Monday, July 9, 2012

Leave Her To Heaven: Charlie's Strange Aunt on a Train

This is my contribution to The Best Hitchcock Film That Hitchcock Never Made blogathon, hosted by Tales of the Easily Distracted and ClassicBecky's Brainfood. Click here to check out the rest of the awesome posts! Some people have a great imagination!


A beautiful woman, beautiful locations, gorgeous color and murder. Put them all together and what do you get? A film that wasn't made by Alfred Hitchcock,  but could have been. Maybe.

Leave Her To Heaven is the feminine answer to Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt. There always seemed to me to be a little psycho link between Uncle Charlie and Ellen Berent. Let's see...

Uncle Charlie: handsome, charming, evil. He fell on his head as a child, presumably the reason for his twisted mentality.


Ellen: Beautiful, selfish, charming, evil. She mourns the loss of the father she loved obsessively and needs a replacement.


Even the supporting players seem similar...


Emma Newton: loving, stupid, so besotted by Charlie.


Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde): loving, stupid, so besotted by Ellen


Young Charlie: she knows what evil lurks beneath the smooth surface of Uncle Charlie's charm.
Ruth Berent: she knows what evil lurks beneath the smooth surface of Ellen's perfection.


Both stories take place in lovely, peaceful locations. Shadow of a Doubt gives us deceptively simple Santa Rosa, California. Leave Her To Heaven gives us gorgeous New Mexico and Maine homes, color and locales more reminiscent of Hitchcock's later films. In both stories, the beauty of place masks an evil unseen.
Peaceful Santa Rosa
The beautiful desert of New Mexico
Back of the Moon, Maine - a perfect place for a murder
Both stories start with a train ride into this peaceful place. Charlie famously arrives and departs on a train to Santa Rosa. Ellen and Richard meet in a charming scene on a train as Ellen is on the way to her father's funeral. Here, a little taste of Bruno from Strangers on a Train creeps (and I do mean creeps) in. Like Guy, Richard unwittingly enters into a tangled pact.
A train brings Uncle Charlie and also takes him away (for good)
A fateful meeting on a train
Do you think Ellen and Bruno would have gotten along?
What Spins this story on its head is that the evil at its heart is the beautiful woman. Sometimes a Hitchcock beauty was bad (Madeline/Judy of Vertigo and Marnie come to mind), but they were usually redeemed or reformed by love (except for Judy's faulty footing at the top of the bell tower). Ellen, so possessive of her man that she kills both his brother and unborn child, is beyond redemption or reform and manages to use her considerable powers for one last punishment from the grave (poor hubby goes to jail as an accomplice for his silence).
Ellen wins - always
Directed by John Stahl, Leave Her To Heaven contains one of the most disturbing murders on film. Ellen, jealous of the love her new husband has for his handicapped brother, takes him out in the lake for a swim and coldly watches him drown. Gene Tierney, here so beautiful and so much more than a pretty face, is masterful. This is one cold cookie who could give Bette Davis's Regina Giddens a run for her money.




This is one scene that might even have made Hitchcock a little jealous (but not as jealous as Ellen, I hope). What's wrong with Ellen? She's a beautiful, freakin' psycho, that's what! Beautifully dressed, groomed and photographed, she is the Hitchcock heroine in brightly colored negative. 

49 comments:

Caftan Woman said...

"Do you think Ellen and Bruno would have gotten along?" What a terrifying thought! The mind recoils in sheer horror from the possibilities.

Dawn said...

Leave Her To Heaven, is one of my favorite all time favorite Noir and Chick Flick films. I loved how you compared it to, Strangers on a Train. I agree.. they do have a lot of similarities that I had not thought of before.

Paul @ Lasso The Movies said...

This is a great choice! Hitchcock must have thought this movie was great, and obviously the rest of us do. And yes I agree that Ellen and Bruno is a couple I think I can live without.

lipranzer said...

I remember checking this movie out when Roger Ebert recommended it, and have loved it ever since. Only Jane Greer in Out of the Past was as good in playing a femme fatale character (Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity and Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction are close behind) as Gene Tierney was here. And this was a great write-up.

DorianTB said...

FlickChick, I'm truly wowed by your LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN post! I love your comparisons among the characters in Hitchcock's SHADOW OF A DOUBT and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and John M. Stahl's LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN. Gene Tierney sure proves her versatility here; talk about "Pretty Poison"! :-) I can't decide whether Ellan and Bruno would've become partners in crime, or sworn enemies spending the film trying to knock each other off!

I rarely seek out movies that involve kids' deaths, especially by foul play; as a mom, I find that very upsetting, to say the least! I could hardly look at that scene with that poor younger brother's drowning. Tierney's Ellen makes THE LITTLE FOXES' Regina look like a nice clean Campfire Girl (to borrow a line from LADY IN THE LAKE, another film involving murderous drowning). Your literally negative last look at Ellen chillingly says it all. Too bad Oscar was too chicken to give Tierney an Oscar for her performance!

