Day 16 of Noirvember: Ellen Berent in Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on the beautiful but deadly Ellen Berent in Leave Her to Heaven (1945).

Our first look at Ellen.


Socialite Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney) meets a novelist, Richard “Dick” Harland (Cornel Wilde), at Rancho Jacinto in Taos, New Mexico. Richard is there visiting friends, and Ellen is there, along with her sister, Ruth (Jeanne Crain) and her mother (Mary Philips), to scatter the ashes of her beloved father. After a whirlwind romance spearheaded by Ellen – and despite the fact that she is engaged to attorney Russell Quinton (Vincent Price) – Ellen and Dick are married. But it soon becomes clear that Ellen’s love is all-consuming, and has no room for anyone else – not her sister and mother, or the caretaker (Chill Wills) at Dick’s lodge in Maine, or Dick’s disabled brother, Danny (Darryl Hickman), or even Ellen’s unborn child. Nobody.


We get our first glimpse of Ellen on the train to New Mexico, where she’s reading the latest book by Richard Harland – who just happens to be seated across from her. Ellen’s holding the book in front of her face as she reads; like Harland, we’re trying to see what she looks like. After a few moments, Ellen lowers the book and closes her eyes for a nap. The book falls to the floor and Dick jumps to his feet to retrieve it, finding himself transfixed by Ellen’s intense gaze, which lasts for several seconds before she breathily offers, “Thank you.” Dick may not know it, but with that brief encounter, his goose is cooked.

Don’t let the smile fool ya.


She’s mesmerizing. She’s beautiful, strong-willed, determined. She’s also a psychopath. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t admire her psychopathy. In fact, I don’t admire her at all. But I do find her absolutely captivating. Whether she’s staring at Dick because he resembles her father, or beating the local children in a swimming race (because “Ellen always wins”), or coolly breaking her engagement to her fiance, she attracts your attention like a moth drawn to a flame. You never know what she’s liable to say or do next – and although you might be a little afraid to find out, you can hardly wait.


“’l’ll never let you go. Never, never, never.”


Gene Eliza Tierney was born on November 19, 1920, to an affluent family in Brooklyn, New York; after the family moved to Green Farms, Connecticut, Gene was educated at private schools in nearby Farmington and Lausanne, Switzerland. Although she was a movie fan while growing up, she never demonstrated an interest in becoming an actress – she thought she might want to go into public service, like social work. But when she was 17 and toured the Warner Bros. studio during a family vacation, all that changed. She was spotted by director Anatole Litvak, who arranged for her to have a screen test and she was offered a contact at $150 a week. However, her father, Howard, refused to let Gene sign the agreement. Instead, he made a bargain with her – Gene would make her society debut, as planned, and if she still wanted to pursue acting after three months, Howard would help her find work on the Broadway stage. After three months, Gene remained interested in an acting career, and her father accompanied her to New York every week to visit agents and producers. A short time later, Gene landed a small role in George Abbott’s production of Mrs. O’Brien Entertains. This was followed by parts in a few other plays, and Hollywood came calling again. Gene eventually signed with 20th Century Fox and made her big screen debut in The Return of Frank James (1940), starring Henry Fonda. The following year, Gene starred in her first film noir, The Shanghai Gesture (1941), and she would earn an Academy Award nomination for her performance in Leave Her to Heaven.

Join me in the shadows tomorrow for Day 17 of Noirvember!

~ by shadowsandsatin on November 16, 2021.

6 Responses to “Day 16 of Noirvember: Ellen Berent in Leave Her to Heaven (1945)”

  1. This was a wonderful study in borderline personality disorder. The backgrounds were gorgeous. She was the snake in Eden and her slightly wooden acting style (to me) paid off as beautifully as it did in “Laura”.

  2. You describe her so well. I’m always amazed the scene where she throws her self down the stairs got past the censors.

  3. Quite a role and quite the actress. The movie gods were kind.

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