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Leave Her to Heaven

Twilight Time // Unrated // May 14, 2013 // Region 0
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Screenarchives]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted May 23, 2013 | E-mail the Author
A casual glance at Leave Her to Heaven reveals many of the elements so often associated with film noir. Gene Tierney -- already a noir veteran from her starring turn in Laura -- plays a femme
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fatale first encountered on a train. She sinks her claws into her hapless prey, effortlessly manipulating this lovestruck simp every step of the way, and infidelity and murder quickly follow. From the ominous foreshadowing that opens to the film to its dazzlingly stylish cinematography, Leave Her to Heaven would certainly seem by any measure to be a sterling example of noir. On the other hand, it eschews the traditional black and white photography associated with noir in favor of sumptuous Technicolor. Its most haunting murder is set not in a shadowy alleyway but on an idyllic lake in Maine under the bright of day. Leave Her to Heaven refuses to fall neatly into most any classification, and perhaps that's why it remains so fascinating all these many decades later.

If not for the wraparound sequence quietly teasing at the horrors to come, there's little to suggest at first what sort of genre Leave Her to Heaven most warmly embraces. The first encounter between Ellen (Gene Tierney) and Richard (Cornel Wilde) is a meet-cute that would fit comfortably into most any romantic comedy, as she chats with a fella on a train about a book she's reading, a glance at the dust jacket away from realizing that's the novelist himself in the seat across from her. Passions burn intensely in the desert ranch they both happen to be visiting. There are signs that something's not quite right -- before Richard can react to being the other man with a woman he didn't know was engaged, he's unwittingly minted as her new fiancé in the space of about forty seconds -- but maybe that's just the way these sorts of feverish passions smolder...? Who wouldn't fall for the romance of wedding a writer rather than some blandly ambitious stuffed shirt of a district attorney (Vincent Price) anyway? Ellen adores Richard. She wants nothing more than to be around him night and day. She can't begin to bear the thought of sharing him with anyone or anything else: not with his beloved, polio-stricken brother (Darryl Hickman), not with the caretaker of his lake house, and not even with the novel he's been toiling over. They stand in the way of Richard lavishing Ellen with anything but his full, undivided attention, so she sets out to sever those attachments one by one...

For a film propelled by all-consuming obsession, it's surprising that perhaps the greatest asset of Leave Her to Heaven is its restraint. For much of its runtime, there's little to foreshadow the dark turns Ellen will soon take. She's on the possessive side, to be sure, but it's hardly to the point of being disturbing or unforgiveable. At worst, Ellen seems like an overenthusiastic young woman consumed by infatuation, not too terribly far removed from the "no, you hang up first,
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honey!" blushes of early love. The impact of what soon comes is heightened because it's so gradual. I'm struggling to think of the last film I watched with a sequence as unnervingly intense as the one in which Ellen finally crosses past the point of no return. She's not a frothing-at-the-mouth lunatic whose psychosis is punctuated by frenzied, stabbing strings in the score. Instead, as I try to step lightly around spoilers, this is a sequence that's still and quiet. Ellen is cold and emotionless throughout the act until it comes time for the necessary theatrics. It's horrifying because it's so real. This is a sequence that draws further suspense because we as viewers can see Ellen show her hand so far in advance of her innocent, doting victim...the tension of knowing what's to come but being helpless to do anything about it. The risks Leave Her to Heaven takes during this oppressive period of the Production Code are daring, although again, they're crafted with the appropriate subtlety and restraint to never come across as gratuitous. I can honestly say that the sight of a staircase has never made me audibly gasp the way this film has.

Leave Her to Heaven is in every way a success, from its assured direction to its frequently stunning Technicolor cinematography. The performances, shying away from the expected theatrics, are very much where they ought to be as well. It's difficult to imagine a more ideal femme fatale than Gene Tierney. Ellen is gorgeous and charming enough to make viewers want to keep liking her even when it starts to become clear that something's not quite right. It also sounds as if Tierney was all too well-suited to portray a character that soon becomes this cruel and frigid. The film asks only that Darryl Hickman and the adorable Jeanne Crain have a sweetness and youthful innocence that stand in stark contrast to Tierney's emotional void, and they certainly accomplish that. I've seen very few of Vincent Price's performances prior to his being established as a horror icon, and it's intriguing being able to see him as a jilted prosecutor. Cornel Wilde leaves perhaps the least of an impression. His Richard is intended to primarily be a lovestruck chump ensnared in Ellen's obsessive gaze, more of a sympathetic, reasonably likeable plot device than a compelling character in his own right. Again, though, he undeniably achieves what Leave Her to Heaven demands of him.