Thanks and BRAVA! for joining in our BEST HITCHCOCK MOVIES...NEVER MADE Blogathon with such a great post!

FlickChick said...

@ CW - I would love to see the version of Bruno & Ellen-Trouble in Paradise indeed!

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Dawn. It really never occurred to me until I started writing.

FlickChick said...

@ Paul - thank you so much for stopping by. I've seen reviews of this movies that call it glossy trash, but I think it is so much better than that.

FlickChick said...

@lipranzer: Thanks for stopping by. And wow - what a gallery of lethal ladies you named!

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Dorian. I agree that Ellen's actions are unspeakable. If she weren't so beautiful she could never get away with it.

said...

I haven't seen Leave Her to Heaven yet, because I have a certain hole in Gene Tierney's filmography. But the coincidences are amazing: the young girl even has a resemblance with Charlie!
Kisses!

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Le! Oh please do see this film is you get a chance- it is great fun!

whistlingypsy said...

A perfect choice for the Hitch not Hitch blogathon, and your comparison reveals the truly sinister natures at the heart of two (sociopathic) personalities. I suspect that as long as Bruno held no emotional attachment to Ellen's man, they might tolerate one another (everyone else, watch out!). If I might add, Joseph Cotten and Gene Tierney appeared in two other great films infused with the Hitchcock spirit: "The Third Man" and "Laura", more or less.

Classicfilmboy said...

Great post! Gene Tierney is a cool, collected murderess ... she is so chilling in this one. Enjoyed the comparison to Hitchcock, too. If Uncle Charlie and Ellen had a child ... Rosemary's Baby??

silverscreenings said...

Love how you wrote this! Sounds like a terrific movie - will have to watch for it.

DorianTB said...

CFB, the very thought of evil Ellen Berent and Uncle Charlie Oakley giving birth to Rosemary's Baby brings only one thought to my mind: AAIIEE! KILL THOSE MANIACS THEM BEFORE THEY BREED!!! :-)

Karen said...

I enjoyed your comparisons to Shadow of a Doubt and Strangers on a Train, two of my favorite Hitchcock films!

Yvette said...

I love this movie though I haven't watched it in years. Still I do remember the horrific drowning sequence.

You're right about how beautifully Tierney is photographed and how stupid Cornell Wilde seems.

I do like the link you made between Ellen and Bruno. One Hitchcock, one not. Something I'd never thought of before. Terrific post.

'Strange Aunt On A Train' Love it.

Christian Esquevin said...

Great choice and great post FlickChick - Leave Her to Heaven has always been one of my favorite, albeit disturbing, movies. I just love the contrast in the rich, saturated Technicolor, and the thoroughly black, film noir story. Even the Court House interior is painted green to symbolize Ellen's jealousy. It would have been such a perfect Hitchcock film.

FlickChick said...

@ Gypsy -I'll bet Hitchcock and Gene Tierney would have made beautiful music together. In fact, a director like him is exactly what she needed and never got.

FlickChick said...

@ Classicfilmboy - OMG - a child would probably make Rosemary's Baby look like a choir boy!

FlickChick said...

SIlverscreenings -oh, this is a goodie. And if you love fashion, Gene's wardrobe is an awesome plus.

FlickChick said...

@ Karen - thank you so much for your comments. I am so glad you liked it.

FlickChick said...

@ Yvette - thank you so much.

FlickChick said...

@ Christian: I agree that the use of color here is just brilliant. I am sure Hitchcock would not have been ashamed if someone thought this was his work.

Michael W said...

Lord, that drowning scene always gave me the absolute willies (if I had to do a collection of particularly memorable movie deaths . . . interesting idea there . . . "Leave Her To Heaven" would easily make the cut.

Rick29 said...

Intriguing comparison of LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (a personal fave) and SHADOW OF A DOUBT...with a dash of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. I don't think of Marnie nor Judy as bad girls, but Ellen...well, she was gorgeous but one homicidal, obsessive cookie. And I agree that the swimming scene is one of cinema's most chilling murder scenes. A superb choice for the blogathon!

John Peurach said...

Totally loved your comparison shopping spree with regards to the ever-so stylish psychos (Pseudo-Hitch vs. Classic Coke Hitch)on parade in these amazing, forever-must-see films. Specifically your detailed look at what's gotta get up to get down in John Stahl's "Leave Her To Heaven." Where, of course, the only thing more gorgeous than Gene Tierney - lethal as ever while sporting nearly the same shades as the cop who wakes up Janet Leigh on the side of the road in "Psycho" and, oh yeah, a wardrobe someone I'm sure had to die for - is Leon Shamroy's ultra-well deserved Oscar winning color cinematography depicting Ms. Tierney and "friends" in various Maine, and/or New Mexico locations. In other words, it doesn't get any more beautiful/creepy than this. All of which further confirms my theory that when the would-be (not) good cinematic gals are very, very bad, the films they're in go up way more than a notch in the forever memorable, worthwhile, and, more importantly, altogether essential departments. As far as Hitchcock (most definitely - I'm sure) wishing he'd dreamed up such a had to be there gem as "Leave Her To Heaven," methinks this kicked him into an immediate high end gear that eventually brought forth such wondrous later on films showcasing alternating male and female variations on the evil hearted you theme, during the balance of his career throughout the rest of the 1940's, the 1950's and 60's, and, well into the 1970s.

