"Leave Her to Heaven" by John M. Stahl (1945)

Behind cryptic title that left me perplexed but audiences in 1945. supposedly understood its literary origins, hides gripping melodrama that slowly builds to very engaging finale. Twentieth Century Fox went full blast with this one, adapting successful novel by Ben Ames Williams into quite spectacular Technicolour feast for eyes and everything about the sets, houses, interiors and stylish clothes is so mesmerising that it almost takes away from the story - almost but not completely as once you get over the sheer visual pleasure of it all, the movie turns into completely compulsive watching. In hindsight, it plays completely by the rules of the day (good has to overcome the evil, there has to be a happy ending) but its all done with such perfection that even the relatively slow start pays off later when things start really cooking.

Chance meeting in a train gets likable writer (Cornel Wilde) hypnotised with a beauty of mysterious heiress (Gene Tierney) and no one could blame his infatuation, since Tierney must be one of the all-time greatest Hollywood beauties - its completely plausible to imagine her as competent Scarlet O' Hara - the inconvenience of her previous engagement to Vincent Price is dealt quickly and mercilessly, as Tierney has a huge daddy complex and Wilde is dead ringer for her late father. Newlyweds eventually settle in a remote love nest where amongst idyllic surroundings things turn extremely sour - with painful patience and humbleness, Tierney plays meek housewife willing herself with all her heart into this new role but this was decades before "The Feminine Mystique" and Betty Friedan and I wonder how much of contemporary audiences got the subversiveness of the message that being a decorative plaything could be psychologically damaging. Its very obvious to us today but back in 1945. women perhaps genuinely expected that having a setting a table in a lovely cottage for a husband typing away outside on a sunny balcony is a embodiment of happiness. 

Without going on in further details of the story - it gradually turns into surprisingly effective psychological examination of interrelationship between characters who hardly have anything in common besides physical attraction - I must compliment Tierney who bravely sinks her teeth into a chilling role that completely differs from her usual screen turns as decorative beauty and she manages to pull it off with a relish. Critics noted it and she was even nominated for Academy Award (it went to unsinkable Joan Crawford) although I can't help wondering how much her looks might have been actually hampering her professional fulfilment. All focus is on Tierney but Price gives a strong, passionate performance as a jilted lover - even with these two, personally I found that Technicolour dream is the major star of the movie, I don't remember last time when I enjoyed so much just admiring the clothes, interiors and lifestyles on the screen.

No comments: