Blu-ray Review: Leave Her to Heaven | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Friday, April 3rd, 2020  

Leave Her to Heaven

Studio: The Criterion Collection

Mar 25, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Film noir was quickly approaching its zenith as a genre in 1945. Born of a fusion of the German  Expressionist movement of the 1920s and the gritty American crime films of the 1930s, the genre is widely considered to have coalesced in 1941 with John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon. But it took the cultural malaise of post-WWII America to give film noir its dark soul, with many of its most popular examples existing as a dark mirror to the stereotypical suburban life that was ascendant during the late 1940s and through the 1950s.

Leave Her to Heaven opened on Christmas Day 1945 and exists at the fascinating intersection between film noir and several other genres. Its vibrant Technicolor cinematography all but disqualifies it as a noir, presaging the sumptuous 1950s melodramas of Douglas Sirk. And the plot and character focus evokes “women’s pictures” of the era, focused more on domestic life than professional or criminal worlds generally seen as the space belonging to men. But the cold, beating heart of the film is pure noir; Gene Tierney’s performance as Ellen Berent, a twist on the femme fatale trope that is a staple of the genre.

Cornel Wilde’s Richard Harland is the ostensible protagonist of Leave Her to Heaven. A popular novelist, he meets Ellen shortly after the death of her beloved father and their whirlwind romance ends with Ellen leaving her fiancé to marry Richard. When their honeymoon ends, Ellen’s love for Richard slowly curdles into an intense jealousy that finds her taking homicidal measures to ensure she remains the most important person in his life. It’s difficult to overstate how chilling Tierney is in this film. In her interview recorded for Criterion’s new Blu-ray release of the film, noir scholar Imogene Sara Smith calls Ellen a nightmare version of the post-war suburban dream wife. Gorgeous, alluring, devoted and sharp-witted, Tierney makes it easy to believe that Richard would marry Ellen only days after meeting her. But hints of her turn are laid in their very first scene together where Ellen muses that her attraction to Richard is based on his resemblance to her late father. The disturbing implication of that statement is a thread that continues through the film as Ellen takes increasingly brutal and appalling steps to bind herself to Richard. Tierney received the only Oscar nomination of her career for the role and deservedly so. Ellen’s psychotic envy all but begs to be overplayed, but Tierney’s restrained, internal performance makes the character more unsettling than screams and hysteria ever could.

The only Academy Award won by Leave Her to Heaven was for Leon Shamroy’s Technicolor cinematography, and deservedly so. Noir as a genre is defined by its black and white contrast - it’s right there in the name! - but there’s much to be said for using a wide color palette to lull audiences into a false sense of security. In contrast to the urban environments of most noir films, Leave Her to Heaven spends most of its runtime at a ranch in New Mexico and a spacious cabin in the Maine woods. The bucolic environments, warm lighting and gorgeously appointed set decoration evoke mid-century America at its most idyllic, making the films descent into paranoia and murder all the more shocking.

(www.criterion.com/films/29602-leave-her-to-heaven)




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