Gene Tierney, as Ellen Berent, stunning as usual, needs to jealously possess the one she loves. Possess him without interruption from the real world. The title, Leave Her to Heaven, is a quotation from Hamlet on the futility of seeking vengeance. She has plenty to atone for.
Considered a classic noir, despite being filmed in amazing 1946 technicolor, the colors are bright, the lighting is often crisp and clear, even when the most awful crimes are being committed, but the mood is dark, pure noir, including fatalistic foreshadowing of crime in a dream. The oppressive, brooding atmosphere is set right at the beginning, when the usual 20th Century Fox fanfare is replaced by an ominous drumbeat.
Yep, they meet by accident on a train. She was staring at him, yes, but only because he’s the image of her dear, dead, father. Her gaze discomfits him, and is an early indication of her character – she sees, she possesses, she destroys. How often do we see women staring at men this way?
He’s visiting a friend: She’s the friend’s daughter, but that connection isn’t clear until they get to the station. She’s not fishing, but he’s hooked.
Ellen had an intense relationship with Daddy. He died back east, but requested that his ashes be scattered in New Mexico at the family ranch. Ellen does the honors, riding horseback.
After getting to know him better, Ellen decides that Richard is the man for her. She announces this in front of her family and her ex-fiancé when he arrives in response to her Dear John telegram. She hadn’t yet clued Richard in to her plans. One of the surprising things about her character is how bluntly direct she is. She is totally in control and goes straight for what she wants. She doesn’t mince words with her ex, but she does tell him she will still vote for him. That should make him happy.
After his humiliating encounter, the ex suitor leaves, and Richard confronts Ellen in private. Before he can register any objections to these goings on, she asks him to marry her, and embraces him. Everything’s arranged.
But life with Richard doesn’t turn out quite the way she wanted. Too many things keeping him away from her. There’s his novel that he’s finishing. And his young brother, with a bad case of polio, and the old friend cum handyman who also lives in the lodge in the Maine woods. Some honeymoon! When she tries to get him into the mood, despite their separate beds, they are interrupted by knocking on the other side of the wall. His brother, calling to them that it’s breakfast time… Later, he slips out of her embrace to get back to work. It’s enough to make you want to kill somebody.
Little Danny just loves his big brother’s new wife. Is she teasing him just a bit here, slathering oil on his hairless body? Danny has made great progress in rehabilitation, and he loves to swim. Ellen follows in the boat, but her attention wonders, and…Danny drowns. Too bad. One less house guest. It’s a chilling scene, in glorious technicolor. She dons a pair of shades to distance her from her crime, and from us.
Things still are not quite right between Ellen and Richard, even with the other folks out of the way. She begs him to be hers alone, totally hers. I don’t know if some critics are right in thinking these images hint at oral sex given as an argument, but you can’t blame them for surmising.
Is Ellen mad, or just single-minded? To bind Richard to her, she gets pregnant, but she thinks it ruins her looks, and she has to stay in bed to save the child. “The little beast” has made her a prisoner. In this claustrophobic chamber, in which she seems like Alice grown too large for the space, she resolves to do away with the baby.
Finally, nothing can make Richard stay hers. The truth comes out in a long, wrenching confession. At last, he, the man, can return the evil stare of the Medusa. He is immobile, only moving his head to follow her as she writhes beneath his gaze, spilling her guts.
She resolves to do away with herself and get her revenge from beyond the grave, but by entirely un-supernatural means. Like Emma Bovary, she chooses arsenic to do the trick.