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Leave Her to Heaven
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by Jay Seaver

"A couple hours to watch Gene Tierney makes up for a weak end."
4 stars

"Leave Her to Heaven" is a fairly enjoyable film from 1945, although not quite one of the all-time greats. It's interesting mainly in that it is able to straddle the lines between melodrama and film noir, although it's not always a comfortable overlap.

As the film opens, Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) is returning to his isolated home in Maine, a broken man from his time in prison. His friend Glen Robie (Ray Collins) tells the story to the local who asks, saying it started when Richard came to visit him at his ranch in New Mexico years before. On the train, he met Ellen Bernet (Gene Tierney), a beauty who initially doesn't recognize him as the author of the book she's reading from the dust jacket. Both, it turns out, are going to the same place, and it's not long before they are falling in love and getting married, although both Ellen's mother (Mary Philips) and cousin/adopted sister Ruth (Jeanne Crain) express their concerns. It's not just that Ellen was already engaged to Russell Quinton (Vincent Price), an ambitious district attorney back east, but that she can be tightly wound and possessive. Returning to Maine with Richard's ailing brother Danny (Darryl Hickman) and longtime friend Leick (Chill Wills) was not how Ellen had planned it.

For contemporary moviegoers, Ellen is going to have a neon sign with the words "Daddy Issues - Stay Away!" hanging over her head from the start, though I suspect that it might not have been quite as much of a cliché sixty-odd years ago. In a way, those somewhat snicker-worthy scenes make the job that Ms. Tierney does all the more impressive; despite the ample warning that we're given that there's something potentially not right about her, Tierney is able to seduce the audience somewhat, if not so completely as Ellen does Richard. We're able to see love instead of just pathology, convince ourselves that maybe Richard is just what she needs, and when the darker elements of her personality come out, she makes them shocking but also believable and perhaps inevitable.

It's a credit to director John M. Stahl and screenwriter Jo Swerling (working from a novel by Ben Ames Williams) that the twists in the story still come across as shocking, too. The story and motivations are straightforward, but everything is a logical next step from what we've seen before. Stahl does a very good job of implying more horror when it comes to that, and though the basic shape of what happens is clear both from the introduction and from what we see just as the final act kicks off, there's just enough held back to keep us curious. Stahl and Swerling do a nice job of keeping the story intimate, focused on Ellen and Richard, but rotating his nice supporting cast in and out as need be. Jeanne Crain and Darryl Hickman are especially good as Ellen's and Richard's respective siblings, although a little bit of Chill Wills can go a long way.

And, unfortunately, so can the material with Vincent Price. He shows up for one scene early, and it's one of those fun early roles where he played east coast aristocracy rather than madmen. Unfortunately, later he is given a lot of screen time in one of the dumber court scenes one will see. Ignoring that he's a Massachusetts prosecutor trying crimes that took place in Maine, the sequence is a momentum-killing drag, in which the accusations are spelled out in excruciating detail despite the audience likely having already figured everything out, the defense attorney being passive to the point of ineptitude for no good reason, and the actually decent acting by the principals can only do so much.

That last act problems keep it from being a true classic, as opposed to just a pretty good old movie. It's good-looking, too - it won an Oscar for color cinematography. Overall, a nifty little thriller, with some unusually creepy undertones for the period.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17412&reviewer=371
originally posted: 12/01/10 21:42:38
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 San Francisco International Film Festival For more in the 2008 San Francisco International Film Festival series, click here.

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  20-Dec-1945 (NR)
  DVD: 22-Feb-2005

  N/A (U)

  N/A (PG)

Directed by
  John M. Stahl

Written by
  Jo Swerling

  Gene Tierney
  Cornel Wilde
  Jeanne Crain
  Vincent Price
  Mary Philips
  Ray Collins
  Gene Lockhart

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