TCM Pick for September: Film Noir
This month’s TCM noir pick was a no-brainer – The Strange Love of Martha Ivers stars the fabulous Barbara Stanwyck, backed up by the mega-talented Van Heflin, the underrated Lizabeth Scott, and the always entertaining Kirk Douglas. The movie has lots more to recommend it – a fabulous Miklos Rozsa score, great lines, lovely use of light and shadow – but the cast alone is more than enough to warrant a look-see. Martha Ivers airs in the early morning hours of September 29th – don’t you dare miss it! (Martha wouldn’t like it. And you don’t want to make Martha mad.)
When he literally crashes into his old hometown, an itinerant gambler (Heflin) becomes reacquainted with his childhood friends, Martha Ivers (Stanwyck) and Walter O’Neil (Douglas), who are now married and harboring a fearsome secret. The gambler – Sam Masterson (Heflin) – also becomes more than just friends with a wayward girl on probation, Toni Marachek (Scott), and finds himself in a tangled web of lies, revenge, and murder.
I love the sole encounter between Toni and Martha Ivers. Toni is in Sam’s hotel room, playfully showing off the new outfit she bought for $8.95, when the door opens and in walks Martha, all wealth and class and whatnot. After informing the gathered bunch that she has a right to walk into rooms uninvited because, basically, she owns the joint, she proceeds to talk about Toni like she’s not even there: “So this is the girl? The sun-suit looks very well on her, Sam. She’s got just the figure for it. She’s a very pretty girl.” And when Toni attempts a comeback, snarking that she “gives another show at 8 o’clock,” Martha shuts her down: “In your room, or here?” (Burn!)
“’You’re out of your mind. Me, too.” Walter O’Neil (Kirk Douglas)
The film was based on a short story by John Patrick called “Love Lies Bleeding”, which was nominated for an Oscar for best original story Patrick lost to Clemence Dane for Vacation From Marriage.) Patrick also wrote the story for the Glenn Ford noir, Framed, as well as the screenplays for Teahouse of the August Moon, Love is a Many Splendored Thing, and Three Coins in the Fountain.
Watch for this goof when Sam first meets Toni Marachek. She’s sitting on the front steps of an apartment house, smoking a cigarette. As Sam draws closer, she tosses the cigarette away, but a second later, it’s back in her hand. Then, in the blink of an eye, it’s gone again and she’s asking Sam for one. (Huh?)
The screenplay was written by Robert Rossen, who was, for a while, the father-in-law of actor Hal Holbrook. His daughter, Carol Eve, was married to Holbrook from 1966 to 1983.
The director of the picture, Lewis Milestone, also helmed All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), The Front Page (1931), and Of Mice and Men (1939).
Kirk Douglas made his film debut in this feature. (And he was GREAT.)
Between them, the four stars of this picture appeared in no fewer than 20 films noirs, including such classics as Sorry, Wrong Number, Dead Reckoning, Johnny Eager, Ace in the Hole, and Double Indemnity.
The performances in this film are absolutely riveting. If you’ve never seen it, you simply must. (And if you have, isn’t it about time you saw it again?)
You only owe it to yourself. (Yes.)