Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thursday Thriller: Leave Her to Heaven

A train rushing down the tracks in the darkness, the perfect setting for the start of a mystery. This is where writer, Richard Harland, meets his stunning, young, socialite wife, Ellen Berent in Leave her to Heaven.

Richard Harland and Ellen Berent are soon happily married. Ellen is passionately devoted to Richard, the man who reminds her of her father, reminds her in a way that borders on obsession.

Obsession is an important word for this film, an apt description of Ellen Berent Harland's relationships with the men she loves. Based on the best-selling novel by Ben Ames, the femme fatale, Ellen, is portrayed to perfection by Gene Tierney, who actually struggled with mental illness for many years in her personal life, which may have brought a certain element of truth to her acting. Rita Hayworth was the first choice for the film, but viewing the finished product it is easy to see that no one could have played this role except Gene Tierney. Cornel Wilde was cast as Richard Harland, his quiet, reserved demeanor the perfect foil to Tierney's unpredictable emotional responses in the film.

Released in 1945 by American Twentieth Century Fox Technicolor, Leave Her to Heaven is a classic film noir. Film noir was first used by French film critic Nino Frank in 1946 to describe the dark, downbeat, post-war American films focusing on murder and mystery, and Leave Her to Heaven fits perfectly in this category.

Produced hortly after her first film noir, Laura, Gene Tierney's performance in Leave Her to Heaven stunned the audience with its intensity. Her Oscar nomination for Best Actress was not a surprise, the surprise came when she did not win! The film was nominated for a total of four Academy Awards.

As a dedicated fan of Gene Tierney, this film was difficult for me to watch, at first. I adored Tierney in so many of her films, particularly The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, my all-time Tierney favorite, and when I first started watching Leave Her to Heaven, I expected to see the same, sweet, refined character that eventually fell hopelessly in love with the handsome Rex Harrison. (Of course, who could resist Rex Harrison?)

Tierney'a portrayal of Ellen Brent Harland, however, is more than convincing, it is chilling. I highly recommend this film for its representation of the film noir classic and the outstanding performance of Tierney, as well.

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