Thursday, July 15, 2010

Martha Ivers

I briefly mentioned the movie The Strange Love of Martha Ivers almost two years ago. It doesn't show up too often on TCM, but one of the showings is coming up tomorrow morning at 8:15 AM.

The movie starts off with an expository sequence showing teenaged Martha Ivers, a girl with an unhappy childhood who is seriously thinking of running off with her friend Sam Masterson, in order to get away from her controlling aunt. However, her tutor and his son Walter O'Neil are called in to stop her. Eventually, a scuffle ensues, in which the aunt either falls or is pushed down the stairs, witnessed only by Martha and Walter, and possibly Sam, who was trying to get out of the house at the time. Martha can't run away, but Sam does.

Fast forward a good 15 years or more. World War II has just ended, and grown-up Sam (Van Heflin), having become a hero in the war, decides to stop by his old home town to see what's happened since he left. This presents quite a problem for Martha (Barbara Stanwyck). After her aunt died, she went on to marry Walter (Kirk Douglas), who is now the District Attorney, driven largely by the ambition of his wife. Martha and Walter, as the two confirmed witnesses to the old aunt's death, gave their version of events to the authorities, and they're convinced that Sam might have seen what happened, and testify that what's officially on the police record is not entirely true. Not that Sam suspects this at first, of course....

Unfortunately, it's a bit tough to give more of the plot without giving away too much of the important stuff that happens. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is one of those noirish movies that is best seen without too much prior knowledge. I can, however, point out that it's an excellent movie worth watching. Barbara Stanwyck is as good as ever as the hard-boiled woman; she's more or less playing the same sort of character she did in Baby Face or Double Indemnity. Kirk Douglas, despite being pictured on the DVD cover in the picture above, only gets fourth billing; this was early in his career. However, it must have been a clear sign to viewers of the day of things to come as he's just as good as Stanwyck. Heflin is playing somebody almost as cynical as his character in Johnny Eager, but not quite as depraved (or, more accurately, sick of it all). Also in the cast is Lizabeth Scott, as a gorgeous young woman from the wrong side of the tracks with whom Sam Masterson falls in love. Finally, mention must be made of Judith Anderson, who plays the thoroughly nasty aunt. It's easy to see from the way she treats Martha why Martha grows up to be the woman she is.

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