Jolly Cinema > 09:30


John M. Stahl
Introduced by

Céline Ruivo


Friday 29/06/2018


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

Gene Tierney plays Ellen, a socialite who marries novelist Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde), whose resemblance to her dead father attracts Ellen to him. Soon after the wedding, in the idyllic setting of Bass Lake, California, Ellen’s obsession with Richard turns ugly, quickly becoming a destructive force. The archetypal possessive femme fatale of film noir, Ellen leaves a trail of death in her wake. If love in Stahl’s films had typically been slow-burning and gentle, his first colour picture depicts a love at once feverish and perverted. In 1940s Hollywood, under the influence of Freud, amour fou is shown to lead to insanity and even murder. Although this is a world far from Stahl’s usual restrained and domesticated spaces, he fully embraces it, handling the change of tone with remarkable skill.

The fact that Leave Her to Heaven remains one of Stahl’s best known films is partly thanks to the Technicolor cinematography of Leon Shamroy, which emulates the old masters of painting such as van Dyck and Rembrandt. Shamroy challenged the Technicolor guidelines (and its representative Natalie Kalmus) by ignoring attempts at realism, instead making “deliberate mistakes” from which the film benefits tremendously. The film’s transition from the opening shot, with its stunning tranquil view of nature, to darker tones (burnt umber and sepia) is nothing less than masterful. Even the colour composition of the lake house changes throughout, while Stahl perfects some of his older spatial motifs such as the use of the staircase as a site of danger and manipulation, previously introduced in Our Wife (1941).

The recurrent theme of self-sacrifice for love found in Stahl’s earlier films finds its ironic contrast here. And there’s still more irony and subversion: a film so lavishly filled with bold colours tells the story of a colour blind writer, who wished to be a post-Impressionist painter – Harland is as blind to the threatening colours of his world as he is to the malice of the woman to whom he is married.

Ehsan Khoshbakht

Cast and Credits

Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo di Ben Ames Williams. Scen.: Jo Swerling. F.: Leon Shamroy. M.: James B. Clark. Scgf.: Maurice Ransford, Lyle R. Wheeler. Mus.: Alfred Newman. Int.: Gene Tierney (Ellen Berent Harland), Cornel Wilde (Richard Harland), Jeanne Crain (Ruth Berent), Vincent Price (Russell Quinton), Mary Philips (signora Berent), Ray Collins (Glen Robie), Gene Lockhart (dottor Saunders), Reed Hadley (dottor Mason). Prod.: 20th Century Fox. 35mm. D.: 110’. Col.