"Heaven" is Hell on Earth

What would you do to be with the one you love? Gene Tierney takes that question to the very limit in Leave Her to Heaven, an enjoyably twisted tale of love so fierce that nothing can stand in its way. Trouble is, Tierney is the only one who sees it like that. So love, like the film's paradisical rural settings, gets turned upside down and heaven becomes a hellish mockery.

In the stunning wide open spaces of "New Mexico," (probably Utah) Ellen (Tierney) and Richard (Cornel Wilde) fall for each other. Never mind that he’s a famous author who wrote the novel she’s been reading. What really matters is that he looks just like her dear departed dad. Yes dear viewer, that is the sound of an alarm bell ringing. Everyone can hear it but Richard, who lets himself be swept up into an instant marriage. They move to Richard’s house in rural Maine but soon Ellen resents having to share Richard with friends and family, including his handicapped younger brother Danny. What results from her possessive desire would scare studios today from ever filming them.

That's a testament to the still-subversive power of noir. Less innovative is screenwriter Jo Swerling's simplistic use of psychology to power the characters, especially in Ellen's overtly Oedipal complex. Ellen has a personality though it's pathological. The supporting characters don't get to be much more than human "Yield" signs to Ellen's jealous juggernaut. Still, Vincent Price is effective as a cross cross-examining district attorney who’s been jilted by Laura, er, I mean Ellen.

Director John Stahl uses shadowy lighting and mutes the sound and music to effectively create a suffocated atmosphere. Even the flat Technicolour helps, intensifying the masklike appearance of the characters. Leave Her to Heaven might be full of wide open spaces but thanks to Tierney's grim performance, there's nowhere to run from a woman with a heart of cold.

(November 13, 2001)

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