Last night I watched -- riveted -- the 1945 noirish color pic 'Leave Her to Heaven' An excessive melodrama with Gene Tierney as a cold blooded murderer come narcissist.
It is 'Gone With the Wind' gone noir -- except for the rich Technicolor and unbearably lavish and picturesque locations. The woman's madness and obsession creeps up on you but for all that dramatic intensity the whole femme fatale moniker -- ie: don't trust women despite their seeming passivity and subservience -- seems to have passed its used by date as the decades moved on into Feminist mode.
More recently the device is used to denigrate Feminist pretensions and undermine confidence and assertiveness-- witness Fatal Attraction. After all it is unnatural for ladies to kill...! [Unless they're being uppity.]
It's roll back spin.
But in the case of 'Leave Her to Heaven' a certain logic kicks in. The crimes make sense in a warped and deviant -- 1940s --way. That the film was made in 1945 when Rosie the Riveters were being sent from the work benches and back to the kitchen sink as breeders, the discomfort generated by the film still echoes now 65 years later.
Tierney's performance however, and the way the story unfolds, suggests something else that makes Leave Her to Heaven's melodramatic intensity a cautionary tale for the time. Tierney's character -- Ellen Berent Harland -- is a woman who is very much a victim of her own desire to possess a man (Cornel Wilde as Richard Harland). In that sense Leave Her to Heaven is a warning that despite any one man's pleasant and loving disposition or appeal -- to allow yourself to be caught up in him rather than be yourself can lead to all sorts of complications for the unwary ... or the unstable.
This makes for a tragic turn. A sentence. Men may not be the enemy but women's dependence on men is fraught with serious complications not assuaged by either manslaughter or suicide.
Last time I looked, this is a very different twist to the Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity franchise. This isn't women enticing and corrupting men but women making their own customized -- albeit warped -- way. That the murderous intensity is also focused on harm to self as a killing tool makes the whole thing that much more distressing.
This is an unforgettable movie experience. Tierney's performance and her superb dramatic pitch is captured in this pivotal murder sequence (below). Tierney's dark green eyes are shaded to add to the malevolence involved.
As Noel Coward said:
"I want to tell you, Miss Tierney, you gave me one of the most memorable evenings I ever had in the theater in your film Leave Her to Heaven. When I saw the expression on your face in the sequence in which you drowned the boy, I thought, 'That was acting.'"