TCM Film Noir Pick for February
There’re a whole lot of first-rate Oscar-worthy films airing on TCM in February, but not a whole lot of noir. But that’s okay, because on February 20th, TCM is airing Leave Her to Heaven (1945), a rare color noir that you’re not going to want to miss. (Some say it isn’t noir at all, but I’m not one of those people, see). (That was to be read in a sneering Edward G. Robinson voice.) Sorry – I digress.
Gene Tierney stars as the beautiful and cultured Ellen Berent, whose all-consuming love for her husband (Cornel Wilde) threatens to destroy everyone who gets in her way.
I don’t want to give away any major plot points, so I’m going to steer clear from my actual favorite scene. (If you’ve seen the film, just think of Ellen, sunglasses, rowboat, and Danny, and you’ll know the one.) Instead, I’ll share another that’s fascinating to me – and which gives a perfect glimpse into Ellen’s persona. The scene takes place near the start of the picture and Ellen has recently met writer Richard Harland on a train. Turns out they’re both headed for the same town in New Mexico and are, coincidentally, both staying with the same family, the Robies. On the day after their meeting, as Richard sits typing beside a huge natural pool, Ellen surprises him by surfacing from beneath the water. “I do hope I’ve interrupted you in your work,” she tells him frankly. Throughout their conversation, she flirts with her body, first swimming toward him, then pushing away in a sultry back float. At one point, she makes sure that he sees her left hand, which is now missing the engagement ring she’d been sporting the night before. “I took it off an hour ago,” she explains. “Forever.” When Ellen is joined by the two Robie children, Lin and Tess, Ellen challenges them to a race across the pool, and they take off, with Richard watching and cheering on the young boy. “Lin’s going to win,” Richard remarks. A second later he’s contradicted by the children’s father, Glen (Ray Collins). “No – Ellen,” Glen says with certainty. “Ellen always wins.” Sure enough, a few seconds later, Ellen emerges first from the water and for just a moment, stands rather triumphantly over the children as she crows, “The winnah!”
“I have no intention of hiring a cook. Or a housekeeper, or any other servants. Ever. I don’t want anybody else but me to do anything for you. I want to keep your house, and wash your clothes, and cook your food. And besides, I don’t want anyone else in the house but us. Ever.” Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney)
“I don’t envy you, Ellen. All my life I’ve tried to love you, done everything to please you. All of us have – Mother, Father, and now Richard. And what have you done? With your love, you wrecked Mother’s life. With your love, you pressed Father to death. With your love, you’ve made a shadow of Richard. No, Ellen, I don’t envy you. I’m sorry for you. You’re the most pitiful creature I’ve ever known.” Ruth Berent (Jeanne Crain)
The screenplay for Leave Her to Heaven was written by Jo Swerling (who, up until I did the research for this post, I thought was a woman!) (Boing.). Swerling contributed to the screenplay for Gone With the Wind (1939) and also wrote the screenplays for such classics as Blood and Sand (1941), Pride of the Yankees (1942) (for which he received an Oscar nomination), and Lifeboat (1944).
In Leave Her to Heaven, Vincent Price plays the man to whom Ellen was engaged before she dumped him in favor of Richard. The previous year, in Laura (1944), Price played another man who was engaged, for a time, to Gene Tierney’s character.
The film’s director, John Stahl, helmed the original versions of three pictures with well-known remakes: Back Street (1932) with Irene Dunne and John Boles, Imitation of Life (1934) with Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers, and Magnificent Obsession (1935) with Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor.
The music for the film reminded me, in places, of the score for All About Eve (1950). When I looked it up, I saw that the same man, Alfred Newman, composed the music for both pictures. (Score!)
Gene Tierney was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for her performance – the only one of her career. Also nominated that year were Ingrid Bergman (The Bells of St. Marys), Greer Garson (The Valley of Decision), Jennifer Jones (Love Letters), and Joan Crawford, who won for Mildred Pierce.
The picture did win a well-deserved Oscar for best color cinematography, which went to Leon Shamroy. During Shamroy’s five-decade-long career, he earned 18 Oscar nominations and four wins. (The film was also nominated for Best Sound Recording and Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Color.)
The movie was based on a novel by the same name by Ben Ames Williams. The title was taken from a passage in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive against thy mother aught. Leave her to heaven, and to those thorns that in her bosom lodge to prick and sting her.”
The extras for the DVD of Leave Her to Heaven include the Hollywood premiere for the picture. (I love seeing these.) Attendees included Roddy McDowall and Jane Powell (both looking SO adorable), Victor Mature and June Haver, and Tyrone Power and his wife, Annabella. The extras also include commentary by co-star Darryl Hickman, who portrayed Cornel Wilde’s disabled brother, Danny – and who had nothing much good to say about anybody.
The role of Danny’s doctor was played by Reed Hadley, who was famed for his roles off screen, doing the narration for such films as Guadalcanal Diary (1943), The House on 92nd Street (1945), T-Men (1947), Canon City (1948), He Walked By Night (1948), and The Killer That Stalked New York (1950).
If you’ve never seen Leave Her to Heaven, you’re in for a treat. Mark your calendar, set your DVR.
You only owe it to yourself.