Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Leave Her to Heaven (1946) @ the Brattle

On Sunday afternoon, Kevin, H., Gina, Lisa, Carlos and myself went to the Brattle Theatre to see Leave Her to Heaven (1946). I've always really loved this movie, most notably the visuals, Gene Tierney's character Ellen (spawn of Satan?!) and Tierney's performance. For one weekend only, the Brattle was showing a newly restored print of the film, so I had to take advantage of seeing this on the big screen, and what better way to do this than to share the experience with the people closest to you?

It's an interesting dynamic watching a favorite classic film with friends (and with strangers) in a theater. You never quite know what to expect. I always find myself getting really self-conscious when I bring friends to see a personal favorite of mine. I get very worried that they will not like the film, will question why I dragged them to the theatre to see it or even worse, will think less of me after the experience (what's wrong with her?!). This never really happens, but I'm always scared that it will. This fear changes the way I watch the film in the theatre.

In the case of Leave Her to Heaven, I became very conscious of how over-the-top, or to use a modern colloquialism "cheesy", the film can be. It's as though we are supposed to be in a trance with Gene Tierney's red pouty lips and the gorgeous scenery, that we wouldn't be overwhelmed by the melodrama. Also, I noticed how weak the dialogue seemed to be at different points in the movie. There is one particular scene in which Ellen (Gene Tierney) and Richard (Cornel Wilde) are having a conversation after Ellen's swim. The conversation is filled with short questions and directly answered short replies. From what I understand about screenwriting (from taking a screenwriting class in Grad school) answering a question with a direct response results in boring dialogue. Here is an example: Q: Are you going to the movie? A: Yes or Q: Are you going to the movie? A: If I don't get hit by a bus first... . In this particular scene, I can see how the direct question and answer sequence can work. Ellen's character is intense and her constant questioning can demonstrate her inquisitiveness. She has to know everything about Richard in order to posses him. Yet I feltthat it could have also been done differently with the same effect.

However, none of this lessened my opinion of the film. It just changed the way I saw it. This is still a superb film and I even have the inkling to watch it again at home by myself (too bad I don't own the DVD!). Very few can walk away from this film without some appreciation of it. All of my friends and Carlos seemed to enjoy the film and I'm so grateful for that. While we were outside of the theatre, we partook in some post-show bonding and I brought up the fact that Kate Gabrielle (of Silents and Talkies fame) did a superb painting of the famous boat/drowning scene that makes this film so iconic. Kate did a wonderful job capturing Gene's cold facial expression and the vibrancy of the scene.


  1. I have the exact same problem when showing movies I love to my friends- what if they look at me differently because I love a movie they end up despising? Bringing my boyfriend, who hate musicals, to see my favorite movie Singin' in the Rain (screened at the Brattle, no less!) made me very edgy. But then again he likes some weird stuff and I don't judge him for it!

    I haven't seen Leave Her to Heaven yet, but I love that Gene Tierney painting.

  2. I've noticed that a lot of people take their film loves and hates very personally, and take criticism of their fave films as a personal attack; and vice versa, they concern themselves so much with what others think, as if sharing a beloved movie is like opening your diary to someone.

    Movies are like rivers. Sometimes you never see the same one twice; what was going on in your life when you first saw this? I saw Fincher's "The Game" shortly after my father's death, and I was unable to appreciate it. Likewise, Field of Dreams, as sappy as it is, will always be moving to me even though I find baseball boring as hell.

    As for the "cheesiness" of old movies, we've learned to accept subtlety of emotion at the expense of witty dialogue and clever comedy, which are rarities these days. I'll take some melodrama now and then. It helps cure the overdose of irony we've been taking for years.

  3. Thanks for including my painting!! :D

    I have the exact same anxiety about my favorite films. Sometimes I just avoid sharing them altogether! Like Tommy Salami said, if somebody doesn't enjoy a film that is your own favorite, you take it personal. That's exactly how I feel! I actually blush when the movie starts, I'm so nervous that my friends/family won't like it.. it's strange!

  4. I'm at an age where I don't take it personally if a close friend dislikes a movie I love, although I was in my thirties before I realised how tastes can vary and that, ultimately, film is a very subjective medium. At any rate, I have always liked Leave Her to Heaven, even given how cheesy the movie can be at times.

  5. I love LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN, it's one of the most visually stunning movies ever. (I envy you getting to see it on a big screen!) Plus it stars two of my favorite actresses.

    Public service announcement for those who'd like to see it on DVD -- the DVD is only $7+ in the current Deep Discount 25% off sale, which runs through 8/2. The DVD has some nice extras including a commentary track with actor Darryl Hickman participating.

