Written by Jo Swerling, based on the novel by Ben Ames Williams
Directed by John M. Stahl
Starring Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain, Darryl Hickman, Vincent Price
- Running audio commentary by actor Hickman and film critic Richard Schickel
- Still gallery
- Fox Movietone News shorts
- Restoration comparison
Released by: Fox.
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.
My Advice: Borrow it.
Some movies don’t age well. Films that thrilled and captivated when they came out seem dull by today’s standards. Some survive due to excellent acting or writing. Some don’t. That’s the major problem with this film. When compared to the powerhouses of the “Psycho Female” genre, Fatal Attraction, Misery, and Single White Female, this movie looks fairly bloodless. We are so used to these daughters of Medea passionately slaughtering all before them, it’s hard to see how remarkable this film is for its time. Having a woman as the instigator of the relationship is not very common on film during the 1940s. Of course this is balanced out by Ellen being a bit whacked in the head. This may have also allowed the movie to get away with Ellen purportedly falling down some stairs to cause a miscarriage. This scene would have been a shocker in pre-Roe vs. Wade America.
All this drama pales when held up against bunny boiling, foot hobbling, and knife slashing. This is a shame because there are some good parts to this movie. The camera is in love with Gene Tierney. With her high cheekbones and hard eyes, even when she oozes affection, you can sense her uncompromising need to be loved totally. She is almost like a statue to a goddess, demanding tribute from her followers in her very attitude. Cornel Wilde comes off as an affable fool, but that is what his character is supposed to be. But when he stares at Tierney, never saying a word, seeing her for the evil bitch she really is…that shows acting skill. Unfortunately, that’s really the only scene he gets to really use his craft to its full extent. It’s almost worth renting the movie to see Vincent Price in a role that doesn’t involve supernatural horror. Even in this limited role, he has great screen presence. But it is limited and isn’t enough to save the movie from its stilted dialogue and one of the most contrived climaxes I’ve seen on screen.
There are a few features on this disc. Frankly, I’m getting very irritated with still galleries. Would it kill DVD makers to include captions on the photos? How am I supposed to know what the director or make-up coordinator looks like? Is the photo taken in set or on location? Without any context, these photos do little to illuminate the viewer. I just want a sentence or two, is that so much to ask? The newsreels shorts included are sad. The short of the premiere of the film shows it being attended by stars you could charitably call “B list”. And the Academy Award ceremony barely deals with the movie itself.
The commentary has the usual Fox formula of a minor star of the film with a film authority trading off. Darryl Hickman wanders off subject when he talks about hanging out with Roddy McDowell and Elizabeth Taylor in his youth. He also disparages the actors for not using the Method that he happens to teach, even though as he says himself it didn’t hit the acting community until the 50s. Hickman has few kind words about his costar Tierney and the director Stahl. Now I don’t want him to give the standard “Everyone was wonderful” patter you usually get, but Hickman gets close to being mean spirited rather than simply honest. Schickel sounds bored having to supply information on a film he obviously doesn’t consider all that good. Like I said about Hickman, I don’t expect Schickel to gush, but he should be professional enough to have a neutral tone in his voice instead of making me think I made a mistake by taking the time to watch this.
All in all, Leave Her to Heaven is middle of the road: not a real classic but not a complete waste of time either. While the film isn’t on a par with where the genre has evolved to, it’s up to the DVD features to help us put it into an appropriate context, so we see Tierney as “grandmother” to the Glenn Close and Kathy Bates whackos of the cinematic world…but there’s nothing here to help with that. And while Fox’s Studio Classics line is to be commended for providing features on a film that normally wouldn’t have it, this entry just didn’t stack up quality-wise to others in the same line. See if your local library has it if you’re interested.