compelling Ellen Berent Harland - complete with soulless gazes and red lipstick.
"I WAS AT A COCKTAIL PARTY ONE EVENING IN ROMANOFF'S WHEN ZANUCK TOLD ME HE WAS THINKING OF GIVING ME THE PART OF ELLEN IN LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN. I HAD READ THE NOVEL BY BEN AMES WILLIAMS, COVETED THE PART, AND KNEW FOX HAD BOUGHT THE FILM RIGHTS. THE ROLE WAS A PLUM, THE KIND OF CHARACTER BETTE DAVIS MIGHT HAVE PLAYED, THAT OF A BITCHY WOMAN. I DON'T THINK I HAVE SUCH A NATURE, BUT FEW ACTRESSES CAN RESIST PLAYING BITCHY WOMEN. I QUICKLY TOLD CANUCK THAT HE WOULD NEVER REGRET IT IF HE GAVE ME THE PART. IN A FEW DAYS HE CALLED BACK AND SAID SIMPLY, "YOU'RE ELLEN." THE DIRECTOR WAS JOHN STAHL, WHO HAD STARTED OUT IN THE EARLY DAYS OF THE SILENT MOVIES. HE WAS AN ELDERLY GENTLEMAN BY THE TIME I MET HIM, BUT HE STILL HAD A REPUTATION FOR BRINGING OUT THE BEST IN AN ACTRESS. I SOON REALIZED WHY. HE SHOWED SUCH CONFIDENCE IN ME THAT I BLOSSOMED UNDER HIS APPROVAL." - GENE TIERNEY, FROM "SELF-PORTRAIT" 1979.
RICHARD AND ELLEN.
The film is the story of Richard Harland, a young novelist, whose book Ellen is reading on the train. Ellen who is a socialite falls in love with him on the bases that he resembles her recently passed father. Richard offers condolences and soon love. Almost at an instance, Richard and Ellen are in love and Richard is meeting her mother, sister, and finance? Russell Quinton, played by the brilliant Vincent Price, was engaged to Ellen at the time of the meeting of herself and Richard. Russell is an ambitious attorney, who begs his once love to avoid the idea of marrying Richard, because of the unwanted press that would follow into his upcoming political campaign. She leaves him in a heartbeat, as she latched onto Richard, using his affection in replace for the one she lost from her father, who she is obsessively linked to. She marries Richard, who is bewitched by Ellen's intense charm, manner, and beauty. 
After the couple is married it soon becomes shown Ellen's negative characteristics, almost obsessive natures. It becomes apparent that she is jealous of everything her new husband cares about or even spends the smallest amount of time focusing on. An example of this is Richard's younger and disabled brother, Danny, a darling boy who looks up greatly to his older and wiser brother. Richard cares for his brother and even arranges for him to come and live with the new couple at their lodge, against Ellen's wishes, as she thinks that his attention for his brother will take his attention away from her. As her flaws become clearer; she becomes more unwell, unwell at the thought that Richard is not, in all sense of the word, worshiping her.
Unfourtently for Richard and Danny, Richard makes it aware of just how much he cares for his sibling. This creates a game of sorts in Ellen's fragile mind. Danny is now, instead of a brother, an obstacle, on that Ellen is sure to leap over. Because of this instance, we are left with one of the most potent and cold scenes I have ever witnessed. Femme Fatales always stoop to the lowest of the low to get what they came for, but this scene, in particular, is jarring, where the true coldness of her character is unleashed to the black surface. It becomes apparent that Danny was not the single diversion for Richard's love, that anyone, man or woman or child, would soon be seen as a threat. 
As the romance between writer and monster (Richard's own word for her) turn into a haunting melodrama, the opposite of Ellen is introduced in the form of a beautiful sister, Ruth, who is Ellen's adopted sister and soon to be foil. Ruth, played by the talented Jeanne Crain, is wholesome and a textbook depiction of a kind and domestic woman. Richard, compared to Ellen, finds this a relief, which prompts conversations that Ellen isn't too fond of, between Richard and Ruth.
Ellen soon becomes pregnant and Richard is over the moon about it. When Ellen realizes that the child could be a roadblock with  Richard's attention and love for her, she tells her sister that she hates the "little beast" inside of her and causes a miscarriage after dolling herself up and throwing herself down a flight of stairs. During this time, Richard publishes a new book, with the dedication being to "the gal with the hoe" which is a reference to Ruth's interest in gardening and because she helps with the novel. When Ellen returns from the hospital she accuses her sister of being in love with her husband. Ruth rebukes Ellen for causing all the misery that is happening to the family. Richard hears this and starts to put the puzzle together and realizes that she was the cause of his kid brother's death and that of his unborn son's. When Ellen confesses the truth to him and she would do it all over again, he promptly leaves her. Behind her beauty is horrid wickedness that has been overflown with horrible thoughts: she decides to kill herself and sets up the scene, framing her sister. 
RUTH AND RICHARD.
Acting like the victim, Ellen wrote to her ex-fiance, now a county district attorney, explaining that Ruth had tried to kill her. Then we are in a court-room scene, where Richard is being questioned by Russell, prosecutor for Ruth's trail. Ellen's body had been cremated, a request asked of Richard by Ellen herself, which then, in turn, prevents an autopsy from being done. The request to be cremated was for two reasons, it wouldn't give away the reason for death, which would have been pointed at someone else besides Ruth and that would further frame Ruth for the death of her sister. Ruth is acquitted but Richard ends up in prison for two years, acting as an accessory to his kid brother's death, for not telling investigators of Ellen's actions. Two years pass and Ruth and Richard are reunited.

