RARA-AVIS: Re: Leave Her to Heaven

From: Kat Richardson ( kathyr136@comcast.net)
Date: 26 Oct 2007

--- In rara-avis-l@yahoogroups.com, JIM DOHERTY <jimdohertyjr@...> wrote:
> Kat,
> Re your comment below:
> "It didn't have the feel of traditional noir or
> hardboiled-- very much more a melodrama."
> OIf course it didn't have the feel of traditional
> noir. Traditional noir isn't in color, and LEAVE HER
> TO HEAVEN was.
> By the same token, where did you get the idea that
> hard-boiled and noir is somehow incompatible with
> melodrama? I've read few that were NOT melodramatic.

Well, let me start with two points of clarification: By "traditional noir" I meant "not modern, neo-noir."

And the film is listed as "noir" in most guides and it's described by most critics as noir and it was brought up here as "noir." So, my comment, which boils down to "doesn't seem like noir to me" is in agreement with your general statement, but I'm NOT in agreement that noir has to be in B&W. But given that it falls in the time period of original films noir and is generally tagged "noir," I addressed that, since it was obviously the context of the OP.

Maybe we settle on "mistagged as noir" then?

In addition, while the original films are B&W, later films in the same genre are not, yet the emotional feel is the same. Kazan's Body Heat is still claustrophobic and inevitably damned even though it's in technicolor, as are a lot of other films (yes, I know it's a remake of Double Indemnity.) I'm not a purist in terms of color/B&W.

It's emotional feel, circumstance, outcome, and inevitability with a dash of existentialist angst that makes "noir" for me--and for a lot of others, from observing this list. That's why I don't mind applying the term to books, which can't really be said to be "noir" for the same reason a film was (back in the minimal set, minimal lighting, Dutch angle, B&W days.)

An ELEMENT of melodrama does not make a story strictly melodramatic. Melodrama turns on the inversion of sentiment that leads to tragic results (films like Mildred Pierce, for instance.) Melodrama also plays to a presumption that the world contains true "good" and "bad" and lowers the breadth of moral ambiguity that is part of the core of noir. The assumption of moral direction and the inversion of sentiment that derails this direction is the crux of the plot and character development in melodrama, as it was in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN.
 Hard boiled fiction and noir rarely play strictly on an inversion of sentiment and even less rarely acknowledge a strong moral definition of "good" and "bad." Inversion of ORDER, yes, but not sentiment. Most hard boiled and noir is not sentimental. Melodrama is.

So, yeah, I find LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN to be melodrama and not noir--the inverted social elements are insufficient, there's a lack of the ambiguous world of gray choices where no one is quite "good" or "bad", the sense of damnation and inevitability aren't strong enough to the central thrust of the film and the pay out at the end doesn't really balance the actions of the protagonist with appropriate consequences for a noir set-up. Instead, she is abandoned and "left to heaven," an ending which would never be used if the protagonist were male or if the film were really a noir--regardless of being shot in color. The crux of the story is that she's an unnatural woman who reaps... not death, imprisonment, madness, or endless torment, but censure and loneliness--weights in the balance against her assault on sentiment and moral direction, but insufficient to pay out in noir.

Kat Richardson

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