Leave Her to Heaven | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Leave Her to Heaven 

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It would be easy for those cynical about the classical Hollywood style to find fault with this 1946 John M. Stahl film, with its portentous music and hokey day-for-night cinematography. Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney) is a kind of sub-Gone With the Wind antiheroine who, despite engineering a fast marriage to successful author Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde), never seems to be satisfied--not in New Mexico, not in Georgia, and especially not in the Maine woods. Though her mother says she simply "loves too much," by the film's end her "love" seems closer to voracious evil. But she's hard to hate because of the sincerity that Stahl sees in her out-of-control emotions, and because Tierney makes her repellent character almost hypnotically entrancing. Whereas Douglas Sirk, who directed several remakes of Stahl's films, portrays everything through several layers of irony, Stahl actually takes his characters' feelings seriously, giving each an emotional authenticity that may seem quaint in today's pomo culture. His dramatic use of backgrounds of sea and forest and sky creates an admittedly melodramatic, almost operatic mood. At the same time his sparing use of extreme close-ups at key moments seems to provide a direct passageway to the characters' moments of inner crisis. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Thursday, June 13, 6:00, 443-3737. --Fred Camper

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