Leave Her to Heaven

Time Out New York Project: Issue #701, March 5-11, 2009

Author’s Note: This is the first post in an ongoing series, the aim of which is to archive the reviews and articles I published at Time Out New York between February 2009 and September 2014, during my tenure as a staff film critic. Many of these pieces have either vanished from the website or are presented in subpar fashion, if you can even find them. Hopefully, this will make them more easily accessible. I plan to go in order by issue, and mirror these posts on my Letterboxd account. I will additionally link to a Time Out New York page if it exists, to a PDF scan of the original piece in context, and to the relevant section of my personal site, The Completist, where I am building out a full archive of all my work. As I have all the print issues from my tenure, I should be able to include, where applicable, scans of the accompanying article images and their punny captions.


Dir. John M. Stahl. 1945. N/R. 110mins. Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain.

A “film noir in color” (per Martin Scorsese) and a masterpiece of post-WWII American cinema (premiering just months after the August 14 armistice), this poison-apple parable contains at its center a slinky femme fatale with a steadfast belief in all-embracing damnation. The problem with Ellen Berent (Tierney), as he self-deceiving mother attests, is that she loves too much. It’s implied that this very attribute all but killed the family’s never-seen patriarch, whose ashes Ellen scatters from high-galloping horseback in one of the film’s iconic scenes. And this black widow’s fervid devotion proves to wreak havoc on her author husband, Richard Harland (Wilde), whose crippled younger brother and unborn child are destined to meet the wrong ends, respectively, of a lake and a staircase. The onscreen melo boils, but director John M. Stahl’s gaze remains spare and precise, very Japanese in its effects, like an acidic fusion of Ozu and Naruse. (A few of Tierney’s gowns, stained with psychic-wound red streaks, even resemble kimonos.)

The glamour of the film’s palette (courtesy of cinematographer Leon Shamroy) is but a bandage on a festering canker, and a late courtroom scene in which Ellen’s former fiancé (Vincent Price) interrogates the film’s surviving parties seems more a Torquemada-like spiritual purge than a crusading search for justice. If God is in the details, he remains tauntingly at the margins: Blue skies never seemed so coldly distant and on-high critical, especially in the deceptively redeeming final shot, one of the few compositions captured, tellingly, from an emphatic low angle.—Keith Uhlich