RICHARD AND ELLEN
Noir's black and white shadows are replaced with color and more color. Rich reds, dark greens, and milk-whites. With the first viewing, it was instant that I thought of an oil painting. I am a huge fan of black and white films, nothing can take away the feeling they produce, but this film needed to be in color, unlike some films that could have worked either way. The film without content is beautiful and warm; drenched in comforting hues and tones, all down to the detail that is Tierney's red lipstick. I am reminded of the film from time to time in the warmer months; an olive-green lake, a worn but charming log cabin, blue skies, and white swim caps. It's a film that transforms the idea of what a noir could be. The backdrop and colors and even the score at times hint at a simple film, a pleasure film, and not what it actually is, which in this instance, that stark contrast creates an even more eerie viewing.

The film is now remembered for a number of reasons, one because it's a great film, but also for its harsh and subversiveness in comparison to some of its peers at the time. Post-World War II saw a return to films that showcased domestic life in a comfortable and pleasant way, instead of Leave Her to Heaven's more darker subject and tone, one that goes against the happily ever after, while gripping with murder, insanity, obsession, and jealousy. Technicolor was used at the time to showcase more vibrant colors, used more to depict blissful settings and tone than anything else, with this film it is switched and used to show a murderous, dark mind with a bewitching exterior, something unique that encapsulated audiences, to the point, that it became Fox's highest-grossing picture of not only 1945 but of all the 1940s, grossing over $5,000,000.

Another reason is that the film had a character induce a miscarriage, the first of an on-screen abortion to be passed under the Production Code, this was the first to come right out and suggest it, instead of hinting around it like others of this time period, and I mean hinting to the point of almost being nonexistent. 

The complicated nature of Tierney's performance is considered to be her best. From, in simple terms, tricking the audience into understanding and accepting her. She is a wholesome girl on a train turned monster, an unpredictable sociopath. Tierney masters the three-dimensional characteristics of Ellen, in one of her greatest roles (HAVE YOU SEEN LAURA?). This and the captivating Technicolor that even one Shamnroy an Academy Award, that is known decades later for capturing and harnessing Tierney's beauty, creating, without it knowing, a major star of the decade and so on.

OUT OF ALL THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS, JEALOUSY IS THE MOST DEADLY.

TIERNEY AND CRAIN.

RATING: 4.5/5


R.