Saturday, 16 April 2016

Scorsese's picks: Leave Her to Heaven (John M. Stahl, 1945)

This is a new feature I am going to be trying out. Scorsese is extremely vocal about the films that have influenced him, so I thought I would have a go at reviewing some of his favourite films. 

Let's jump in.

This movie is a real creep show. Shot in livid technicolour, it is the story of a femme fatale (Gene Tierney) who goes about possessing a man (Cornel Wilde) body and soul. It does not matter if she has to manipulate, maim or kill -- she'll do whatever it takes to keep her man.

Lauded as the only colour noir of the classic period, Leave Her To Heaven's story is pretty generic in retrospect, but the execution is so eye-catching it is almost beside the point.

The acting is kinda cardboard. Cornel Wilde is stoic as the gormless spouse, and Gene Tierney is alabaster -- yet somehow, their relative reticence adds to the mounting sense of dread.

Speaking of dread, check out this clip. The film is probably most famous for this scene. It really encapsulates the film's tone and style to a T.

Stone cold. Tierney has been criticised for being a bit of a blank slate in her other roles (especially her most famous role, in Otto Preminger's Laura), but it works really well here.

Tierney and Wilde may get the billing, but the star here is the Academy Award-winning photography by Leon Shamroy. The colours are so vibrant and beautiful that the rustic locales resemble the idealised America of Norman Rockwell.

Unlike other noir, there are no shadows here, and most of the major sequences take place in bright sunshine. Like Hitchcock's Vertigo or Kubrick's The Shining, the effect is very unsettling, and more effective at conveying the declining mental facilities of their protagonists.

Like its villainess, Leave Her to Heaven is beautiful to look at, but its attractive exterior is merely camouflage for the darkness underneath. Check it out.

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