Criterion Review: LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN

A beautiful digital restoration of the technicolor noir is now on Blu-ray

Two of Gene Tierney’s best-known film roles involve deep obsession. In Laura, a detective investigating her disappearance becomes infatuated with Tierney’s Laura as he learns more about her (it doesn’t hurt that the decorations in her apartment include a huge portrait of her). In the less witty Leave Her to Heaven, Tierney herself plays the infatuated one. Ellen (Tierney) has a meet-cute with an author, Richard (Cornel Wilde), on a train. In Teirney’s capable hands, Ellen enchants both Richard and the audience. Of course, the audience gets to see both the glittery facade of an ideal she presents for him as well as the cruelty of her true self.

“Ellen always wins.”

Richard might seem a better fit for Ellen’s adopted sister, the more pragmatic Ruth (Jeanne Crain). Yet he’s enamored of Ellen’s ethereal beauty and air of mystery, and when she proposes marriage — after an accidental run-in with her ex (Vincent Price, also in Laura) — he can’t fight the temptation. Ellen’s skill for manipulation is clear from the start.

She has learned to play a role when men are involved; the women in her life are keenly familiar with this aspect of her personality. Her mother (Mary Philips) regrets the extremely close relationship Ellen shared with her father. Ruth is wary of Ellen’s machinations, while at the same time wishing their sisterhood was deeper and truer.

Ellen’s sinister tendencies are emphasized by Leon Shamroy’s cinematography, with interior scenes shot from a low angle as patterns of light and shadow paint the ceiling. The set design, along with Shamroy’s shooting style, adds a claustrophobic feel to the technicolor noir. Even the verdant exterior shots are tinged with menace, especially if Tierney is involved. In a pivotal death scene at a calm Maine lake, Tierney’s face is cold and expressionless behind a pair of sunglasses.

Tierney is vicious as Ellen, desperate to keep her man yet aware that he will someday come to realize what kind of person she really is. She appears luminous in the digital restoration of Leave Her to Heaven, now out on Blu-ray from Criterion. But the 1945 film from director John M. Stahl proves that appearances can be quite deceiving.

The new Criterion BluRay package includes:

  • a half-hour long interview with critic Imogen Sara Smith about Stahl, the director’s previous “womens’ pictures,” his visual signatures, how film noir connects to melodrama, and an analysis of Tierney’s performance in Leave Her to Heaven, as well as the cinematography and production design
  • trailer
  • booklet essay from Dare Me author and producer Megan Abbott
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