I guess it is something that for my first feature (Leave Her to Heaven) during NOIRvember I choose a vibrant Technicolor film, which in my estimation at least is loosely noir, and borders more on the melodramatic. I fact I often wonder if this film were shot in black and white, would I be so reluctant to fully class it as a noir.
Sure, over the years cinephiles and scholars alike have played fast and loose with what actually classifies a film as a noir. I think after reading endless materials on the subject, I will fall back on this excerpt from AMC’s Filmsite analysis of Film Noir (written by Tim Dirks):
Classic film noir developed during and after World War II, taking advantage of the post-war ambience of anxiety, pessimism, and suspicion. It was a style of black and white American films that first evolved in the 1940s, became prominent in the post-war era, and lasted in a classic “Golden Age” period until about 1960 […]
Important Note: Strictly speaking, film noir is not a genre, but rather the mood, style, point-of-view, or tone of a film. It is also helpful to realize that ‘film noir’ usually refers to a distinct historical period of film history – the decade of film-making after World War II, similar to the German Expressionism or the French New Wave periods. However, it was labeled as such only after the classic period – early noir film-makers didn’t even use the film designation (as they would the labels “western” or “musical”), and were not conscious that their films would be labeled noirs.
Very often, a film noir story was developed around a cynical, hard-hearted, disillusioned male character … who encountered a beautiful but promiscuous, amoral, double-dealing and seductive femme fatale … She would use her feminine wiles and come-hither sexuality to manipulate him into becoming the fall guy – often following a murder. After a betrayal or double-cross, she was frequently destroyed as well, often at the cost of the hero’s life. As women during the war period were given new-found independence and better job-earning power in the homeland during the war, they would suffer — on the screen — in these films of the 40s. Source: filmsite.org
Well I guess in this regard (and noting the sections I have bolded) Leave Her to Heaven may not pass the sniff test for the following reasons:
- Like I said at the open, the film is in live and living Technicolor.
- Our principal male protagonist is NOT a hard-hearted, disillusioned figure. In fact, Cornel Wilde embodies the romantic, heroic optimism that cowers in the light of Gene Tierney‘s wicked ways.
- Sure the female fataleis destroyed but (spoiler alert) she does so by her own hands and for a rather outlandish reason.
- And although not mentioned above, at times, in a “film noir,” there is a female foil to the femme fatale, the “good girl,” who is ever so deserving of our male lead’s love and affection. CHECK! Another Jeanne (Crain) fits that role to a tee.
- The hammy over the top theatrics of courtroom scenes need to be seen to be believed.
Also note, there is peril and menace lurking around every corner because of Tierney’s cold calculations and manipulations..
So what do you think yup or nope – is Leave Her to Heaven a “real” film noir? Hit the comments section below with your thoughts.
Key Film Facts:
- Directed By: John M. Stahl
- Written By: Jo Swerling (based on novel by Ben Ames Williams)
- Gene Tierney (Ellen Berent Harlan)
- Cornel Wilde (Richard Harland)Vincent Price (Russell Quinton)
- Jeanne Crain (Ruth Berent)
- Mary Phillips (Mrs. Berent)
- Gene Lockhart (Dr. Saunders)
- Darryl Hickman (Danny Harland)
Excellent choice and detail dissertation of an often misunderstood Noir. With Gene Tierney being seductively single minded and subtly scary opposite an nearly deliberately oblivious Cornell Wilde.
Very good stuff, indeed