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Thursday, 1 December 2011

Psycho love (Leave her to heaven)

Gene Tierney was a ravishing woman. Her full lips, blue eyes and alabaster skin can wreak havoc on any sane man's mind. She is beautiful and extremely classy. So, it is a bit unnerving to see her projected as an obsessive lover in John M Stahl's Leave her to Heaven, a very popular film of 1945. In fact, till the time she hankers for the attention of her young and handsome husband and loses her cool seeing how he is more happy sharing his time with his handicapped brother and her own family, I can sympathise with her. But then she does what is not to be done. She does a calculated murder and falls from grace. Slowly she stoops to levels that are too low to be spoken of. And then the beauty in her starts disintegrating. But, Tierney does all this with flamboyance throughout.

After almost a month of happy films, I would have glossed over this one for a more frolicky movie, if not for the gripping story and taut developments. The performances, especially of the lead actress, are stupendous. In fact, there are times when you would want to side with her. She has her reasons for doing whatever she does. But after all, she is sick in the mind. And no matter what, this illness cannot be justified.
Novelist Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) meets socialite Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney) while on a train to a ranch town where he is going to be with his lawyer friend. He is struck by her beauty and elegance. Yes, she is quite an eyeful. Ellen too, remarks that he looks so much like her late father who she loved very much. It appears that Ellen and her mother (Mary Philips), with her foster sister Ruth (Jeanne Crain) is on their way to fulfill the last rites of Mr Berent. Ellen sticks to Richard from this day forth. Even though we see Ruth being affected by the charms of Richard, Ellen obviously does not let anywhere go near him. Yes, she is obsessive, and how!
Though engaged, Ellen flirts with Richard and eggs him on to do the same. Soon she breaks off her engagement with Russell Quinton (Vincent Price) and proposes marriage to Richard, who is initially shocked at the surprise but agrees thinking that this unpredictability is what makes this lady so enigmatic.
But while Ellen thinks Richard will be all hers now, she is in for several surprises. They both cancel their honeymoon to meet and stay close to Danny, Richard's disabled brother who he loves dearly. Initially Ellen is caring towards the teenager but soon he appears to be a thorn. Richard is always spending time with Danny. Moments of intimacy between the couple are broken because of Danny and Ellen does not like it at all. She urges Danny doctor to tell Richard that Danny cannot come with them to Back of the Moon, an idyllic location where Richard sits and writes his books, But the doctor refuses to be party to this wrong.
So the three go to Back of the Moon. At this point I can totally understand what is going on in Ellen's mind. True, her love is a bit claustrophobic, but the way she reacts when Danny comes calling is understood. Here is a newly married woman who craves some privacy with her husband, but she does not get that. It's comprehensible when she loses her cool with Danny from time to time and tries to shoo him off. what's remarkable that she still keeps her cool with Danny (who I thought was quite an irritant himself). She takes care of him like a responsible elder sister. She implores Richard to pay attention to her but he is always busy with his manuscripts and with Danny. Ellen's frustration is obvious. But takes her exasperation a bit too far when her mother and sister pay a visit. This is where she loses the grip and Richard senses her discomfiture.
But perhaps she was doing all this to get her husband's attention, who was more keen on chatting with his pretty sister-in-law than sharing some lovey-dovey moments with his beautiful wife. She dotes on him like all loving wives do. Cooks and cleans for him and takes of of every little thing in the house.
But Ellen turns nasty after this. In a moment of indiscretion she instigates the drowning of Danny only because she thinks that now she will have Richard all to herself. But murder bring love? No. Richard is a changed man when he loses his brother and Ellen too goes to extreme brinks to get him back.
Ellen's metamorphosis from an insecure lover to a cold-blooded murderer is complete when she kills her unborn child. With a motive that is as ghastly as the one she had while killing Danny, Ellen 'trips' over the staircase and helps in her own miscarriage. How cruel!
And even after all this when Richard distances himself from her, she does something that no one could think of...
The execution of the film is fantastic. The gradual progression of the film from a jolly romance to a disturbing drama is achieved with perfection. For even when we see Richard acquiescing to Ellen's marriage proposal, we figure an impending doom that looms large in the future. Surely, a woman who love is too cloying will not rest till she has this man only to herself. She is not ready to share him with anyone and that is not normal. 
I love so many scenes in the film. Like the one where Ellen wins the swimming challenge against two young boys and Richard's lawyer friend remarks, "Ellen always wins." Yes, she is a winner who does not know how to embrace defeat. Another scene is fabulous. Ellen hates herself when she becomes pregnant. For her, the disfiguring of her body is akin to Richard not loving her anymore because he is not attracted to her beauty. Distorted mentality! The scene that follows the one announcing her miscarriage shows her enjoy a swim in the sea. She is back to her shapely self and is confident again. She feels no remorse or sadness for her lost child. She is busy gallivanting in the sun and with a cool casual air going about her daily life. Stark but awesomely depicted.

The director has chosen some awesome locations for the filming of this 1945 noir drama. I love the clothes the women wear and the elegance with which they carry themselves. While Wilde is lukewarm in his performance (I'm quite angry with him for not being passionate enough with his wife!), I liked Crain for her earnest and sincere character. She is a pretty girl and she does play her part very well.
But the one to watch out for is Gene Tierney, all in her manipulative and jealous persona. She is very attractive, too and one can imagine why Richard is smitten by her instantly. But there is a certain calculative light in her eyes that is so not warm. Her air is cold and even when she utters love words to woo her man, you can sense that something is amiss. Is it her sense of insecurity that bogs down her love professions or is it her obsession that makes her a villain? Watch to comprehend the charms of this enigmatic woman...


  1. This sounds... creepy. But, at the same time, intriguing! I've never come across this film, never even heard of it. But I've seen Gene Tierney in other films, and I think she's a great actress, so I might just watch it for her.

  2. I saw this movie a long time ago on American Classics. Had completely forgotten the name of the film until I read your review. It was thoroughly awful - no, not the film, but the subject matter. Gene Tierney did an awesome job, but somehow I don't think anyone would excoriate me for preferring Ruth. :)

  3. Haven't watched this ... and don't think I will. But there is a Bengali version, 'Mon Niye' starring Uttam Kumar and Supriya Devi (in a double role).

  4. @Dustedoff: Yes watch it for her. She is awesome here. creepy but awesome!!

  5. @Anu: Yes Ruth is very pretty and compassionate. A stark contrast to Ellen.

  6. @Roshmi: No I think you can try this. Simply because of the execution and Gene Tierney !!

  7. I had never heard of it but it sounds like a very well made movie, though the story is creepy.

  8. @Sunheriyaadein: Yes a very well made film indeed. PLease watch it just for the execution.

  9. One of my favorite films. Gene Tierney is gorgeous easily putting to shame many of the so called beauties of our current time. And in this role she is absolutely a complete sociopath. What a contrast that someone so beautiful could be such an utterly cold blooded monster. She is "Rhoda Penmark" from the movie (and play) "The Bad Seed" all grown up. A great performance and a terrific (if chilling) movie.

  10. @Anonymous: Yes a very eerie yet convincing performance!!