Based on Ben Ames Williams’ novel, which at the time was a bestseller, novelist Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) meets the beautiful enigmatic Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney) on a train and is swept up in a whirlwind romance. However Ellen’s love for Richard is obsessive; a love transferred from her father, who she had an unhealthy attachment too.
Ellen doesn’t want anyone to have any of Richard’s affection, including his younger disabled half brother Danny (Darryl Hickman) and her cousin Ruth (Jeanne Crain), and she’ll go to any lengths to ensure that Richard loves nobody but her.
Leon Shamroy won an Oscar for his cinematography and the use of colour is striking, from Ellen’s permanent red lipstick (she even wears it when she’s swimming!) to the bright royal blue shadows that are more deeply unsettling than moody monochrome.
Of all of this week’s films, Leave Her to Heaven is the most genuinely psychological. Ellen is evil but never shallow and Tierney’s performance is nuanced. Ellen can switch from loving wife to cold-hearted monster and back in a flash; the most shocking example is the lake scene, in which Ellen encourages a physically weak Danny to keep swimming ahead and coolly watches as he drowns.
There are also some fantastic costume designs from Kay Nelson; Ellen is impossibly glamorous and stylish, generally when she’s at her most evil. She certainly fills the role of femme fatale and then some.
Leave Her to Heaven is the most melodramatic film of the week and yet the most psychological. Shot in eye poppingly bright Technicolour yet it’s so morally dark. Unlike Double Indemnity, Laura and even Jail Bait, there’s no witty one-liners to lighten the mood.
Some lazy comparisons could be made with Gone Girl, but whilst Gone Girl was deeply misogynistic, Leave Her to Heaven is a complex portrait of a woman trapped both by her insane jealousy and social expectations of womanhood.