FlickChick said...

Michael W - thanks so much. I agree that the drowning scene is very worthy of the master.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Rick. Yes - Judy and Marnie were just misunderstood, but were not beyond redemption. But Ellen? Well, a little too far gone!

FlickChick said...

Oh, Professor P - you make me blush! Thank you so much for your too kind and eloquent commentary.

Jeff Flugel said...

Loved your post, Flickchick! To echo what others here have said, Gene Tierney is so, so lovely (and so lethal) in this film, the prototypical "woman without pity." A funny and cleverly done comparison with SHADOW OF A DOUBT and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, a connection that never occurred to me before but which makes perfect sense.

Ivan said...

Flickchick:
I dig braintrips like this, thanks. Shadow of a Doubt is one of my faves, and Ellen is a favorite film character. I personally don't see any problems with her murdering the whole lot of them (what does she see in that sap Cornel Wilde? His books must stink).
To me Ellen's story is the tragedy of this superwoman, a valkyrie, trapped in a world of "mundanes."
Thanks,
Ivan

DorianTB said...

FlickChick and Ivan, I got a kick out of this line: "To me, Ellen's story is the tragedy of this superwoman, a valkyrie, trapped in a world of 'mundanes.'" Witty and hilarious, sir! :-)

Ivan said...

Thanks!

The Lady Eve said...

Great choice, Flick Chick. Three of my favorite movies folded into one sharp, entertaining piece. Bruno and Ellen in the same room is an interesting thought. Bruno didn't really care for women that much, so I don't think her beauty would have transfixed him. And that might well enrage Ellen. I don't see a relationship between Bruno and Ellen going anywhere good...

Grand Old Movies said...

Just a great post! An interesting idea, matching Ellen & Bruno - both of them beautiful narcissists who conceive of cold-blooded murder as easily as baking a cherry pie. The one advantage Bruno has is a sense of humor - poor Ellen is seriously deficient there. Perhaps if Hitchcock had filmed 'Leave Her to Heaven,' he might have given his anti-heroine an equally ghoulish sense of hilarity.

FlickChick said...

@ Jeff - thanks for your comment. I think all roads really lead to Hitchcock if you think about it..

FlickChick said...

You know what, Ivan? I completely agree with you!

FlickChick said...

Lady Eve - well, I kind of see Bruno and Ellen using one another to attract their victims - Hitchcock with a dash of Tennessee Williams.

FlickChick said...

@ Grand Old Movies - yes, Ellen was sorely lacking in the humor department. The girl needed to lighten up!

Ivan said...

FlickChick: Thanks! And BTW, I actually think Ellen and Bruno would get on swimmingly--heh, heh--but only on neutral territory, like a moving train or a fashionalbe Midtown eatery.
Their psychosexual philosophies (or pathologies) of The Superwoman and Raskolnikov in Silk, respectively, would conflict if on each other's "home turf" (glorious Valhalla-like landscapes, or a dark castle with big silent dogs in it).
Honestly, I think it would be Uncle Charlie who would really hate Bruno--for recognizing himself in Bruno; and I think Charlie would consider Bruno as "foolish" as his victims.
--Ivan

FlickChick said...

Ivan - that's a good idea for a post - Characters who should meet and characters who should NEVER meet!

Ivan said...

FlickChick,
That is an awesome idea--if you start the blogothon, I'll sign up toot sweet!
Imagine:
Liberty Valance trains with Angel Eyes!
Norman Bates ends up in Shock Corridor's hospital--where RP McMurphy gets transferred to...
Vic from A Boy & His Dog grows up into President Snow!
Young Father Merrin meets Larry Talbot!
Abbott & Costello Meet the Dunwich Horror!

The list is endless...

Ivan said...

Byron Orlok stars in a Joe Gillis script!

FlickChick said...

Ivan! I have unleashed a monster! My personal favorite might be Mrs. Danvers and Cody Jarret.

Perry said...

Thanks for the fine article. I've never seen "Leave Her to Heaven," but I'm going to find it soon. But I doubt it's as creepy as "Shadow of a Doubt." Joseph Cotton was terrific in that one.

FlickChick said...

Perry - Ellen is in some ways worse than Uncle Charlie. He murdered strangers for money and a pathological hatred. Ellen kills the brother her husband loves out of jealousy and also kills her unborn child for the same reason. She will creep you out.

Perry said...

I saw "Leave Her to Heaven" yesterday and now I think Bruno was an amateur compared to Ellen. I would be hard pressed to come up with a Noir character who was as cold-blooded and manipulative. I saw the drowning scene here on your blog, but, out of context, it didn't have much of an impact on me. After seeing how close Richard and Danny were, and getting to know Danny a bit, I was horrified! Thanks again for the post.