Leave Her to Heaven stakes out its territory in the form of a flashback, as novelist Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) returns to a small lakeside town that has now become tainted with the aftertaste of murder. Homespun lawyer Glen Robie (Ray Collins) relates the sorry tale of how things came to such a pass and the film-length flashback begins -- noir fatalism in the blinding daylight. We are taken back to the genesis of all this misery, the ravishing but deadly Ellen Berent (played to evil perfection by Gene Tierney, in an iconic film noir role), who meets Harland on a train and quickly latches onto the poor sap, and soon her berserk compulsion for him drags the innocent Harland and his loved ones down into the dark waters of tormented possessiveness.
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Putting his lead foot first, director Ernst Lubitsch saddles his story with a script that never properly uses its complete potential. Henry feels that as part of his interview process, he must go through the story of his life, which would have generally been a decent idea, except that he led a pretty uninspiring one. Growing up in the mid-to-late 19th century, Henry is swaddled in privilege from the get-go. The scion of a wealthy family residing in a Fifth Avenue mansion, he becomes a general ne'er do well at quite a young age, something which the film (or at least his recounting) tries to blame on the effects of the women in his life (mother = too controlling, French maid = too permissive). By the time Ameche appears again as his younger self in the 1890s, his playboy ways have just been (supposedly) swept away by his having fallen in love with a beautiful woman whose name he doesn't know. Problem is, when he finally finds out the identity of the woman - Martha Strabel (Gene Tierney), of the Kansas City Strabels, who made their fortune in the meatpacking business - it turns out she's already betrothed to his stiff and deadly dull cousin Albert (Allyn Joslyn). Being of thin moral fiber anyway, Henry elopes with her. His carousing appears hard to put behind him, however, and 10 years later, Martha is ready for a divorce.
Continue reading: Heaven Can Wait (1943) Review
Otto Preminger turned his eyes from the legal system (Anatomy of a Murder) to American politics in the underseen and tragically underappreciated Advise and Consent.
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