I must confess to having had little familiarity with Leave Her to Heaven beforehand, but I immensely enjoyed discovering this noir-tinted melodrama on Blu-ray. and I'd rank it among the most essential releases that Twilight Time has brought to the format. Very Highly Recommended.

Just look at it.
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There's very little I could tell you about this presentation that isn't fully on display in the image above. Leave Her to Heaven is breathtakingly crisp and sumptuously detailed on Blu-ray, and I frequently found myself dazzled by its rich sense of texture. No misalignment issues with the three-strip Technicolor cinematography rear their head at any point throughout the film. I'll confess to being a bit put off by the claylike fleshtones in the first few sequences, striking me as looking colorized after the fact rather than natively Technicolor, but that quickly ceases to be a concern. I can't say enough about Leave Her to Heaven's striking use of color, and Leon Shamroy's accomplished work here was rightfully honored with an Academy Award. No wear, speckling, or damage ever threaten to intrude, and I'm thrilled to say that Leave Her to Heaven's wonderful filmic texture has been preserved on Blu-ray. Twilight Time has lavished the film with a very healthy bitrate -- its AVC encode spans both layers of this disc, as it turns out -- ensuring that this presentation is as transparent to Fox's high-def master as possible. There are the usual disclaimers about degradation in optically-processed shots, but that's expected and unavoidable. Honestly, there
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really isn't much of anything for me to criticize, and Leave Her to Heaven has certainly made my shortlist as one of the most gorgeous Blu-ray releases of 2013.

Presented in 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio mono, Leave Her to Heaven isn't as aurally arresting as it is visually, but this is a strong showing just the same. Background noise is mild and easily ignored. Dynamic range is expectedly limited, and the audio does exhibit some strain, especially in those rare moments when Alfred Newman's score is at a full roar. Although it's most comfortable at a somewhat lower volume than usual, the dialogue throughout Leave Her to Heaven is consistently well-balanced and discernable as well. This lossless soundtrack certainly lives up to my hopes, and its limitations never negatively impact the overall experience. Well done.

Leave Her to Heaven offers a set of English (SDH) subtitles, along with two other audio options I'll delve into in just a moment.

  • Isolated Score: An isolated soundtrack showcasing Alfred Newman's score is lavished with the 24-bit lossless treatment as well.

  • Audio Commentary: The commentary track with critic Richard Schickel and actor Darryl Hickman from the 2005 DVD has been carried over to this Blu-ray release. Schickel and Hickman were recorded separately, and after some early interweaving back and forth, the commentary eventually lets one share the stage longer and longer before handing the mic off to the other.

    Schickel's encyclopediac knowledge of film is a welcomed asset as he explores the performers' filmographies and sometimes questionable talents, other notable work by the filmmakers on the other side of the camera, and Leave Her to Heaven as it's placed in a larger cinematic context. There's some repetition in his comments, perhaps just due to the way it's been edited, but that's rarely a distraction. Schickel
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    isn't timid about criticizing Leave Her to Heaven, especially the lack of fire in the overly mannered performances, so don't expect him to spend a full hour doting on the film.

    Hickman, meanwhile, offers his memories as a young actor on the film. These include nearly drowning in reality while portraying one on film, the meticulous approach to cinematography, and the way he and co-star Cornel Wilde were routinely mistreated throughout the shoot. Hickman also speaks at length about life as a child actor in those days, screen performance in an era before the Method had gained a foothold, and how filmmaking has changed in the many decades since.

  • Movietone News (2 min.; SD): Leave Her to Heaven's star-studded premiere is briefly highlighted, followed by Leon Shamroy being awarded an Oscar for the film's Technicolor cinematography.

  • Trailer (2 min.; SD): A theatrical trailer rounds out the extras on this disc.

Leave Her to Heaven also boasts another in a long line of terrific essays by Julie Kirgo.

The Final Word
A Technicolor film noir may seem to be a contradiction in terms, but it's that sort of disinterest in convention that helps ensure Leave Her to Heaven is as memorable as it is. Directed with confidence and a rare precision, Leave Her to Heaven at no point feels like a movie I've watched time and again, continuing to remain uniquely compelling nearly seventy years after it first roared into theaters. Twilight Time and Fox have done a marvelous job bringing the film to Blu-ray, and it's appreciated that its stunning visuals are joined by a respectable slate of extras. Easily among my very favorite Twilight Time releases to date and very Highly Recommended.






Highly Recommended

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