Gene Tierney, in glorious Technicolor, is Leave Her to Heaven’s self-justification, to the extent that it has one. The year after playing the obscure object of desire in the noirish Laura, Tierney is here the center of a genre- and gender-reversal, as this women’s picture funhouse-mirrors Laura’s themes of possession and obsession. Then, men saw their painting and knew they had to have her; here, leading with her avid overbite, she first meets cute with author Cornel Wilde on a train while reading one of his books, his author photo tiny in her hands.
That she hardly blinks once during that encounter should be taken a warning; so too later on, in the empurpled New Mexico night, as she scatters Daddy’s ashes from galloping horseback while Alfred Newman’s tom-tom score thumpa-thumps. Early on in their marriage, which she orchestrates almost by fiat, it becomes clear that her favorite line in the vows was the one about “forsaking all others”, which includes his crippled brother, and her kid sister (and, briefly, his writing: shades of “The Yellow Wallpaper”?). Playing less a character than a rabidly glamorous engine of movie melodrama, Tierney’s in Joan Crawford mannequin mode (Leave Her to Heaven would make a great double feature with Crawford’s black-and-white psych-ward flashback Possessed), most notably bystanding, cold-as-ice, in a drowning sequence that plays like a deliciously horrible Hitchcock set-up, except that director John M. Stahl doesn’t even bother to pretend you’re not squealing in anticipation of the worst.
Throughout, Stahl poses his characters in front of lavishly appointed settings — Southwestern ranches and New England cabins — whose colors seem to bulge against their outlines. How this’ll play in front of Film Forum’s notoriously camp-spotting audiences I don’t want to think about — especially not the courtroom confessions orchestrated by ex-lover-turned-D.A. Vincent Price — but it’ll be worth the cackles to see this on the big screen.