    I wonder if nervousness about introducing movies to others wears off with time? I've shown so many movies to so many people that I think I'm pretty philosophical about it by this point in my life -- sometimes I'm really baffled that a movie doesn't "click" with someone else, but the rewards of seeing people get excited about new-to-them movies offsets that. I especially *love* when we can get my kids' friends excited about older movies, even those in (gasp!) black and white! My daughter's friend went home from a recent sleepover and asked her parents to buy her SINGIN' IN THE RAIN and CASABLANCA for her upcoming b'day. Yay!

    I think one of the neat things about movies is that, as others have indicated above, you never see a movie exactly the same way twice. What's going on in your life, where you see it, who you see it with, your level of knowledge about the film at the time -- they all impact it. I was especially struck when I saw THE QUIET MAN for the umpteenth time last fall and yet felt like it was brand-new; for instance, I was really struck by all the wind and rain and the use of light in the location scenes.

    Best wishes,

  6. I completely know what you mean about introducing friends to films you really like and wonder how they will react to the film - especially with classic films. Leave Her to Heaven is perfect example. I love the them but I watch it in the context of the time the film was made. Others may find the film as you say, "Cheesy," but they are not watching the film with the same sense of understanding. Sounds like you and your friends had a great night.

  7. I had a bad experience seeing In a Lonely Place over the weekend...


    Sometimes seeing classic movies can be really frustrating.

  8. I have the same problem showing my vintage favs to my friends. They never seem to like it because it is too slow, in black and white, etc. I end up just watching it myself.

    As a side note, I saw a Darryl Hickman interview on TCM about this movie in which he basically said Gene Tierney was horrible to him during the lake scene and I haven't been able to watch the film since without looking through that lens.

  9. How fun to see it on the big screen. Thanks for sharing the experience.

  10. Alex - Musicals are tricky. Some people flat out hate them. I think you'll like Leave Her to Heaven for sure! Let me know if you end up watching it.

    Tommy - I am thoroughly convinced that you are a philosopher. Sharing films with others really is like opening a page in my diary and letting someone read it.

    Kate - It's one of your best paintings!!! Thanks for letting me post it. Which films have you avoided sharing?

    Mercurie - Oh that's interesting. I'm wondering if, with time, I'll be less and less self-conscious about sharing films with friends.

    Laura - Yay! Thanks for stopping by and for letting everyone know abuot the sale. I think what makes a person enjoy a film is that mysterious x-factor. You could have all the right components, but if that x-factor is missing, the whole experience fails.

    Robby - Yes it was a great night! "Cheesiness" is relative. Leave Her to Heaven's cheesiness pales in comparison to some really over-the-top campy 60s cult classics.

    Steve-O - Oh geez. Your experience reminded me of when I went to see Now, Voyager on the big screen and the audience kept laughing. I walked out of the theater in the middle of the movie, I couldn't take it. I didn't write about the experience because I didn't think it was worthy of perpetuating on my blog. Basically, I don't want to give the experience any merit because it really shouldn't have happened.

    Amanda - Knowledge sometimes creates a filter to how we watch a film. So I can see how that Darryl Hickman interview changed the way you saw the film.

    Jacqueline - How are you?! Thanks for stopping by. This was really great to see on the big screen. It's a visually stunning film.

  11. I had exactly the same experience with "The Women" at a viewing I attended at Symphony Space in NYC this spring. I had spent years loving that movie in the privacy of my own home with my own copy enjoying the witty banter. But seeing Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer go at each other on the big screen with an audience laughing at the campy acting in quite a few scenes made me have a different reaction to the movie.

    I still love the movie but I'm a bit more aware now of the over top acting of all the ladies.

    I have this movie on DVD too and love it. I wonder what my reaction would have been...

  12. I don't like LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN.

    I'm glad you got to see at the theater, though: since you like it. And I'm glad your friends liked it too. :)

    I hope you're well.

  13. roommate and i just rented this. i saw a clip on tv of the scene were she watches the kid drown, and i didn't see the title. took me months to to track it down and out of blind luck i saw an image on a blog that lead me to the name.
    Loved it, and glad i was it.

    to lazy, not signed in, here's my blog...

  14. Raquelle,
    An interesting and thoughtful post indeed! I generally don't share my choice of movies with many people since very few i know are interested in creeky musicals from 1929 or slow European art films from the 1950's. Sometimes I try but very often the victim simply falls asleep or just walks out on it midway.

    The worst experience was when I went to a cinema to watch an old movie and some youngsters a few rows in front of me suddenly realized that the film they were about to see not only was old but also shot in black and white. Loud comments followed and after a while they left in total disappointment, ruin much of the experience for us others.

  15. I loved this movie. I thouht the direct question-answer dialog was an indication of Ellen's desire to control her questioner. She is direct, and her responses are clipped or informative as she pleases.


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