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Film / The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

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Femme Fatale on the haunt.
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) is a Film Noir directed by Lewis Milestone with a star-studded cast including Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Lizabeth Scott, and in his film debut, Kirk Douglas.

It’s a dark and stormy night, and Martha (Stanwyck) hates being ruled by the iron fist of her aunt, Mrs. Ivers (Judith Anderson), so she runs away with the help of her friend, Sam Masterson (Heflin). They’re found out, unfortunately, because of Walter O’Neil (Douglas), her tutor’s son. Sometime later, Sam sneaks by the house and tries to help Martha escape again. Then the lights go out due to the storm. Hearing a noise made by Sam trying to sneak out, the old aunt comes out to find Martha’s cat meowing on the stairs. Hating the little thing, she starts beating it to death with her cane. This angers Martha, so she grabs the cane and strikes her aunt, making her tumble down the stairs and die. Walter is Martha’s only witness, and he’s coerced to lie for her.

Seventeen years later, Martha and Walter are married, and it’s obvious that Martha wears the pants in the relationship and has never loved innocent Walter; she’s just bound to him for knowing her dark secret.


Sam turns up in town, frightening both Walter and Martha, as their status can be destroyed with only one word from him. Sam, on the other hand, just wants to help his friend, Toni Marachek (Scott), shake off her probation problems.

But jealousy, spite, and love whirl together to create a dirty remembrance of the past, and it isn’t pretty to watch.

Miklós Rózsa composed the score. This film is in the public domain.


Provides examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: The guilt of sending an innocent man to the gallows is a burden Walter finds too hard to bear. He can't make a speech on the radio because he's drunk, and when Sam first looks him up he's drinking in his office in the morning.
  • Asshole Victim: Martha may have been justified in killing her aunt (it wasn’t exactly on purpose, either), but she exaggerates certain events that happened after to get what she wants from Sam.
  • City Noir: Iverstown.
  • Coin Walk Flexing: When Martha and Sam meet up again as adults, Sam does a coin roll as they sit and talk. While gambling isn't actually shown in the film, Word Of God is that this was done as a visual cue that Sam had become a Professional Gambler during the time before he reappeared in Martha's life.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Both Walter and Martha.
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: The start of all of Martha’s troubles.
  • Distant Prologue: The first 15 minutes or so, in which Martha kills her aunt, takes place in 1928. Then the film jumps forward 16 years for the present-day story.
  • Empathic Environment: It’s raining because a murder’s going to go down.
  • Evil Aunt: Mrs. Ivers is cruel and unjust towards Martha.
  • Femme Fatale: Martha kills, Martha seduces, and Martha doesn’t get what she wants. An outstanding performance by Stanwyck which comes as no surprise.
  • Film Noir
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Walter gets jealous because of Martha’s quest to get Sam, and sends PI’s after him to get him out of Iverstown.
  • Gun Struggle: Inverted. Walter and Martha are kissing when she realizes that he's picked up the gun. Do they struggle for it? No, Martha pulls the gun towards her until it's directly touching her stomach, puts her thumb on the trigger, and pushes the trigger to shoot herself.
  • Henpecked Husband: Walter never stands up for himself until the end.
  • Kick the Dog: Mrs. Ivers kills Martha’s cat.
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: Getting seriously drunk, Walter tumbles down the stairs and is unconscious. Martha tells Sam to finish Walter off. Averted: Sam refuses.
  • Love Triangle: #1: Between Sam, Martha, and Walter. #2: Between Sam, Martha, and Toni.
  • Murder-Suicide: This is a very dark noir. Martha fails to convince Walter that she’s going to love him from now on, so he kills her, and then himself.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Toni, who is introduced dangling her legs as she sits on a stoop, and goes on to wear a series of tight tops. Towards the end she is demonstrating for Sam the snug blouse and skirt she bought, only to unsnap the skirt and reveal hot pants underneath that—and naturally that is when Martha walks in.
  • The Reveal: Sam wasn’t there for the murder, so he never knew about it. All of Martha and Walter’s fears were ungrounded.
  • She's Got Legs: How Toni gets Sam’s attention.
  • Shower Scene: The typical 1940s shower scene, with Toni only shown from the shoulders up.
  • Staircase Tumble: It kills Mrs. Ivers, and almost kills Walter.
  • Unrequited Love: Walter loves Martha so very much, and she hates his guts.
  • Wrongly Accused: Martha helped send an innocent man to the gallows to cover up her crime.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Martha wants Sam to believe that she was manipulated by Walter’s father to send the wrong man to gallows, and she was also being blackmailed to marry his son. Walter heartedly disagrees; she never flinched when accusing the other man of a murder when it came to saving her own neck and has slept around, so she has never been waiting for Sam’s return, only seeing a chance to escape Walter.