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Leave Her to Heaven

Leave Her to Heaven
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John M. Stahl
Produced by William A. Bacher
Screenplay by Jo Swerling
Based on Leave Her to Heaven
1944 novel 
by Ben Ames Williams
Starring Gene Tierney
Cornel Wilde
Jeanne Crain
Vincent Price
Music by Alfred Newman
Cinematography Leon Shamroy
Edited by James B. Clark
Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Release dates
  • December 19, 1945 (1945-12-19) (United States)
Running time
110 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $8.2 million[1]

Leave Her to Heaven is a 1945 American Technicolor film noir starring Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain, with Vincent Price, Darryl Hickman, Ray Collins, and Chill Wills.[2][3] The story was adapted for the screen by Jo Swerling from the best selling novel of the same name by Ben Ames Williams and directed by John M. Stahl.

The story (told in an extended flashback that constitutes the bulk of the film) revolves around a femme fatale who entraps a husband and commits several crimes motivated by her insane jealousy over everything concerning him. Tierney received an Oscar nomination as Best Actress. The film grossed over $5,000,000, Fox's highest-grossing picture of the 1940s.

The film's title is drawn from William Shakespeare's Hamlet. In Act I, Scene V, the Ghost urges Hamlet not to seek vengeance against Queen Gertrude, but rather to "leave her to heaven, and to those thorns that in her bosom lodge to prick and sting her."


Novelist Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) returns to his remote island home, called Back of the Moon, after two years in prison. His friend and attorney, (Ray Collins), narrates how Richard meets beautiful socialite Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney) on a train. She falls in love with him based mainly on his close resemblance to her recently deceased father, to whom she was obsessively attached.

Ellen is already engaged to an ambitious Boston attorney, Russell Quinton (Vincent Price), who begs her not to marry Richard because of the bad press it would bring to his upcoming political campaign. However, she jilts Russell and rapidly marries Richard, who at first is fascinated not only with Ellen's beauty but her exotic and intense manner. It gradually becomes apparent however that Ellen is pathologically jealous towards any other person and activity that her husband cares about.

Richard's younger disabled brother, Danny (Darryl Hickman), whom Richard dearly loves, comes to live with them at their lodge even though Ellen pleads with the doctor to not allow the move. She becomes increasing irritated by Danny's presence and the attention he gets from Richard. One day, while she and Danny are out on a rowboat, Danny decides to see how far he can swim. However, Danny's paralyzed legs weigh him down, and Ellen watches heartlessly as Danny struggles to stay afloat. He drowns in front of her as Ellen registers no reaction on her face. When she hears Richard approaching the lake, she only then begins screaming.

Later, she becomes pregnant, but tells her adoptive sister, Ruth (Jeanne Crain), that she has an active disdain for the "little beast" inside of her. She then deliberately causes the miscarriage of the couple's unborn son when she throws herself down a flight of stairs. She returns after a few weeks in the hospital and accuses Ruth of being in love with Richard, especially after the dedication of Richard's new book is to "the girl with the hoe" – a reference to Ruth's penchant for gardening.

Richard starts to suspect that Ellen is directly responsible for both the death of his brother and his son, and accuses her of letting Danny drown. When Ellen confesses that she did let him drown and she would do it again, he leaves her. She then decides to poison herself, coldly framing Ruth in jealousy over Ruth's warm but innocent friendship with her husband. Posing as a victim, Ellen writes to her ex-fiance (since elected a county district attorney) laying out her claims of murder, which said that Ruth wanted her dead. Ellen expires hand-in-hand with Richard, who is next seen being grilled by Russell, the prosecutor for Ruth's trial. Ruth is then pressured by Russell into admitting she has always loved Richard. In response, the previous recalcitrant Richard resumes the witness chair and testifies about Ellen's insane jealousy and her dual confessions to him. Ruth is acquitted, but Richard receives two years in prison as an accessory to his brother's death for withholding knowledge of Ellen's actions from investigators.

With those two years now behind him, Richard is welcomed home to Back of the Moon by a loving embrace from Ruth.



Cornel Wilde and Gene Tierney in a scene from the film

Critical response

The staff at Variety magazine gave the film a positive review, writing, "Sumptuous Technicolor mounting and a highly exploitable story lend considerable importance to Leave Her to Heaven that it might not have had otherwise...Tierney and Wilde use their personalities in interpreting their dramatic assignments. Crain's role of Tierney's foster-sister is more subdued but excellently done. Vincent Price, as the discarded lover, gives a theatrical reading to the courtroom scenes as the district attorney."[4]

More recently, Lou Lumenick, film critic for the New York Post, wrote, "John M. Stahl's masterful Leave Her to Heaven (1945) sounds like a contradiction in terms – a film noir in eye-popping Technicolor, with its most chilling scene taking place not in a dimly lit back alley but on a lake in Maine. But make no mistake – the gorgeous Gene Tierney's homicidally jealous Ellen Berent is the fatalest of femmes in this gorgeously restored classic."[5] It was cited by acclaimed director Martin Scorsese as one of his favorite films of all time and assessed "Gene Tierney is one of the most underrated actresses of the Golden Era." [6]

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 95% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on twenty reviews.[7]

Academy Awards




See also


  1. ^ Solomon, Aubrey (2002). Twentieth Century-Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (p. 65). Lanham: Scarecrow Press.
  2. ^ Variety film review; January 2, 1946, page 8.
  3. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; December 22, 1945, page 203.
  4. ^ Variety. Film review, December 19, 1945. Last accessed: December 1, 2009.
  5. ^ Lumenick, Lou. The New York Post, film review, March 6, 2009. Last accessed: December 1, 2009.
  6. ^ Martin Scorsese discusses Leave Her to Heaven on YouTube at 45th New York Film Festival
  7. ^ Leave Her to Heaven at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: December 5, 2011.
  8. ^ "NY Times: Leave Her to Heaven". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-20. 
  9. ^ "The 18th Academy Awards (1946) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-16. 

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