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Film / Leave Her to Heaven

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"I'll never let you go, Richard. Never, never, never."

"There's nothing wrong with Ellen. It's just that she loves too much."
Mrs. Berent

Leave Her to Heaven is a 1945 Psychological Thriller Film Noir directed by John M. Stahl and starring Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain and Vincent Price.

Richard Harland (Wilde) is a writer who meets beautiful Boston socialite Ellen Berent (Tierney) on a train to New Mexico. As it happens, they're both going to the same ranch, owned by lawyer and mutual acquaintence Glen Robie (Ray Collins); Richard to take a break from his forthcoming novel, and Ellen, who is with her mother (Mary Philips) and cousin Ruth (Crain), to scatter the ashes of her late father. They quickly fall in love, and though Ellen is engaged to prosecutor Russell Quinton (Price), she breaks off their engagement and marries Richard instead. However, it turns out she doesn't want to have to share him with anyone else, including her mother, or Ruth, or Richard's disabled younger brother Danny (Darryl Hickman). And Richard gradually comes to discover just how pathologically possessive she is.

Adapted by screenwriter Jo Swerling from Ben Ames Williams' 1944 novel of the same name, the film received four Academy Award nominations, winning for Leon Shamroy's color cinematography. It was remade in 1988 as the Made-for-TV Movie Too Good to Be True, with Patrick Duffy as Richard and Loni Anderson as Ellen.

