Tierney has Fatal Attraction
In a way you could say that "Leave Her to Heaven" was the "Fatal Attraction" of it's day. It's focus is on a jealous woman who will stop at nothing to get her way, to remove any temptations and distractions from her husbands path. And in the same way that Glenn Close's bunny boiler was a shocking character for the 80s, Gene Tierney's Ellen Harland is just as shocking when you think that "Leave Her to Heaven" was released in the 40s. In fact it is the beauty and brilliance of Gene Tierney which makes "Leave Her to Heaven" work as without her it could have ended up a good but average thriller.
Having met on the train to New Mexico, socialite Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney) and novelist Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) fall deeply in love and plan to marry, although her fiancee politician Russell Quinton (Vincent Price - Edward Scissorhands) is less than thrilled when he learns the news. But Richard and Ellen do get married and move close to the nursing home where Richard's disabled brother Danny (Darryl Hickman) lives. Although initially happy Ellen becomes increasing jealous of anyone who encroaches on their life as she yearns to have Richard all to herself, to the point of derangement as she attempts to control her new husband and those around him.
Ignoring the fact that director John M. Stahl employs a vibrant, breathtakingly colourful palette, "Leave Her to Heaven" is very much a film-noir, just not one for the purists. The story as we watch Ellen and Richard meet, fall in love and marry before spiralling into danger as her jealousy leads to controlling behaviour has those film-noir elements. And to be honest it is a good story, told in a kind of flashback way it draws you into the world of Ellen and Richard as we witness a quick marriage followed by her becoming increasing more jealous and controlling. Because of the flashback style you know from the start that something isn't right and it leads you to wonder how it gets to that point, but it surprises you along the way by not being entirely straight forwards as it delivers a simple but clever twist.
But to be honest whilst the story is good it's not spectacular or not as spectacular as the look of the movie. To say that "Leave Her to Heaven" is sumptuous is an understatement, as it is gloriously beautiful and brilliantly shot. The list of amazing scenes is endless be it the silhouetting of Ellen and Richard in front of a setting sky, the vibrant colour palette of the lakeside home or the darker side to the house by the sea. If you want a treat for your eyes "Leave Her to Heaven" is most definitely it, although purists of film noir might find the vibrancy a down side.
All of this makes "Leave Her to Heaven" a good movie, a beautiful movie but it is something else, something as equally as beautiful which makes it just a bit better than average. That something else is Gene Tierney as Ellen, an actress who is breathtakingly beautiful, so beautiful that it's impossible to take your eyes off of her. But it's not just her beauty which is brilliant but her actual characterization of Ellen. Watching Tierney playing a ruthless wife, a controlling, jealous woman who will do anything, including murder and self harm so that she is the only one in her husbands life is spectacular. What is staggering is that Ellen is a nasty, spiteful woman yet Tierney makes us fascinated by her to the point that despite capable of anything we border on liking her, sympathising with her. It is because Tierney is so good, so believable and beautiful that "Leave Her to Heaven" becomes better than average.
And in many ways it is a good thing that Tierney is on such fine form as the rest of the performances are frankly average. Cornel Wilde is solid but unremarkable as her husband Richard whilst Jeanne Crain plays Ellen's adopted sister Ruth with too much restraint. The same cannot be said for Vincent Price whose courtroom grandstanding as Russell Quinton is so over the top it is troubling and Darryl Hickman who plays Danny is stilted by dialogue so full of "gollies", "jeezes" and "goshes" that it is comically fake.
What this all boils down to is that "Leave Her to Heaven" is a very good thriller, a treat for your eyes with the wonderful camera work. But it is Gene Tierney which makes it very good rather than just average and between creating such a fascinating character and being sublimely beautiful it is captivating. In many ways "Leave Her to Heaven" is worth watching just for Gene Tierney although the storyline won't disappoint either.