Saturday, June 30, 2012
Leave Her to Heaven. B+
It seems unlikely on the surface, but if you think about, Leave Her to Heaven has a fair amount in common with Duel in the Sun. Both films are big color spectacles with sweeping visual grandeur and melodrama to spare. They each feature sibling rivalries and their attraction to a visitor while also exploring truly dark areas in human beings. And then they both feature unlikely villainous roles from famous actors. Duel in the Sun had Gregory Peck as the villain, and in Leave Her to Heaven it's Gene Tierney. I mention this because these are two of the films Martin Scorsese lists as his favorites. When you start to see films he calls masterpieces, you begin to understand what he likes about movies. And though Scorsese has done a remarkable job following his own creative vision rather than revisiting the styles of his cinematic heroes, we've seen him begin to nod towards old favorites with his recent efforts, Shutter Island and Hugo. But enough of this great filmmaker. Let's see what makes Leave Her to Heaven such a good movie (even if I don't agree with Scorsese on it being one of the all time greats). I think you have to start with the locales. There are four in the film, the main ones being in the New Mexico dessert and the other up North in a scenic log cabin surrounded by pine trees and an expansive lake. This is an exquisite film to look at simply because the locations are so pleasant and idyllic. And I think that plays heavily into the evolution of the main character, Ellen, played by Tierney. Her life has been an easy one, and when she meets a young writer on a train, she quickly falls in love with him, despite the fact that she's already engaged to another man. Ellen is a girl whose entire life has been one of leisure and fulfilled desires, yet when she does pick her man, complications arise that she's incapable of dealing with. The result is something like noir, but perhaps closer to a horror story. It's not a frightening film, but the jarring shift the story takes in its second half is scary in that it seems so real. Ellen's descent is a display of one of the great psychos in movie history, and it all starts on the lake where one of the most unsettling murders you'll ever see occurs. It's not murder in the strict sense, yet it is murder in Ellen's own, conniving way. This is where the movie jumps from melodramatic romance to bizarre horror show, representing one of the strongest tonal shifts in any film I can recall.