17 February 2009 | Bunuel1976
LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (John M. Stahl, 1945) ***
A Technicolor noir is intrinsically a paradoxical term but this stunningly handsome melodrama which deservedly copped cinematographer Leon Shamroy a consecutive Academy Award is probably the most successful example of this anomaly within the prolific genre. Gorgeous Fox starlet Gene Tierney (who also received her sole Oscar-nomination for her efforts here) gives an excellent central performance as the pathologically jealous heroine who ensnares a chance acquaintance on a train (novelist Cornel Wilde) into marriage while summarily dismissing her current fiancée (prospective D.A. Vincent Price) via telegram. Wilde's younger brother (Darryl Hickman) is a cripple and when she finds herself having to take care of him while her hubby writes away in his cabin, she soon takes matters into her own psychotic little hands and lets the boy drown after suffering a cramp brought on by her egging to exercise himself further. The relationship between Tierney and Wilde is never the same again and he finds solace in her kind-hearted, red-headed half-sister (Jeanne Crain) who had earlier suggested that Tierney conceive a child so as to bring Wilde back to her. However, when she realizes their new-found proximity, Tierney deliberately throws herself down a staircase to lose the child. Furthermore, Tierney had had an unhealthy attachment to her late scientist father which turned the relationship with mother into a cool one; taking a trip down the cellar (where father's old mixtures are stored) on the eve of a picnic, she spikes her own food with poison but not before sending off a letter to Price incriminating Crain of her own murder!! Wilde and Crain make a handsome couple but are not overly taxed by their roles; on the other hand, Price makes the most of the juicy opportunity provided by the film's climactic trial sequence in which he grills Crain into declaring her love for Wilde and also contrives to make the latter an accessory to murder (punishable by a short imprisonment) for having withheld Tierney's confessions to him of her own evil deeds! The supporting cast also features a handful of familiar faces: Ray Collins (as Crain's guardian), Chill Wills (as Wilde's manservant) and Gene Lockhart (as the family doctor); director John M. Stahl was the Douglas Sirk of his day and handles the material with consummate skill while composer Alfred Newman lends it a quite remarkable musical backing that was oddly bypassed at the Oscars (although, truth be told, he was already being nominated for two other films that same year)!