Though she is engaged to a politician (Vincent Price), Ellen (Gene Tierney) lures the handsome Richard (Cornel Wilde) into marriage after knowing him just a few days. But Richard learns from her sister (Jeanne Crain) and mother (Mary Philips) that Ellen's selfish, possessive love has ruined other people's lives. When his own brother drowns while in Ellen's care and she has an accident that kills her unborn child. Richard grows increasingly suspicious of her unsatiable devotion.
Leave Her to Heaven is one of the most unblinkingly perverse movies ever offered up as a prestige picture by a major studio in the golden age of Hollywood. Gene Tierney, whose lambent eyes, porcelain features, and sweep of healthy-American-girl hair customarily made her a 20th Century Fox icon of purity, scored an Oscar nomination playing a demonically obsessive daughter of privilege with her own monstrous notion of love. By the time she crosses eyebeams with popular novelist Cornel Wilde on a New Mexico-bound train, her jealous manipulations have driven her parents apart and her father to his grave. Well, no, not grave: Wilde soon gets to watch her gallop a glorious palomino across a red-rock horizon as she metronomically sows Dad's ashes to the winds. Mere screen moments later, she's jettisoned rising-politico fiancé Vincent Price and accepted a marriage proposal the besotted/bewildered Wilde hasn't quite made. Can the wrecking of his and several other lives be far behind? Not to mention a murder or two.
Fox gave Ben Ames Williams's bestselling novel (probably just the sort of book Wilde's character writes) the Class-A treatment. Alfred Newman's tympani-heavy music score signals both grandeur and pervasive psychosis, while spectacular, dust-jacket-worthy locations and Oscar-destined Technicolor cinematography by Leon Shamroy ensure our fixed gaze. Impeccably directed by the veteran John M. Stahl (who'd made the original Back Street, Imitation of Life, and Magnificent Obsession a decade earlier), the result is at once cuckoo and hieratic, and weirdly mesmerizing. Bet Luis Buñuel loved it. --Richard T. Jameson