Leave Her to Heaven ***1/2 out of ****
It’s been said that jealousy is the deadliest of all the seven sins. That is certainly true in “Leave Her to Heaven”, where envy leads to lust, greed, sloth, pride and ultimately tons of wrath. Leave Her to Heaven was directed by John M. Staul in 1945 and is based on the novel written by Ben Ames Williams. It’s about a woman named Ellen, played by Gene Tierney (Laura, Heaven Can Wait), who becomes so obsessed with her husband, Rich (Cornel Wilde) that she stops at nothing to make sure that she keeps him all to herself.
The Belcourt will be screening a new 35mm print of Leave Her to Heaven this Saturday-Monday, September 11-13.
Ellen meets Rich on a train. Ellen falls in love and tells everyone that they are getting married before Rich, himself, is even aware of the fact. Ellen then proposes to him. Rich and Ellen get married and she wastes no time getting obsessed. She gets jealous of her own family members. She resents any attention that Rich gives to anyone that’s not directed at her. Through a series of desperate and tragic acts carried out by Ellen in an effort to retain her control over Rich’s attention, lives are lost, the family is torn apart and their relationship to each other deteriorates.
Ellen, in the beginning of the film, is made to look elegant with wavy, shiny dark hair and deep red lipstick. Her wardrobe is fierce and every scene is taken as an opportunity to show off her fashion. Immediately following the first tragedy and during her pregnancy, Ellen’s look becomes slightly sinister. Her hair is up most of the time and, being pregnant, her wardrobe is maternal.
Resenting her pregnancy and becoming increasingly jealous of her cousin, Ruth (Jeanne Crain), the stunning woman from the beginning of the film now looks down right evil. At the same time, Ruth seems more grown-up and, with the passing of each scene, looks increasingly beautiful. This only helps to support Ellen’s on-screen allegations of a relationship between Rich and Ruth.
Gene Tierney received a Best Actress nomination for her role as the obsessed wife. The film was also nominated for Best Sound and Art Direction. Leon Shamroy (Planet of the Apes, Cleopatra), won the Oscar for Best Cinematography.
Leave Her to Heaven is quite bold for a film made in 1945. The subject matter suggests moral issues that were mostly censored in the mid 40’s. For instance, Ellen and Rich sleep in separate beds, but she moves over to his in the morning and wakes him up with a kiss. Being based on a novel, the film is pretty well written except for the ending courtroom scene, which contains a line of questioning by Ellen’s ex-fiance, Russell Quinton (Vincent Price) that seems to herd the audience toward how the writers want us to feel, however unrealistic it might be. Cornel Wilde is by no means a thespian, but the other actors do a decent enough job. Leave Her to Heaven is shot well, focusing on the actors and what they’re doing more so than on the background and scenery. The colors seem over-accentuated and pop right off the screen. The overall beautiful and magnificent color of the film is a great contrast to the pure evil that is going on within the film itself.
A new 35mm print of Leave Her to Heaven is playing at the Belcourt Theatre this Saturday-Monday, September 11-13. Following the 2:10 screening on Saturday, Megan Minarich, Ph.D Candidate in English at Vanderbilt University, will provide a post-screening commentary on the film, which has been recently restored by the Academy Film Archive. Check out the Belcourt’s website for a video clip of Martin Scorsese introducing Leave Her to Heaven.