Leave Her to Heaven at Film Forum


Within the span of two years, the otherworldly beauty Gene Tierney starred in two films with the same celestial destination: Lubitsch’s 1943 comedy of marital happiness, Heaven Can Wait, and John Stahl’s 1945 lurid marital nightmare, Leave Her to Heaven. In Stahl’s film, Tierney’s Ellen Berent, one of cinema’s most chilling psychopaths, makes life hell for those close to her. “It’s just that she loves too much,” Ellen’s mother (Mary Philips) offers as explanation to her daughter’s new husband, Richard (Cornel Wilde, no match for Tierney’s menace), whom Ellen wants to possess fully. Ruled by pathological jealousy, Ellen simply stares as Richard’s beloved kid brother drowns and throws herself down the stairs to get rid of the “little beast” growing inside her. Though monstrous, Ellen earns a tiny bit of our sympathy, thanks to the odd compassion of Stahl, a veteran of the “woman’s picture” who helmed Imitation of Life and Magnificent Obsession two decades before Sirk remade them. Lensed by Leon Shamroy, the gorgeously restored Leave Her to Heaven redefines mauve. Tierney lost the Best Actress Oscar to Joan Crawford, playing someone else who loves too much in Mildred Pierce. But Mildred is redeemed as a noble, sacrificing mother; there’s no saving Ellen, whose twisted scheming remains unparalleled.