Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

leave her to heaven poster 1945 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Weird combo of genres

Dips between straight drama and melodrama that a bit extreme

Movie Info

Movie Name: Leave Her to Heaven

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Genre(s): Drama/Romance/Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s):  December 25, 1945

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

leave her to heaven cornel wilde gene tierney

You will be mine…oh yes, you will be mine!

Writer Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) has never considered marriage until he meets Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney).  Though engaged to up-and-coming prosecutor Russell Quinton (Vincent Price), Ellen seems immediately drawn to Richard as well.  The two are quickly married, and Richard begins to notice something strange about Ellen.  Despite spending time with her mother (Mary Philips) and her adopted sister Ruth (Jeanne Crain), Ellen seems to still obsess about her father and Richard.  While spending time at Richard’s cottage home with Richard’s brother Danny (Darryl Hickman), tragedy strikes…and it could be the beginning of Richard’s problems.

Directed by John M. Stahl, Leave Her to Heaven is a psychological drama romance.  The film is an adaption of Ben Ames Williams’ 1944 novel which took its title from Hamlet.  The film won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography—Color with nominations for Best Actress (Tierney), Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration—Color, and Best Sound Recording.  The film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registy by the Library of Congress in 2018.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #1020).

leave her to heaven drowning gene tierney

You’re a great sister-in-law Ellen…it’s so nice of you take me swimming!

I came upon Leave Her to Heaven randomly.  Reading a short description (which was a basic rundown of it being a psychological drama), I decided I wanted to see it.  I bought the movie blind, and it was one of my better “first viewing” purchases I made.  Due to aspects of the story a ******spoiler alert****** is in effect for the rest of the review.

Leave Her to Heaven is a very odd blending of genres.  The movie on the surface feels like a melodrama along the lines of All That Heaven Allows where you have an uncommitted man and woman finding love against all odds.  It quickly devolves into a strange obsession noir that then turns into a courtroom thriller.  The characters are often compared to Greek tragedies as well with Ellen being compared to Electra with her love of her father and the idea of the Madea and her obsession with Jason.  It becomes a psycho sexual thriller that has Ellen being a “if I can’t have him, no one can” type of killer.

It works because Gene Tierney can be charming or alluring but instantly turn stony or cold.  Ellen comes off as a psychopath in her ability to plot and plan her actions and her love seems like misplaced obsession.  All the other characters in the film seem to realize how dangerous Ellen is but they are afraid to put it into words because they don’t want to believe it…it is like The Bad Seed.

leave her to heaven vincent price jeanne crain

I hate it when a jilted lover prosecutes a case

The film also mimics many melodramas in the Technicolor dream world it creates.  Through physical locations and perfect sets, the movie has an idealized nature to it.  This nature crashes with the horror that the movie presents.

Leave Her to Heaven was a great “find”, and it is one of those movies you feel bad because you should already know it if you haven’t seen it.  With awards, a great box office return, and a successful novel, it oddly has flown under the radar of a lot of film people I know while being championed by others (Scorsese is a big fan).  The film feels like a precursor to movies like Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, and Single White Female that popped up in the 1980s and 1990s.  Ellen is a femme fatale, but even more dangerous than some of the women in crime thrillers.  She’s in it for the long haul and doesn’t care who she has to sacrifice in her attempt to win…even if she ultimate loses, it is about pride and obsession.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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