Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Good Heavens: Leave Her to Heaven (1946)

John M. Stahl's Leave Her to Heaven (1946) is a brilliant film with an amazing capacity to disturb. That's mostly due to Gene Tierney's wonderful performance as Ellen, an obsessive woman who will destroy just about anyone in her path. Ellen meets author Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) on a train and is captivated by him. He resembles her recently deceased father in appearance. Her stare is so wildly intense, we get our very first glimpse of her mania. We get numerous hints along the way, but poor Richard is oblivious to them. He falls victim to her snare and she traps him. I'm sure the thought never crossed his mind that this delicate beauty could be... the spawn of SATAN!

There are a few scenes in this film that I believe are just superb in their power to unnerve. They all involve Gene Tierney, because really this is her movie. Even Cornel Wilde just seems like an accessory. Tierney is really the star.

WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!

Ellen's Father's Funeral

Ellen and her family have traveled to Jacinto to bring her father's ashes to the family estate. Ellen and her father had made a pact to have their ashes scattered on a nearby mountain. Richard looks on as Ellen scatters the ashes as she rides a horse on the mountain side. This scene has the incredible ability to send shivers down my spine. Tierney's face is so regal, frozen, almost triumphant. Now that she has thoroughly destroyed her victim (her father), she's got a fresh new one to play with (Richard). The shot of her recklessly throwing around the ashes is forever burned into my brain.

Danny's Drowning

Many fans of this movie will agree that this is by far the most disturbing scene in this film. Obsessive types like Ellen are not dangerous when they are in complete control of their situation. If everything is as they desire it to be, they are happy, almost normal. But when change comes and they lose their control, their evil emerges and they will do anything to get back to that happy place. For Ellen, it's to destroy Richard's crippled brother Danny (Darryl Hickman) who is threatening to steal away some of Richard's affection and attention. She encounters the perfect situation for Danny to drown, and as he flails in the water, she stays completely still. It's unlikely you'll ever forget the shot of Gene Tierney's frozen face, her eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses, as her character Ellen waits for this poor boy to die.

Ellen's Miscarriage

Ellen can't get over Richard's growing attachment to her cousin/sister Ruth (Jeanne Crain) and his increasing detachment to her, so she decides having a baby is the solution! Right. The thing is, that unborn baby is already causing inevitable change that Ellen can't handle. So she stands above a staircase, digs one of her shoes underneath a bit of carpet and throws herself forward. I don't think I need to elaborate anymore. We already know the women is pure evil.

Ellen's Death

Ellen is the 1940's Classic Film equivalent of a suicide-bomber. She's perfectly content to die as long as she can leave complete and utter chaos in her wake. So when Richard finally gives up on Ellen, she goes back to the one person left whom she knows she still has control over. That person is ex-fiancee Quinton, played by Vincent Price, who is a true delight in this film. Ellen orchestrates her death and plots out an elaborate scheme that makes Richard and her cousin Ruth pawns in her game. You think her death would be a resolution, but oh no! Even from the grave she still holds control over people.


  1. Great summary! I like how you pulled out some of the scenes and elaborated. You are so right about Gene Tierney, she's amazing as Ellen. So believable and disturbing. I like Gene Tierney, so one viewing of this film was enough to last me a good long time. :)

  2. Ouch Casey. I pride myself on NOT writing reviews or summaries. I try so hard to break out of that mold.

    I agree with you. I think I'm set for a few years with my last vieweing! I'm disturbed engouh.

  3. Haha! Great Raquelle! I had completely forgotten the funeral scene. Now I simply have to watch the film again and get even more disturbed.

    Leve her to Heaven is Gene's best effort by far I think. One of the most evil women captured on film ever! She does it so good one almost think she was evil for real.

    You are so right about Vincent Price here. We rarely get to see what a brilliant actor he in fact is (or was). Smashing!

  4. Oh - I'm so sorry! I meant to no offense. You do succeed in breaking the mold when you write about films. You always manage to say something about it that no one else brings up. I especially enjoy how much you focus on the supporting/character actors, because I always feel like they get ignored. For future reference, what would you call your writings?

  5. Terrific film, great blog.
    Leave Her To Heaven, one wonders the why and how it was released, considering the year it was made.

    The psycho drama, the murder, the manipulations - all centered on a beautiful character with a seemingly normal life, not the typical film murderess of that era. And the film makers couldn't have found a more beautiful actress for the role of Ellen.

    Perhaps you know, more than likely you know - Gene Tierney thought she had too high pitched a voice so she took up smoking in order to get a huskier sound. Sadly, she became a 'heavy' smoker, got cancer and eventually died from it.

  6. Casey - Maybe I was too harsh. You can call them whatever you want. :-)

    Jonas - For an actress to play such an evil part, maybe she had to be a little evil to understand? Eh? Hmmmm....

    Bill - I don't know much about Gene Tierney, so I didn't know about her smoking. That's interesting that she did that. I wonder what other actresses went that route.

  7. I've always thought this movie has to be in the top 5 for all-time stunning Technicolor photography... It's an amazing film to look at, beyond the very interesting character issues you highlighted in your post.

    Best wishes,

  8. This movie was one of the very first classic films I ever purchased. The beautiful technicolor landscapes are in such stark contrast to the sinister Ellen and her dark plans. The drowning scene sends shivers down my spine every time I watch it!

  9. Glad to hear appreciation for this movie. I don't think it gets its due, perhaps because the plot is so over the top. But I love it. The comments about the Technicolor are right, this is a beautifully filmed movie. The vibrant colors seem to make the evil deeds more surreal.

    I always chuckle when I see Wilde and Tierney meet on the train. Wilde lights a match, then is so enthralled that it burns his fingers. If he knew he was in a movie, he would recognize the forshadowing and jump off the train.

    Thanks for the post.


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