Leave Her to Heaven

Leave Her to Heaven is a 1945 American film noir, shot in Technicolor, starring Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain, with Vincent Price, Darryl Hickman, Ray Collins, and Chill Wills.[2][3] The story was adapted for the screen by Jo Swerling from the best selling novel of the same name by Ben Ames Williams and directed by John M. Stahl.

Leave Her to Heaven
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn M. Stahl
Produced byWilliam A. Bacher
Darryl F. Zanuck
Screenplay byJo Swerling
Based onLeave Her to Heaven
1944 novel
by Ben Ames Williams
StarringGene Tierney
Cornel Wilde
Jeanne Crain
Vincent Price
Music byAlfred Newman
CinematographyLeon Shamroy
Edited byJames B. Clark
Distributed byTwentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation
Release date
  • December 25, 1945 (1945-12-25)
Running time
110 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$8.2 million[1]

The story (told in an extended flashback that constitutes the bulk of the film) revolves around a femme fatale who entraps a husband and commits several crimes motivated by her insane jealousy over everything concerning him. Tierney received an Oscar nomination as Best Actress. The film grossed over $5,000,000, Fox's highest-grossing picture of the 1940s.

The film's title is drawn from William Shakespeare's Hamlet. In Act I, Scene V, the Ghost urges Hamlet not to seek vengeance against Queen Gertrude, but rather to "leave her to heaven, and to those thorns that in her bosom lodge to prick and sting her."

In 2018, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."[4]


Novelist Richard Harland returns to his remote island home, called Back of the Moon, after two years in prison. His friend and attorney narrates how Richard meets beautiful socialite Ellen Berent on a train. She falls in love with him mainly on the basis of his close resemblance to her recently deceased father, to whom she was obsessively attached.

Ellen was previously engaged to an ambitious Boston attorney, Russell Quinton, who begs her not to marry Richard because of the bad press it would bring to his upcoming political campaign. She marries Richard anyway, who at first is fascinated with Ellen's beauty and her exotic and intense manner. It gradually becomes apparent that Ellen is pathologically jealous of anyone and anything her husband cares about.

Richard's younger disabled brother, Danny, whom Richard dearly loves, comes to live with them at their lodge, against Ellen's wishes. She becomes increasingly irritated by Danny's presence and the attention he gets from Richard. One day, while she and Danny are out on a rowboat, Danny decides to see how far he can swim. His paralyzed legs weigh him down, and Ellen watches as Danny struggles to stay afloat, and then drowns.

When Ellen becomes pregnant she tells her adoptive sister, Ruth, that she hates the "little beast" inside of her, and causes a miscarriage by throwing herself down a flight of stairs. She returns after a few weeks in the hospital and accuses Ruth of being in love with Richard, especially after the dedication of Richard's new book is to "the gal with the hoe" – a reference to Ruth's penchant for gardening. Ruth rebukes Ellen for causing all the misery that is happening to the family. Overhearing the conversation, Richard begins to suspect that Ellen is responsible for the deaths of both his brother and his unborn son. He accuses her of letting Danny drown. When Ellen confesses that she did let him drown and would do it again, he leaves her. She decides to poison herself, framing Ruth as the murderer.

Posing as a victim, Ellen writes to her ex-fiance (since elected a county district attorney), telling him Ruth tried to kill her. Ellen asks Richard to promise she will be cremated just like her father, and her ashes spread in the same place, and Richard agrees, after which she dies. Richard is next seen being grilled by Russell, the prosecutor for Ruth's trial. Richard had told Ruth to make sure that Ellen's body was cremated, just as he had promised Ellen on her deathbed would be done, thus preventing an autopsy, as part of the plan to frame Ruth: in her will, Ellen had stipulated that she wanted to be buried in her family vault at a cemetery, and so it seems that the cremation was intended to prevent the poison from showing up in Ellen's system during an autopsy. Ruth is then pressured by Russell into admitting she has always loved Richard. In response, the previously recalcitrant Richard resumes the witness chair and testifies about Ellen's insane jealousy and her dual confessions to him. Ruth is acquitted, but Richard is sentenced to two years in prison as an accessory to his brother's death for withholding knowledge of Ellen's actions from investigators. Two years later, Richard is welcomed home to Back of the Moon by a loving embrace from Ruth.


Uncredited Cast


Box office

The film was one of the most popular of 1946, earning $5,750,000 in rentals.[5][6]

Critical response

The staff at Variety magazine gave the film a positive review, writing "Sumptuous Technicolor mounting and a highly exploitable story lend considerable importance to Leave Her to Heaven that it might not have had otherwise...Tierney and Wilde use their personalities in interpreting their dramatic assignments. Crain's role of Tierney's foster-sister is more subdued but excellently done. Vincent Price, as the discarded lover, gives a theatrical reading to the courtroom scenes as the district attorney."[7]

More recently, Lou Lumenick, film critic for the New York Post, wrote "John M. Stahl's masterful Leave Her to Heaven (1945) sounds like a contradiction in terms – a film noir in eye-popping Technicolor, with its most chilling scene taking place not in a dimly lit back alley but on a lake in Maine. But make no mistake – the gorgeous Gene Tierney's homicidally jealous Ellen Berent is the fatalest of femmes in this gorgeously restored classic."[8] It was cited by acclaimed director Martin Scorsese as one of his favorite films of all time and assessed "Gene Tierney is one of the most underrated actresses of the Golden Era."[9]

Rotten Tomatoes reported that 95% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on 20 reviews.[10]

In 2018, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[11]

Academy Awards




See also


  1. Solomon, Aubrey (2002). Twentieth Century-Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (p. 65). Lanham: Scarecrow Press.
  2. Variety film review; January 2, 1946, page 8.
  3. Harrison's Reports film review; December 22, 1945, page 203.
  4. "National Film Registry Turns 30". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2019-03-31.
  5. "60 Top Grossers of 1946", Variety 8 January 1947 p8
  6. Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century-Fox: A Corporate and Financial History Rowman & Littlefield, 2002 p 221
  7. Variety. Film review, December 19, 1945. [bad link]
  8. Lumenick, Lou. The New York Post, film review, March 6, 2009. Last accessed: December 1, 2009.
  9. Martin Scorsese discusses Leave Her to Heaven on YouTube at 45th New York Film Festival
  10. Leave Her to Heaven at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: December 5, 2011.
  11. "Library of Congress National Film Registry Turns 30". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2018-12-13.
  12. "NY Times: Leave Her to Heaven". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-20.
  13. "The 18th Academy Awards (1946) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-16.

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