Leave Her to Heaven
Novelist Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde) seems to have found the perfect woman in Ellen (Gene Tierney), a beautiful socialite who initiates a whirlwind romance and steers him into marriage before he can think twice. Yet the glassy surface of Ellen’s devotion soon reveals monstrous depths, as Richard comes to realize that his wife is shockingly possessive and may be capable of destroying anyone who comes between them. A singular Hollywood masterpiece that draws freely from the women’s picture and film noir alike, Leave Her to Heaven boasts elegant direction by melodrama specialist John M. Stahl, blazing Technicolor cinematography by Leon Shamroy, and a chilling performance by Tierney, whose Ellen is a femme fatale unlike any other: a woman whose love is as pure as it is poisonous.
The Criterion Collection presents John M. Stahl’s Leave Her to Heaven on Blu-ray, delivered in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on a dual-layer disc. Criterion uses the same 2013 2K restoration that Twilight Time used for their own Blu-ray edition, and it has been encoded here at 1080p/24hz. The original Technicolor negatives for the film were destroyed so the restoration was sourced from a 35mm color reversal internegative.
The Criterion differs in a few minor ways but the video presentation is, for the most part, the same as what the Twilight Time release presented. Colours are still a bit of a mixed bag (though I still think they look better than what the DVD offered), never really popping and with a warmer, yellow tint to the whole thing. The reds, in particular, are the most disappointing aspect, lacking a vibrancy I would have expected: Tierney’s red lipstick, or that red bathing suit in one quick scene, come off closer to a chestnut or similar colour. Black levels do look a bit better here, but some details still get lost in the darker scenes and they’re still open to improvement.
Film grain can also look a little better, though there can be a certain waxiness during some close-ups. Some of the film’s finer details do seem to come through a bit better on the other hand: the fibers of the book pages that serve as title cards throughout the film are better defined, for example, but it’s still a minor upgrade. Print damage isn’t a concern (I don’t recall any major blemishes) and the image is stable.
Again, not drastically different from the previous Blu-ray edition, but it’s a fine presentation, still better than Fox’s DVD edition, yet still open to some improvements.
The lossless PCM 1.0 monaural track is a fine enough one. A bit flat overall but dialogue is cleanly rendered and easy to hear, and background noise is not an issue. There are also no major signs of damage.
Surprisingly Criterion skimps over the features on this one, only offering one significant feature: a 27-minute interview with critic Imogen Sara Smith. Impressively, her discussion does a decent enough job of covering all of the bases around the film, going into detail about director John M. Stahl (who has very little written about him) and the types of films he made, pointing out some films she feels are worthwhile. Leave Her to Heaven is an outlier, though, the only film of his that can be considered “noir,” and she explains how the film builds off of and twists the sense of prosperity that followed the war, with Tierney’s character representing the nightmare version of the post-war housewife: always attentive and nurturing, though to a sinister degree. She praises Tierney’s performance and the Technicolor photography and how colour is employed to convey certain feelings. She does an impressive job, naturally moving through each topic, and it’s a shame she wasn’t commissioned to do a commentary instead.
The original trailer and an insert—featuring an essay by novelist Megan Abbott on the character of Ellen and Tierney’s look—close this release off. I’m a bit stunned that Criterion didn’t put more into considering the film’s legacy. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray and Fox’s DVD edition both contained a commentary featuring Richard Schickel and actor Darryl Hickman and it’s a little surprising Criterion didn’t port it over, but I’m assuming they didn’t think it was worth it: it was a dreadful track, with a disinterested Schickel just making his way through (Smith, in just 27-minutes, covers far more than this guy ever does) while a bitter Hickman complained about co-star Tierney and the film’s director. There were a couple of Movietone clips as well, but I can’t say they’re truly missed. So, yeah, I can’t really so those supplements are a huge loss, but it’s amazing Criterion never tried for more with their edition.
If you missed out on the Twilight Time edition the Criterion is worth picking up as the presentations don’t differ that much (likewise, if you have the previous Blu-ray it’s not worth picking this one up). Also, don’t feel bad about missing out on the extras on that release: the commentary is dreadful and the other ones aren’t worth it. That being said, considering the slim features on this one (one interview, a trailer, and an insert), I’d wait to get it when it’s on sale.