Scenic visuals aside, Leave Her To Heaven is the definitive film noir in every other way. Rife with deception, murder and the omnipresent femme fatale. The film opens in a tone reminiscent of Hitchcock's Strangers On A Train, as Richard Harland(Wilde) is introduced to his soon-to-be wife Ellen Berent(Tierney) on a speeding train. Early on in the picture, the audience is made aware of Berent's duplicitous nature. Hiding beneath a thin veil of kindness lurks the heart of a cruel, manipulative and ultimately, evil woman. An insanely jealous female, Berent would rather kill than share her husband's love. She proves this by drowning her brother-in-law and later, by throwing herself down a flight of stairs, thus killing her own unborn child. When Harland finally realizes that he might have married a monster it is just a little too late. Even in death, Berent attempts to ruin the lives of those who loved her. The ending is particularly interesting and a total surprise.
Gene Tierney seems to be having a great time in her role. She uses her unique facial features, a catlike bone structure and narrow gaze to her advantage. Notice the tight, squinty-eyed stare during Danny's death scene. Cornel Wilde might not have been the best choice for the role of Richard Harland. He is stiff and aloof in his performance. It is imperative to the story that the audience feel sympathy for his character, but due to his weak showing, it is hard to feel anything, let alone sympathy. Much has been made of Vincent Price's campy performance as the love-struck attorney. He is completely over the top and delivers his lines with the hastiness of auctioneer on a time limit. I have to admit, I loved it.
Special accolades go to director John M. Stahl who uses the lavish setting and the beautiful colors the way Aldrich might use a dark alley as a device to hide an unknown assassin. This is exemplified best in one specific sequence where the audience watches as blue-colored water undulates savagely as Darryl Hickman's character struggles to catch his breath. It is matched proficiently against the calm icy-blue gaze of Tierney as she watches in an unresponsive pose as Hickman dies a horrible death. The use of colors and the tranquil setting only worked to enhance the sheer direness of the whole moment and the despicable villainess of Tierney's character. It is a testament to Stahl who knew that sometimes change could be a good thing even in such a defined and formulaic genre.
Many have noted that film is, at times, highly unrealistic. Indeed, the plot does have an ample amount of noticeable holes. Some of the situations, including the final courtroom duel between two former acquaintances, tend to be a tad implausible. That aside, Leave Her To Heaven is a great installment in a long-line of trashy, seductive titles in the film noir genre. I highly recommend it despite its various flaws.