This film contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Danny is Richard's son in the Made-for-TV Movie remake, making Ellen's actions even more monstrous, especially since his wife died in the accident that crippled Danny, meaning that he was all that Richard had left.
  • Artistic License Law: Ellen's ex-fiancé Russell, who she dumped for Richard, just happens to be the lead prosecutor in the case against Ruth. There's no way someone with that level of personal involvement with a victim would be allowed to handle a case in reality.
  • Artistic License Medicine: In the remake, Ellen asks her doctor for an abortion. The doctor refuses, which she has no right to do, and threatens to tell Richard, as he's her friend, something she also has no right to do, as it would be a major violation of patient confidentiality.
  • Beauty Is Bad: Driven home in the remake, where the evil Ellen is gorgeous, while good-hearted Ruth is genuinely plainer by comparison.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Subverted to hell and back with Ellen.
    • Played straight with Ruth.
  • Betty and Veronica: Ruth (Betty) and Ellen (Veronica) for Richard.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Danny is dead, as is Richard and Ellen's unborn child, and Ellen is essentially a Karma Houdini. Plus, Richard is forced to serve jail time for being an accessory after the fact (he didn't turn her in upon learning that she killed Danny). But he's finally free and Ruth and Richard can begin a life together.
  • Bury Your Disabled: Crippled Danny drowns when his arms give out and Ellen refuses to help him because she feels he takes Richard's attention away from her.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Ellen. What's particularly disturbing is that she isn't even just jealous of potential love interests, but of anybody or anything that might take Richard's attention away from her—his brother, his writing, their child.
  • Convenient Miscarriage: Subverted; Ellen deliberately causes one because while she thought having Richard's baby would get him to love her again, she doesn't really want a child, she thinks Richard and Ruth are spending too much time together, and she's tired of being stuck indoors because she's pregnant.
    • In the remake, Richard certainly finds it so, admitting to Ruth that as awful as it sounds, he's relieved that it happened as he no longer loves Ellen and wants out of the marriage.
  • Death of a Child: Danny, and Richard and Ellen's unborn child.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Ellen lets Danny drown so that he won't take any more of Richard's attention away from her. It doesn't occur to her that Richard would be so despondent afterwards that he'd want nothing to do with her.
  • Empathic Environment: Danny's death is communicated by the sight of a black-clad Richard sitting by a stormy sea.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The first clue that something is a little odd with Ellen is when she beats a couple of children at a swimming race; most adults would just let the kids win.
  • Femme Fatale: Ellen Berent is one of the darkest and scariest examples of this trope, also among the most beautiful.
  • Film Noir: One of the few Technicolor films, set largely in daylight at that, to be considered a classic Film Noir.
  • Foreshadowing: Ellen tells Thorne about a dream she had when she was rowing behind Richard while he was swimming in the lake, and then he sank, and she finds she's can't bring herself to jump in and save him. That's pretty much what she does with Danny later, causing him to drown, though in that case, it was intentional.
    • The book is rife with examples:
      • While becoming acquainted with Ellen, she mentions using arsenic while helping her father make models of birds, the very thing she uses to poison herself at the end.
      • Ellen and her mother have a prickly relationship and when she sees Ellen taking an interest in Richard, she snidely comments "Said the spider to the fly!."
      • When Richard tells Ellen about Danny, she comments, "You love him very much, don't you?" Richard inexplicably feels fearful rather than pleased at her comment.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: After spending just a few days with the Berents, Richard finds himself engaged to Ellen without even really knowing how it happened. Deconstructed a bit in that even Ellen later admits that Richard loved her but never really liked her.
  • Framing Device: The movie is told in an extended flashback.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: In the remake, Ellen tries to obtain one, as if to cement the fact that she's a horrible person.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Ellen.
    • Also, Russell.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard/Irony: Ellen's despicable actions are meant to eliminate any competition for Richard's affection or attention and have him all to herself. They instead end up driving him away and making him hate her.
    • In the remake, the fact that Ellen is an excellent swimmer makes Richard suspicious of her failure to save Danny.
    • Also in the remake, Ellen poisons Ruth's tea in an attempt to kill her. When Richard hits her and walks out on her after getting her to admit that she let Danny drown, she drinks it in order to calm herself.
    • And when she becomes ill, thanks to her history of Crying Wolf, Ruth dismisses her pleas for help and leaves her to die.
  • Hollywood Law: The trial at the end.
  • Hysterical Woman: In the remake, Ellen bursts into tears and flings herself on the floor every time Richard walks out on her. It finally bites her in the ass when she's legitimately ill and Ruth dismisses her, thinking she's just Crying Wolf.
  • Incest Subtext: Mrs. Berent bluntly snaps that Ellen monopolized her father so much that "it's a wonder she didn't sleep with him!" She later falls for Richard because of his resemblance to him.
  • Indy Ploy: A villainous example; when Richard confronts Ellen about Danny's death, she says that she never intended to kill him, but when the opportunity arose to remove someone that would demand some of his time, she took it.
  • Light Is Not Good: In The Remake, the evil Ellen wears white throughout most of her scenes, especially when she lets Danny drown and later deliberately throws herself down the stairs to cause a miscarriage.
  • Literary Allusion Title: From Hamlet (Act I, Scene V), when the Ghost advises Hamlet not to seek revenge against Queen Gertrude:
    Taint not thy mind nor let thy soul contrive
    Against thy mother aught. Leave her to heaven
    And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge
    To prick and sting her.
  • Meaningful Echo: "I'll never let you go, Richard. Never, never, never."
  • Murder by Inaction: Ellen sits and watches as Danny flounders and sinks beneath the surface.
    • It's even worse in the remake, when she actually finds him underwater and therefore could have saved him, but lets him go and lets him drown.
  • Reality Has No Soundtrack: There's no music in the scene when Ellen lets Danny drown.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Ruth gives a fantastic one of these to Ellen when the latter tries to blame her for her failing marriage, pointing out that it's her and her actions that have driven Richard away.
    I don't envy you, Ellen. All my life, I've tried to love you, done everything to please you. All of us have — Mother, Father, and now Richard. And what have you done? With your love, you wrecked Mother's life. With your love, you pressed Father to death. With your love, you've made a shadow of Richard. No, Ellen, I don't envy you. I'm sorry for you. You're the most pitiful creature I've ever known.
  • The Remake: The 1988 Made-for-TV Movie Too Good to Be True, starring Patrick Duffy as Richard and Loni Anderson as Ellen.
  • Saying Too Much: When Ellen is trying to get the doctor to convince Richard not to bring Danny along to their cottage, at first, she's trying to be reasonable about all the difficulties he'll have up there (no doctor around for miles, no phone), but then, she blurts out, " But after all, [Danny's] a cripple!" She immediately sees her mistake, telling the doctor she didn't mean to say it, and the doctor agrees, but he doesn't look convinced.
  • Scenery Dissonance: The most terrifying portion of the film takes place in an idyllic lakeside cabin in summertime, with sunlight streaming through the trees. Even scenes set at night are warmly lit, giving the false impression that nothing bad could happen here...
  • Scenery Porn: It was shot on location in New Mexico, Arizona, and Maine, and looks gorgeous.
  • Sherlock Can Read: Ellen tells Richard that she knows about him after reading his novel because every book is a "confession." She then rattles off a bunch of facts about his life, to which he bewilderingly responds, "Shades of Sherlock." But then she admits she just got all that from the bio on the book's dust jacket.
  • Sinister Shades: Ellen sports these during the scene where she lets Danny drown.
  • Sleeping Single: Ellen and Richard are shown in separate beds when they wake up at the resort.
  • The Sociopath: Ellen Berent is noted to have been this since her childhood, with many characters noting that there was always something off about her, notably a lack of deep feelings. Her love for Richard seems to stem primarily from her Narcissism and need to be a Control Freak rather than anything else.
  • Staircase Tumble: Ellen deliberately invokes this in order to miscarry.
  • Suicide, Not Murder: In revenge for Richard rejecting her, Ellen poisons herself in such a way that it will look as if Ruth is the only one who can be blamed. It works, and Ruth is tried for murder.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Ellen frames Ruth for her death as punishment for Richard discovering Ellen's true nature.
  • The Unfettered: Ellen will stop at nothing to ensure that Richard belongs to her and her alone.