Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Evil Gene

Continuing with my Gene Tierney fascination, I watched Leave Her To Heaven tonight. As usual, I like to check out what other people think once I've thought a little bit about it myself -- sometimes it's surprising what the consensus comes up with. Not this time, though.

Ideally one should be unspoiled for this movie, but given the ham-handedness with which movie blurbs are written these days, that's nearly impossible. The framing device tips us off to a recent past tragedy, anyway, but it doesn't reveal as much as those one-line descriptions spoil. In any case, you know pretty much right off the bat that things are going to take a turn for the worse somehow or other, so I spent the first half of the movie wondering when, where, and why -- although that last resolved itself before the other two. This film respects its audience enough not to overplay things, and it doesn't drop any exposition anvils, either. It has been a while since I've seen a melodrama like this played out straight, allowing the viewers to draw their own conclusions as it goes along. For that characteristic alone, this movie should be required viewing for anyone interested in screenwriting today. Show what happens and you won't need to explain it!

Tierney is gorgeous in this, the first color picture I've seen her in. (Not to imply this is the first color picture she made; it well may not be.) Several reviewers commented on the Technicolor palette and how carefully composed the colors are in this film, and they truly are extraordinary. The overall effect approaches a movie done up in oil pastels -- there is both a richness and a softness to the look of this movie that I can't recall seeing anywhere else.

But perhaps the best thing of all is seeing beautiful Tierney play a complete psychotic. Of course she hides it well, mostly, but the times she lets it slip it's as if a mask falls from her face, revealing something nearly reptilian beneath it. Then in the blink of an eye she's all sweetness and light again -- there's a great scene were we get to see a doctor doing a double-take for us: he can't believe he's seeing what he's seeing.

The major flaw in this film are the final courtroom scenes, which are just too absurd (no defense attorney would allow his clients to be badgered like that) and too rushed to hit as hard as they could have. Vincent Price as the spurned-suitor-turned-avenger is relentless, articulate, and amazingly good looking. But really, I just wanted to smack him and tell him to use his brain: the circumstantial evidence they're using to prosecute is so flimsy it practically proves the whole thing was a set-up. No murderer with half a brain would leave the murder weapon lying around (so to speak) like that! Of course it doesn't matter, since everything comes right eventually.

Tierney was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for this role. She really was terrific, but I think the nomination was more in recognition of her playing against type than anything else. She's normally the preternaturally good woman, so to see her play a character as evil and manipulative as Ellen is something of a shock. Tierney was clearly up for the challenges. I sure hope she had fun with this one, because she knocked it out of the park.

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