“Leave Her To Heaven” is a forgotten classic. Rarely shown on television, the film was recently released on DVD, in a stunning new restoration. Hopefully, this will introduce legions of new people to this forgotten Film Noir classic.
Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney) and Richard Harland (Cornell Wilde) meet while traveling, on train, to a mutual friend’s home in New Mexico. Ellen is caught staring at Richard and admits that he looks like her father. There, Richard learns that Ellen, her mother (Mary Philips) and her adopted sister, Ruth (Jeanne Crain) are there to distribute their father’s ashes in the wild. During the stay, Ellen and Richard become more attracted to one another. Russell Quinton (Vincent Price), a District Attorney, shows up one rainy night, to demand that Ellen explain why she broke off their engagement. She states that she and Richard are going to be married, much to the surprise of Richard who agrees. Married life agrees with Richard and Ellen, until she begins to feel that people are distracting Richard from her. She wants his full and undivided attention and will do anything to get it.
“Leave Her To Heaven”, directed by John Stahl, and released in 1945, was shot in Technicolor. Some may be surprised that I mentioned this was a Film Noir. Isn’t all Film Noir in black and white? Well, no. Film Noir is more about the mood and the tone of the piece. Films like “The Postman Always Rings Twice”, “Mildred Pierce” and “Double Indemnity” feature people who are extremely unhappy with their current lives and will do anything to change that situation. They are desperate people. These films also happen to be filmed in black and white. “Leave Her To Heaven” is shot in Technicolor, in colors that are so rich, they resemble stained glass. The scenery in New Mexico and, later, Maine, is brought to vivid life with the rich, colorful hues. It also shows off Gene Tierney in all of her beauty.
In “Leave Her To Heaven”, we slowly realize that Ellen is also a desperate character. She has lost her father, someone she seems to have had an unnaturally close relationship with, and is, basically, looking for a replacement. For periods of time, she finds happiness. Initially, she is thrilled to be married to Richard. She then realizes that his brother, a sickly young man who is slowly learning to walk again, will draw Richard’s attention away from her. How will she rectify that? She is initially thrilled when she becomes pregnant. Then she realizes that Ruth and Richard are spending a lot of time together. How will she rectify that?
Why isn’t this film better known? It seems strange that Gene Tierney and Cornell Wilde are all but forgotten today.
Gene Tierney was one of the most beautiful actresses to shine on the silver screen. She also appeared in a handful of well-remembered films in the mid-forties. “Dragonwyk”, “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” and “Laura” are probably her most recognized films. If we compare these films to, say, the best of Bette Davis, it is no contest. Bette Davis is, and should be, more well-remembered. I also find it odd that the gay community has not seemed to embrace her or “Leave Her To Heaven”. Tierney is, at times, as campy as Joan Crawford or Bette Davis. IN an early scene, Ellen walks into a library wearing a white jumpsuit, with a sash around her waist, and an EB monogrammed into the top near her neck. The EB are done in floral script and form a sort of strap to hold the top to her neck. It is exactly the type of outfit that drag performers seem to love. In another scene, Ellen rides a horse back and forth through a small stretch of the New Mexico landscape, holding an open urn containing her father’s ashes, waving it back and forth, as the ashes spread into the air. She stares straight ahead, her breasts jutting out in a tight sweater. “Heaven” is a hoot at times.
Wilde was also a huge star in his day and seems to have been all but forgotten. In addition to “Heaven”, he starred in “The Greatest Show on Earth”, “The Big Combo” and one of the most memorable episodes of “I Love Lucy”’s trip to Hollywood. A strapping Rock Hudson type, before there was Rock Hudson, he wasn’t a great actor, but he was handsome, and made a suitable love interest.
“Heaven” is a fun movie to watch, because Ellen is so manipulative. Throughout her machinations, she comes up with devious ways to get what she wants. Sitting in a boat as her latest victim struggles, she sits silently, staring forward, her eyes dead. It is a chilling scene.
“Leave Her To Heaven” is one of the unsung film noir classics of Hollywood. If you are a fan of Film Noir, you should definitely add this stunning DVD to your collection. If you haven’t seen the film, you should definitely rent it.