Leave Her to Heaven (1945) Directed by John M. Stahl
Socialite Gene Tierney plays one of cinema’s most sensuous psychopaths in this picturesque psychological study disguised as a sumptuous melodrama. When she falls madly in love with novelist Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) her delicate, coquettish femininity and persuasive physiognomic beauty soon reveal a dangerous, possessive woman willing to harm even those she loves in order to have Richard all to herself, literally. Gorgeous people, gorgeous sights and gorgeous dialogue, everything is beautiful in this lavish tale of obsession, madness and love caramelized in Technicolor. The plot development can be frustrating and even far-fetched, silly and somewhat vapid, but the wicked wit of the story based on the 1944 novel of the same name excels when the pace becomes tediously languid, absorbing us with the same lethality and compulsive energy with which our beautifully terrifying protagonist loves. Melodrama specialist John M. Stahl makes the more scabrous sections look like a contemplative impressionistic tableau and the moments of idyllic serenity like a romantic fable. While I don’t think it works in its entirety – it tends to get too complicated with its obtuse psychological examination of the Electra complex – it’s more than enough to have Gene Tierney casting piercing glances that say more than a thousand words: it’s pulverizing.