One of the movies I looked forward the most at the TCM Festival was the 1946 classic (and I don’t use that word lightly) Leave Her To Heaven. Starring Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde and Jeanne Crain, based on the best-selling novel by John Stahl (generally underrated – his Imitation of Life is significantly better than Sirk’s, though he had the advantage of Claudette Colbert and no John Gavin), it screened in a meticulously restored digital print, undertaken by the Academy Archive, Fox and the Film Foundation.
People love to describe this film as a noir in color – Leon Shamrock’s photography plays like a lush technicolor showcase (while rarely being garish), from New Mexico to Maine, in highly composed compositions almost smothered with background shadows – but it has nothing to do with social context. Gene Tierney with her glittering slit green eyes may be the most frightening of femmes fatales (literally, several times over) but the film could be more accurately described as a psychological melodrama (thanks in no small part to Alfred Newman’s top-notch score).
Tierney plays a rich young woman who ensnares novelist Wilde and proceeds with feline charm (mostly) and temper to keep him all to herself, not letting his crippled kid brother, their unborn child or her own sweet foster sister (Crain) get in the way. Wilde is fine – he pretty much just has to be a dope, which is what he does best (his pancake make-up makes him look disconcertingly like a plastic doll); Crain’s bright eyes exude intelligence and restraint and her sharp features gradually become even more beautiful than Tierney’s.
Vincent Price also makes a strong, doleful impression as the D.A. thrown over by Tierney at the start, with a shot at bitter revenge at the end. But it’s Tierney’s film all the way, in a towering performance, perfectly in tune with the melodrama, heightened without being exaggerated, monstrous but almost pitiable, and always supremely well-dressed – how can one say that it’s possible to love too much?