Blu-ray Review: LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN Hypnotizes
Murder. Neglect. Jealousy. Oppression. Obsession. These themes collide in Leave Her to Heaven, the oddly sunny drama-turned-film noir directed by John M. Stahl from the book by Ben Ames Williams.
I say "oddly sunny" because it's a deceptive opening: the leads, Gene Tierney as society goddess Ellen and Cornel Wilde as author Richard, meet on a train. She's reading his novel and they met there, then become more acquainted after a mutual lawyer friend introduces them at the same station --- and final ranch destination --- to which they travel.
The film is a romance, until it's not.
Soon after meeting, Ellen decides to break off her engagement to the very sharp attorney Russell (an excellent Vincent Price, who returns in a small but meaningful role later on in the film) in favor of the author she's just met.
It's insane to propse marriage to someone you've known for two days, and that's the harbringer of things to come.
From there, Ellen and Richard marry, but they're not alone for one damn second, and formerly perpetual bachelor Richard seems to have zero problem with this. He prefers to fill his home with relatives and friends on both sides, exacberating his already-frazzled wife who simply wants time alone with him.
He also invites his crippled brother to live with them, and that's the beginning of the end, when the boy refuses to go to school. The genuis of Leave Her to Heaven is that you're rooting for Ellen, who appears to be deeply in love with Richard and only wants to be alone with him and please him.
And then, when she can't because of Richard's refusal to stop inviting people to lodge and live with the couple, and even going so far as to flirt excessively with Ellen's adopted sister-cousin, Ellen takes matters into her own hands in the worst ways possible. It's conflicting to write this, because murder is not okay, but Richard, in his marital neglect, is as much to blame for the final outcomes as Ellen is. It makes one want to flip a table.
Anyway, Gene Tierney (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and both Dragonwyck and Laura, also with Vincent Price) is utterly fantastic in Leave Her to Heaven, going from the ultimate housewife to cold murderess with only putting on a pair of dark sunglasses. She was a remarkable actress with a well-to-do upbringing, but ultimately troubled life; it's notable that she was nominated for an Oscar for this role --- which went to the formidable Joan Crawford that year for Mildred Pierce.
Sadly, there aren't very many special features or lots of bonus material.
- New 2K digital restoration by Twentieth Century Fox, the Academy Film Archive, and The Film Foundation, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- New interview with critic Imogen Sara Smith
- PLUS: An essay by novelist Megan Abbott
- New cover illustration by Flore Maquin
The cover illustration is drop-dead gorgeous, and would make an amazing, full-size film poster for any collector's wall. Hey Mondo...
The digital restoration is beautiful. I've seen another review that states it's a NOT a new restoration at all, but ported over from the last Blu-ray release, but I'd need to compare that out-of-print Blu-ray to confirm. In any case, the 2K restoration appears pristine to these eyes. The film sounds absolutely crisp and clear, as well.
I loved the feature wherein critic Imogen Sara Smith spoke about the film, but wanted more. I'd really have loved to have a socio-political look into how the film was received when it was released. A lead character who follows her own mind and wishes (yes, I know she's a sociopathic murderer, but nonetheless) in the stifling societal strains of the 1940s must have been awe-inspiring and jawdropping.
The themes must have been shocking to audiences when it made its way to theatres in 1945 --- a very independent woman who leaves one romance for another, who doesn't let children win swim races, who gets upset with constant family interference, who goes to the lengths of letting a teenager drown and who throws herself down the stairs in order to rid herself of a pregancy because she doesn't like what its doing to her body. This kind of discussion --- and the resulting revelation --- would have been absolute gold to me.
If you're on the fence about purchasing this disc for your home collection, there's good news --- the film happens to be on sale, as of the original date of this review. To read more on this release of Leave Her to Heaven, head over to Criterion's page for the film here.
Leave Her to Heaven
- John M. Stahl
- Jo Swerling (screenplay)
- Ben Ames Williams (novel)
- Gene Tierney
- Cornel Wilde
- Jeanne Crain
- Vincent Price