A purple melodrama spawned during an era when such films were wildly popular with female audiences left at home while World War II raged on, John M. Stahl’s Leave Her to Heaven is actually a bit more restrained than its genre siblings like, say, Mildred Pierce or Mr. Skeffington, but it nonetheless focuses on one of the most coldly evil central female characters in movie history, and the film has stood the test of time better than some due to the relative restraint of its acting and a lovely controlled score by one of the greats, Alfred Newman.
Distributed By: Twilight Time
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 1.0 DTS-HDMA (Mono)
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 50 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 05/14/2013
Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney) makes up her mind she wants author Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) almost from the minute she meets him, and she’s such a controlling kind of person that she basically announces their engagement to her family before they’ve barely dated and does the proposing when Richard obviously wants to take things a little slower. Once she’s snared him, he becomes her entire life, and she’s resentful of anything or anyone who even for a moment comes between the two of them. That includes his younger brother Danny (Darryl Hickman) mildly afflicted with polio but slowly improving, her own sister Ruth (Jeanne Crain) who comes for a visit and endears herself to Richard by planting wisteria around the yard, the child that she and Richard conceive which necessitates turning her beloved father’s den into a nursery, and even Richard’s writing which she’d rather he give up to live on her own inheritance. Ellen makes it her business to eliminate the distractions to her and Richard’s relationship one by one as situations arise that give her the opportunities to do so.
The Production Rating: 4/5
Screenwriter Jo Swerling adapted Ben Ames Williams’ novel, but Ellen’s perverse machinations to keep her husband all to herself are still present even if they had to be tempered to fall in line with the MPAA Production Code of the era (and since the film’s structure is in flashback, that can allow the teller of the story to editorialize the events to minimize their unfeeling horror). Among the most vivid sequences in the film are Ellen’s murder of the helpless Danny so that it would appear to be an accident, her set-up for a terrible fall in order to induce a miscarriage, and the climactic courtroom scene where Ellen’s final strike at her innocent family from the grave comes horrifyingly to light. The absolutely gorgeous location camerawork in Arizona, Georgia, and Maine settings is captured in Leon Shamroy’s stunning color cinematography for which he justly won the 1945 Academy Award.
Gene Tierney scored her only Oscar nomination for her performance in the film. She’s rather obviously coldly calculating some of the time which begs the question why those around her weren’t more wary of her two-faced treachery hiding behind a mask of poise and beauty, but it’s certainly an effective performance of evil that won’t be forgotten once seen. Cornel Wilde, never the most forceful of actors, is just fine as the soft spoken author rather bowled over by the beauty who won’t take no for an answer and who only too late realizes what a monster he’s married. Darryl Hickman gives one of the most engaging juvenile performances of the 1940s while Mary Philips and Chill Wills offer solid support as Ellen’s worried mother and Richard’s lake house custodian. Jeanne Crain’s pretty blandness as Ellen’s younger sister is actually an asset here as it offers a strong contrast to the more flamboyant personality of her alpha sister. Vincent Price gets a bit carried away in his showboating turn as the district attorney trying Ruth for murder, but he certainly holds the frame decisively.
The film has been framed at its theatrical 1.33:1 aspect ratio and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Sharpness is the most spectacular facet of this transfer with sparkling clarity in all of the medium shots and close-ups. An occasional long shot will offer slightly smudged details and mottled color. Fox engineers have done the best they could with the Eastmancolor elements they had to work with in bringing the movie as close as possible to its former Technicolor brilliance. However, skin tones do sometimes look flat, almost as if they had been colorized and are thus sometimes a bit unrealistic. But while there is no mistaking that this is not Technicolor we’re watching, the images can still be beautiful. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 sound mix has been cleaned up wonderfully and offers very nice sound reproduction for a film from this era without distracting hiss, pops, or crackle. Dialogue is always strong and easy to understand, and Alfred Newman’s score and the sound effects never intrude on our hearing and understanding what’s being said.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Audio Commentary: Critic Richard Schickel and actor Darryl Hickman have been recorded separately with their comments edited together. Schickel gives some brief biographical information about the actors and his own reactions to the film while Hickman relates not only his own (not always happy) experiences making the film but also offers fascinating stories of what it was like to be a child actor in Hollywood at the time.
Special Features Rating: 3/5
Isolated Score Track: offered in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (mono).
Theatrical Trailer (2:11, SD)
Newsreels (2:20, SD): two Movietone newsreel excerpts detailing the film’s Hollywood premiere and the subsequent Oscar ceremony showing Leon Shamroy accepting his award along with some other business with host Bob Hope.
Enclosed 6-Page Booklet: offers stills from the film, poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s always interesting liner notes on the film.
Leave Her to Heaven is wonderful melodramatic filmmaking from the 1940s featuring memorable performances and some beautiful location photography. Only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray from Twilight Time have been manufactured so those interested should go to www.screenarchives.com to see if copies are still available. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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