October 27, 2015

Gene Tierney, Leave Her To Heaven

as ELLEN BERENT HARLAND
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In a category plagued with long-suffering wives and/or moms, noble damsels in distress and/or sweet saints, how refreshing is it to see such a demented character like Ellen Berent Harland in Leave Her to Heaven, sticking out upon the others like a sore thumb. In a way, I think Gene Tierney is perfect for this role because her beauty is the epitome of what I would consider 'chilling.' Concurrently, the entire time I was watching her I was wanting more, not quite because she was so outstanding but more so because of what she wasn't doing.

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Tierney is stunning to say the least. In some of her close-ups you can't help but be floored by how gorgeous she is, and that in turn makes Ellen all the more captivating. But where she excels in outright God-given looks, she leaves a lot to be desired in the acting department. Often times watching her I got the sense that she was empty, not because Ellen is empty but because Tierney just doesn't possess the acting capabilities to master such a complicated character. It doesn't help that the story half-asses her villainy, instead demoting her evil as a product of her being such a loving wife (Double-edge irony--that what Oscar loved so much at the time, the faithful wife, is blasted to the extreme to craft a compelling albeit unsatisfying villanness).  It's Stepford Wife-esque and yet Ellen isn't meant to be of the Stepford-Wife vein; the passion which is supposed to drive Ellen isn't adequately supported by Tierney, and in turn I just felt as though her entire performance was too robotic with little reasonable connection to the character. Snapshots of her work are excellently done--the shot of her eyeing the bottom of the staircase comes to mind--however, moments such as one of her first outbursts towards her family following her wedding comes off as undercooked. I got the feeling that a more powerful performance could have been produced by a more talented actress. Overall, a juicy role with a passable performance that I appreciate more than I love.


1 comment:

  1. You've hit this nail right on the head. I've always thought that Tierney's audacious role was more responsible for the nomination than her work was. It was definitely an unusual female character for the sanctified forties and I will say that neither 20th Century Fox nor Tierney tried for audience sympathy in portraying Ellen, but her motivations aren't always clear. I've always considered the character to be a Borderline Personality (I've worked with so many), which would go a long way in explaining her actions, but there's nothing onscreen that definitively indicates this and Tierney's no help. On the surface she does well. That frozen mask of anger/hatred/resentment is beautiful and effective....but it's overused and Tierney doesn't really support it with layers or depth. It's one note work.

    Still, I love this movie for what it is: a melodramatic potboiler with a perfectly outrageous central character who looks wonderful in glorious Technicolor. In fact, the cinematography has an almost 'other worldly' quality at times that makes Ellen seem not of this earth. It underscores her character more effectively at times than Tierney does. Good work, Allen.

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