Thursday, June 11, 2020

“Leave Her to Heaven”: a film noir in glorious Technicolor

Leave Her to Heaven (1945) is a Technicolor film noir directed by John Stahl, produced by William A. Bacher and Darryl F. Zanuck, and starring Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, and Jeanne Crain. It is based on the best-selling novel by Ben Ames Williams published in 1944. Jo Swerling adapted the screenplay.
Cornel Wilde and Gene Tierney

Tierney plays Ellen Berent, a rich socialite who meets novelist Richard Harland (Wilde) on the train to New Mexico. She thinks Richard resembles her dead father and that mesmerizes Ellen. Ellen’s relationship with her father seems to have been a strange and obsessive one. Ellen lives with her mother (Mary Phillips) and adopted sister Ruth (Crain). Ruth is really Ellen’s cousin and someone that Ellen sees as a rival rather than a beloved family member.

Ellen’s infatuation with Richard quickly turns into marriage. Richard introduces Ellen to his brother Danny who is crippled due to the effects of polio. In short order, they all move to Richard’s lodge in northern Maine called Back of the Moon. At first, all seems idyllic, but then Ellen begins to resent anyone occupying Richard’s time including Danny and her own family. Things begin to really take a downward turn when Ellen accuses Richard of enjoying Ruth’s company more than her own, implying there is something improper going on.

Will Ellen get control of her jealousy or will it destroy her and all the lives she’s touched?

John M. Stahl (1886 – 1950) was an American film director and producer who began his career in silent movies in 1913. In 1919 he signed with the film company Louis B. Mayer Pictures, which would eventually become Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Stahl made the transition to sound and directed Imitation of Life (1934) starring Claudette Colbert which was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. In 1935, he directed Magnificent Obsession starring Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor. Other films of note include Back Street (1932) starring Dunne and John Boles, and The Keys of the Kingdom (1944) starring Gregory Peck. Many believe that director Douglas Sirk was influenced by Stahl’s melodramatic style. Sirk remade both Magificent Obsession (1954) and Imitation of Life (1959).

Darryl F. Zanuck (1902 – 1979) was an American film producer and studio executive. Zanuck began his career as a writer for silent films. Zanuck worked successfully at Warner Bros. but left the studio to become a partner in 20th Century Pictures. Zanuck and his business partner bought out Fox Studios in 1935 to form Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation. He won three Academy Awards as a producer for How Green Was My Valley (1940), Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), and All About Eve (1950).

Jo Swerling (1897 – 1964) was an American screenwriter who collaborated with Frank Capra on such films as Ladies of Leisure (1930) and Platinum Blonde (1931). Other screenplays by Swerling include Double Wedding (1937), The Westerner (1940), Blood and Sand (1941), and The Pride of the Yankees (1942) for which he was-Oscar nominated. Swerling was one of the dozens of writers who worked on the script (not credited) for Gone with the Wind (1939).

Leon Shamroy (1901 – 1974) was an American cinematographer under contract to 20th Century-Fox studio. He was famous for his Technicolor work, which is exemplified in Leave Her to Heaven (1945) for which he won the Academy Award. He won four Academy Awards during his long career and shares the record for most Oscar nominations with Charles Lang (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir). Other films Shamroy shot include The Robe (1953), Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), The King and I (1956), South Pacific (1958), and The Planet of the Apes (1968).

Gene Tierney (1920 – 1991) was an American actress. Tierney got her start on the stage where she played the ingenue lead in The Male Animal. Tierney made her movie debut in 1940 in The Return of Frank James starring Henry Fonda. She worked steadily in the early 1940s but established herself as a top box office star with Laura (1944). She starred in Leave Her to Heaven the next year which was the biggest hit of the year and Fox’s biggest moneymaking success until The Robe (1953). Other successes for Tierney include Dragonwyck (1946), The Razor’s Edge (1946), and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947).

Cornel Wilde (1912 – 1989) was a Hungarian-born American actor and film director. Wilde had small roles in films like High Sierra (1941) until he was signed by 20th Century Fox. He was loaned out to Columbia to play the role of Frederic Chopin in A Song to Remember (1945) for which he earned an Academy Award for Best Actor. At Fox, he was a popular leading man. For that studio, he starred in Centennial Summer (1946), Forever Amber (1947), and Road House (1948). With the decline of his acting career, Wilde produced and directed several independent productions including Beach Red (1967) and No Blade of Grass (1970).

Jeanne Crain (1925 – 2003) was an American actress who began her movie career with a bit part in the film The Gang’s All Here (1943). Now under contract to Fox, Crain was featured in Home in Indiana (1944) which was filmed in Technicolor and was a big hit. Crain was given top-billing in her next feature In the Meantime Darling (1944). She made another film that same year, Winged Victory. In 1945 she co-starred with Dana Andrews in State Fair. She was now one of Fox’s top female stars. Margie (1946) was another popular success. She had another critical and box office success with Apartment for Peggy (1948). Her peak came in 1949 with A Letter to Three Wives and Pinky for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress.

Jeanne Crain and Gene Tierney
Other actors in the cast you will recognize are Vincent Price as Russell Quinton, Ray Collins as Glen Robie, Gene Lockhart as Dr. Saunders, Chill Wills as Leick Thorne, and Darry Hickman as Danny Harland, Richard’s younger brother.

Below is the link to the movie on YouTube. Please be sure to use this link because there are several versions on the channel that are inferior to this one. If you can, I recommend you watch this on your TV. The Technicolor is pretty amazing and you will appreciate it more on a larger screen.

On Tuesday, June 16, 2020 at 6:30 p.m. Central Time join us on Zoom to discuss this film. Below are the links to the Zoom meeting.

Stephen Reginald is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: Discussion of "Leave Her to Heaven"
Time: Jun 16, 2020 06:30 PM Central Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 719 2424 2712
Password: 9ZaE99

Discussion Questions:
1. This is considered the first film noir shot in color. Do you think this film would have been as effective if shot in black and white?
2. What do you think motivated Ellen’s jealousy? Do you really think she loved Richard or anyone?
3. Do you think there was any sympathy for Ellen’s character in 1945? Do you have any sympathy for her today?
4. What did you think of the contrast between Ellen and Ruth?
5. This is one of Martin Scorsese’s favorite films from Hollywood’s Golden Age. He thinks that Gene Tierney was one of the most underrated actresses from the 1940s. Would you agree with Scorsese on his assessment of Tierney?

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