RARA-AVIS: Leave Her to Heaven

From: Jeff Vorzimmer ( jvorzimmer@austin.rr.com)
Date: 26 Mar 2008

I just finished reading Leave Her to Heaven by Ben Ames Williams, which I mentioned having picked up at City Lights in SF. I bought it thinking it would be kind of a cross between Laura and Bedelia. In fact it came out in 1944, the year between those two books and was the 7th best-selling novel of that year and although it shares a lot of the same plot elements as the Vera Caspary novels, I thought it superior to both. But I think it's more melodrama than noir. The only crime in the book could be called manslaughter at best and there was a lot of the Freudian psychology in it that was popular at the time. Though the femme fatale was a cold-hearted bitch very reminiscent of Caspary's Bedelia and as ruthless as any in hardboiled crime fiction.

Then I saw the movie. It would be had to classify it as noir. It's been argued here, I believe by Jim among others, that just the simple fact of it being in color disqualifies it from being noir and I tend to agree with that. If you do a search on IMDB for films tagged (albeit loosely) with
"noir" you come up with 465 movies, of those only 14 are in color. That means that 97% of the films tagged "noir" are black & white. When you start looking over the list of color films you realize that films like Leave Her to Heaven and A Kiss Before Dying really aren't noir, so the percentage is even higher. I've not actually seen a color film pre-1958 that I think stylistically fits in the genre.

Not being color is the least of the disqualifying aspects of the movie though. It's not urban. It's shot mostly in the daylight outdoors and, the most disqualifying point of all--it's not really a crime film. The screenwriter seemed to overlook the fact that the crime for which one of the characters goes to jail for at the end was actually written out of the story leaving many a viewer, I'm sure, scratching his head at the end.

The movie was also badly miscast with Cornel Wilde and Gene Tierney and badly acted as well. It was if they were trying to cash in on the success of Laura, but didn't emulate any of its style. It certainly could have been made into a film noir, but ends up not even coming close.


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