When you hear the term “film noir” what comes to mind? Do you envision dark streets, clouds of cigarette smoke and icy femme fatales all shot in stark black and white? What you don’t envision, I imagine, is pretty blue skies, and deep rich 1940s Technicolor imagery. Yet, that’s exactly what the 1945 noir “Leave Her to Heaven” is. A movie shot in the most beautiful Technicolor, but a noir with one of the coldest, and unique, femme fatales at the center of it.
In some ways “Leave Her to Heaven” kind of feels like a darker follow up to Fox’s 1944 Noir “Laura” as this film features three of the cast members from that film: Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, and Vincent Price. However, the characters the three play in this film couldn’t be more different than their “Laura” counterparts. Wilde plays Richard Harland, a novelist who meets a perfect woman, Ellen, (Tierney) on a train. Elle is a beautiful socialite, charming, and she starts a whirlwind romance between the two of them.
In a matter of weeks, the two are married, which comes as something of a shock to Ellen’s finance, a district attorney (Price). But as Ellen and Richard settle into their marriage, her warmth soon changes to icy depths as Ellen is bitterly, compulsively, obsessed with her new husband. Taking all warmth directed towards others by him as interfering with his love for her. Ellen’s jealous grows to horrifying lengths towards Richard’s friends, his younger brother, and even their child.
“Leave Her to Heaven” does many things that fly in the face of what you associate with Noir, the film’s most chilling scene takes place in broad daylight out on a lake. Yet, the film is every bit of a noir as any. Gene Tierney gives perhaps the best performance of her career, she was nominated for an Oscar for the film, and she’s undoubtedly one of the most underrated actresses of the classic Hollywood era. This is a movie that knocked me off my socks the first time I saw it, and the more and more I watch the film the more I find myself truly amazed by what a fantastic construction it is.
“Leave Her to Heaven” is out this week in a new blu-ray edition from The Criterion Collection. No, this isn’t the first time the film has been on blu-ray, but the new 2K restoration created for this release by 20th Century Fox, The Film Foundation, and The Academy Film Archive is truly stunning. The original negative for the film is lost, and so this new restoration is sourced from a 35mm color reversal internegative, with a 35mm nitrate IB technicolor print used as a color reference. IB Technicolor prints were made by having the color died into the film itself, they do not fade and would show how the color of each scene printed from the negative look.
Bonus material includes the film’s trailer and a new interview with critic Imogen Sara Smith, plus an essay by novelist Megan Abbott. This is a fantastic package of one of the best films of the 1940s, a must-own if you love the film, and a must-own if you’ve never seen it. See you next week.