Leave Her To Heaven
Watching the final courtroom scene in this movie makes it abundantly clear why America needed the Miranda decision. If anyone in the audience in 1945 believed five seconds of this farrago of idiocy, then it’s clear they had absolutely no idea of their civil rights. Looking at a few online reviews, I came up with this quote, which is dead on: “…finally culminating in a courtroom melodrama of such histrionic preposterousness that one’s hands are thrown up in frustration.” Lee and I were laughing, wanting to stand up and holler “Objection, your honor! Badgering the witness!” Vincent Price, the prosecutor who, get this, was the jilted boyfriend of the victim (can you say “conflict of interest?”) calls the defendant to the stand, which no prosecutor has been able to do since at least 1789, and all but throws her to the ground and stands on her neck, screaming and demanding the answer to this question: “Do you love him? Do you love him? DO YOU LOVE HIM, YOU LYING WHORE?” (Well, that’s what he means.) The movie is one long flashback, and at the beginning the defense lawyer (hah!) laments, a little ruefully, “Maybe it’s partly my fault that he did two years in prison.” No shit, Sherlock. At the trial he never raised one objection. The judge apparently slept through the whole thing. This is what passed for courtroom drama in 1945.
I know, it was 1945, you bring a different sensibility. But there was one other element in it that really rankled, also typical of 1945. This kid. He has polio. Awwwwww! And he is so … gee whiz, I mean, golly, he’s so … boyish! So lovable, so eager to please. I found another gem of a quote, this one from Bright Lights Film Journal: “He’s the kind of earnest, unaware boy everyone loves less than anyone wants to admit.” Exactly! I hated the little prick! I was hoping Gene Tierney would drown him!
But there’s one of the good parts: Gene Tierney. She’s been called the most beautiful woman ever to work in Hollywood, and I wouldn’t go that far—she’s not really my type, too icy and perfect and controlled—but she’s perfect for this part. From the very first shot you know there’s something seriously wrong with this girl, she is creepy on a deep level, and you know Cornel Wilde won’t see it until it’s too late.
The other thing to like is the glorious, saturated Technicolor, back when they had to overlight a scene to the point of sunburn to expose the film properly. Watch Gene light a kerosene lamp … and a million lights spring up all around her, from every angle! Look for the multiple reflections on the shiny, bulbous cars. But it’s lovely. Won an Oscar for cinematography, and you can see why. Color was still rare back then, and it must have been almost a sensory overload for audiences in those days. And it works pretty well as a story of an obsessed control freak … up until the preposterous ending.
Oops! Almost forgot. (Actually, I did forget, and Lee had to plug this into the bottom of the review later.) Chill Wills was in it, looking very out of place in Maine, far from the lone prairie where we usually see him. He sang a silly little song I couldn’t get out of my head all night long.